Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Adding a Child to an Existing Series

I was glad to see Carola Dunn had a good experience with a continuing child character in her books. I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a ten-year-old boy to my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series to add another layer to the stories, but I’m finding that inserting a new character, especially a child, into an established series is a tricky maneuver.

The two main characters are a couple. By book three, they are living together, and part of their chemistry is playing off each other. The male character, Ernie Lucier, lost his wife and three children in a car accident eight years earlier. It left a big hole in his heart. So I thought I’d fill that empty space.

I tried to find mystery novels that had children as main characters, and I couldn’t. Most of the male/female teams in books and movies don’t have children, going back to Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. There were mysteries with cats and dogs, with recipes and humor, but no kids. The mysteries that had kids in them, were kids’ mysteries.

But plodding along where others fear to tread, I created Téo, a boy who steals a woman’s purse in Jackson Square where Diana and Ernie happen to be. I liked the beginning. Actually, I loved it. I even visualized where I was going with the plot. So I wrote chapters two and three.


I wrote Téo as part of a band of junior thieves ruled by a Dickensian Fagin character. Lucier becomes involved with the boy on a personal level. Of course the child has a backstory, as do the other wayward children in the group, and though Téo may fit for this story, I realized that I didn’t know what to do with him as a permanent character in future books.

Téo has to go to school and do homework and eat dinner. He’d need structure and supervision. Did that mean Diana has to stay at home and out of trouble? How would he fit in with an ongoing set of characters in a mainly police procedural series? Would he ruin the dynamic between the two main characters? A pair of characters on whom I’ve built dangerous plot lines where children would only be in harm’s way.

This is where I stopped writing and understood why no one writes children as permanent characters into their mystery novels.

Of course I have options.

I could write Téo out at the end, leaving Lucier saddened by the loss of a child once more. I do believe followers of the series might not be happy with that ending. But I won’t rule it out.

Another solution is I could end the series, especially if book four doesn’t hold up to the first three—heaven forbid. In that case, the boy would become part of a happy-ever-after denouement. Goodbye, Diana and Ernie. And Téo.

There is one last solution: make Téo part of the team because he has something to add no one else can. I have some ideas, but I’ll have to work them out.

Stay tuned.


Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

17 comments :

  1. Adding a child to a life is: messy, inconvenient, demanding, complicating, and richly rewarding. But you can't just take them out of storage and inflate them when convenient. In Lior Samson's Homeland Connection thrillers, I decided to make the children integral as the characters age and evolve over the six books.

    When Karl marries Shira, he adopts her six year-old son, Bini. In the second and third book, Bini, as a preteen and teen hacker, plays important roles in their thrilling misadventures. In book four, he stays with his grandmother and his new little sister while the parents take a long delayed kid-free vacation that goes sour. Then he's off for his mandatory service in the Israeli military. By the final book of the double trilogy, he has completed service and a degree from the Technion and becomes a central character, laying the groundwork for a "second generation" series. Wow, something like real life. Maybe that's why so many reviews praise my believable characters.

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  2. Thanks for your input, Larry. Glad you found a way to integrate a child into your series. I'm not finding it quite so easy. Nice promo, by the way.

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  3. In book one of my thriller series, I used a child as an anchor and motivator for my protagonist. W seemed to work well so I left her in. Now, writing book two, I realized that I committed myself to raising this child with the series, I can't just dump her out of the story arc. Children are interesting elements, but also ones exceptionally difficult elements. Once a book parent, always a book parent.

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    1. Exactly, Jason. I'm trying to ward off the problem before it becomes one. Adding a kid is tricky, because you're right--we just can't dump them when that storyline is over.

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  4. Polly, my Kelly O'Connell series has had her two daughters in it since the first book. I find it a good way to show another side of Kelly. I also did a book about street children in Fort Worth when orphan trains were running and this was the end of the line. You have to do what feels right to you but I vote for making Teo a part of the team. Seems a natural. He's got street skills--very valuable.

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    1. I think it's different when the child is in the story from the beginning. Also, your books are cozier than mine and more family oriented. Sticking a kid in with the whackos Diana and Ernie come up against is extra tricky. I do like keeping him in as a regular, but it can't be strained to make it work.

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  5. To introduce a child as a permanent character would unquestionably change the relationship dynamics, just as the introduction of a child changes the dynamics of a real life relationship. The important question is, as a writer do you want to explore these changes?

    Another factor to consider is your audience. This is my own prejudice talking here, but as a reader of crime fiction, I have no interest in reading about child rearing or parenthood struggles. That’s not to say I don’t like books about kids. I read a lot of MG and YA, but that’s a different kettle of fish.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. That was what I was coming up against, VR. Where would I go? I'll have to give it some more thought. He will be part of the story, but will he be a permanent part?

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  6. I think the biggest question is why is the child needed? Does it really add to the story? In Deborah Crombie's mystery series, the couple are both police and they have children. Crombie factors them in particularly well. In Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, the couple marries and has children, but have very little action, but add a poignancy and a personal risk factor.

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    1. The child is part of the storyline in this particular book of the series. My predicament is where I go with him? All the things mentioned are considerations. It only works as a permanent character if he adds something I can use. I wouldn't want him to be a floater.

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  7. You're braver than I am. I had doubts about including a dog. Coward that I am, I boarded him when the going got rough and he'd be in danger. The darkest books I know with kids are Tami Hoag's Liska and Kovacs books. Liska has two kids, but they aren't major players. I'm with VR on reading about child rearing and such--that's a whole 'nother game.

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  8. I can guarantee there won't be any child rearing, I've totally put that out of my memory.

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  9. This is a very interesting discussion, Polly. I immediately envisioned Téo as a street-savvy, self-sufficient, juvenile-delinquent-in-the-making who also possesses some very redeeming qualities/abilities or perhaps even contacts. Street kids often more or less raise themselves, and they quickly learn basic skills of surviving in the concrete jungle -- or else they become victims of that lifestyle. What if something happens that puts Téo in the clutches of social services, and he ends up as a temporary placement with your protagonists (because Lucier has become involved with him) while a caseworker works on a more permanent arrangement? This would allow you to explore the viability of keeping him as a regular or writing him out of the story if too many complications accompany his presence. On the other hand, he could end up being adopted by your protagonists (or somebody else), depending on how the story plays out. What fun! :-)

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    1. Linda, I do have him written as having been placed in social services. And I have that Lucier wants to foster him. You have put the story exactly where I have it. Great minds.

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  10. I write two mystery series where the female sleuth has children, and the grandmothers get the care of those kids a lot. In one case the kids are mid teens and in my current case the kid is preteen. My idea in the later series is to have the daughter start helping with crime solving as years go by.

    Your Teo reminds me a bit of Rusty, a street kid added late in life to the TNT series Major Crimes, which is basically the show The Closer without Kyra Sedgewick. Anyway, Rusty grew up on the streets but despite everything, seems to have a strong moral compass. Rusty's life is way different from the other kids in his high school. Because of what he's seen and done, he's way older than his calendar years, but he still makes teenaged mistakes which are endearing and add complications to the plot.

    I agree with a lot of what's been said here. The question about Teo seems to be "do you want to write about the complications he will bring to the story?" instead of "does he fit into the series". I honestly don't think there's a right or wrong answer.

    You could always include him, have him worm his way into their hearts, and then have him disappoint them majorly when he runs away (or something) that will keep bringing him back into future storylines as a means whereby they think they've failed. Teo could disappoint them because he's keeping other secrets, maybe other kids he has to save? I actually see lots of possibilities for future plots.

    The bottom line is that the choice is yours.

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    1. Those are all good ideas, Maggie. Since you've already read the beginning, you see where I've been going, or not going, as the case may be. I'm sure once I clear my mind, I'll come up with something. Yeah, right!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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