Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Guest Post: Writing the Series Character by Jon F. Merz

Jon F. Merz is the author of the urban fantasy Lawson Vampire series, which began with The Fixer ten years ago. I've yet to read one of his novels, but I've been curious for some time now so am quite excited to have him visiting the blog to talk about his books.

I've also seen claims that he's a ninja, so please welcome Jon to the blog and see what he has to say.

Writing the Series Character

May 2012 marks the 10th year since Lawson was born into print.  THE FIXER debuted in May 2002 and in the intervening decade, he's had a lot of adventures spread out over seven novels, four novellas (soon to be five), and seven short stories.  That's a lot of writing with the same character as your lead.

With every new Lawson adventure I try to do something over the course of the story that either adds a new dimension or expands on a previously added dimension to the universe he inhabits.  This, for me, is key to ensuring that Lawson never gets stale and uninteresting.  Writers of series must be attuned to this need or else they risk prolonging a franchise that readers grow weary of.

No place did I learn this lesson better than when I was working on the internationally bestselling Rogue Angel series for Harlequin/Gold Eagle.  Over the course of six years, I wrote eleven books starring the famed Annja Creed - an archaeologist who also happens to be able to summon the sword of Joan of Arc on command.  As I delved into ever-crazier adventures with Annja, I kept trying to add new dimensions to the character.  As writers on the series, we were asked not to use "magic" per se, so I tried to give Annja insight into abilities that weren't so much magical as they were "forgotten" within the realm of human possibility.  A few of these adventures made it past the editorial board, but others had those dimensions edited out.  I was asked to reign that segment of Annja's personality in because I was getting perilously close to crossing the line into what people would believe was "magic."

For me, it was important to give her some sort of new dimension each time I wrote her.  But being confined to the strict parameters of the series inevitably took its toll on me.  I grew bored writing Annja; I couldn't explore her character with as much freedom as I could Lawson, simply because Annja was not MY character.  I hadn't created her.  So I could hardly blame the folks at Gold Eagle for wanting her kept firmly on terra firma.  But it did mean that my time with the series was coming to an end.

And that was fine, frankly.  I had a marvelous time working with the great people at Gold Eagle.  They remain one of my favorite companies to work with.  But I was also eager to return to Lawson and his universe.  I think THE RIPPER, which was the first Lawson novel written after my departure from the Rogue Angel series, shows this in pretty blatant fashion.  Lawson has his own battles to go through over the course of the book, but so too do Niles, Marty, and Arthur.  And by adding new dimensions to those characters, they help give Lawson added dimension as well.  While Lawson is very much his own character, he cannot do what he does without the help of his friends.  So they also need to be fleshed out as much as possible so that readers find their own favorites among the cast of characters.

Lawson is a complex character, but at first glance, he's just a simple killing machine.  The key is to hook readers with the obvious: he's a professional assassin with a sarcastic sense of humor and an appetite for Bombay Sapphire & tonics.  That's what readers get fairly immediately.  But as they work their way through the series, the reader realizes that Lawson is also a series of contradictions.  He's a professional assassin, but he still makes mistakes.  He's a sarcastic prick, but he still has a soft side.  He drinks alcohol, but can't stand drinking blood.  He prefers human women over vampire women.  He's loyal to the cause, but not the folks in government.  And often times, he's morally conflicted about the sanctions he is sent out to handle, knowing that he, himself, is guilty of violating one of the most serious laws in the vampire community: he's in love with a human woman named Talya.

Each of these contradictions is a blank canvas for me, as the writer, to explore.  I can take any of them and develop sub-dimensions to Lawson's character that I haven't previously exposed to the reader.  And therein lies the tool I use to make sure Lawson stays fresh with each adventure.  Giving him room to not only grow as he ages and has more missions, but also evolve as he struggles to deal with his contradictions and realize what part they play in who he is as a complete person, er...vampire.

After all, aren't we all equally susceptible to those contradictions?  Don't we recognize in the fictive characters that we read a little bit of ourselves?  I've always aspired to writing a character that feels "real."  Like he could walk off the page and into the reader's life.  Like he could be that man sitting down the bar.  Or that man driving past you on the road, his jaw firmly set with grim determination.

Lawson is ten years old because my readers enjoy seeing his complexity exposed and revealed.  They enjoy the process of getting to know him over the course of many adventures.  And it's because that process is true to life that it works so well.  When we meet someone new, don't we make a series of quick decisions or judgments about them?  They might be fat, skinny, ugly or attractive.  We might immediately notice they dress well or don't, or that they seem to speak in an educated fashion or with a more blue collar tone.  This is the first dimension of an interaction.

It's only later on, as we learn more about our new acquaintance, that we begin to see the other sides they possess.  And the more dimensions a person has, the more interesting we find them.  Writing a series character works the same way; the task of the writer is to mirror that real-life potential in the story itself.

And hopefully, the readers will enjoy it - not just for one decade, but for many.


  1. Ha! Hi Jon, again. :D This is wonderful to learn and hear.

    Bastard, we are on the same wave length, and I don't know if that is good or bad. I read the free bonus story of Lawson and just posted the review today. LOL!

    Wonderful post!

    1. Oh? Will have a look at it later today then when I get time. Haven't been able to get online much in the past few days.

      But skimming through it seems like your really enjoyed it.

  2. This is another series that I'm very much interested in, thanks for the wonderful write-up Jon.



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