The Aging Protagonist by Paty Jager

I get an online ezine called the Crimereads. It has great articles about mystery books, authors, and the genre. The latest one had a topic on what makes a good protagonist and in the article the writer talked about how some protagonists age through the lifetime of their series and others don’t.

Because I am a writer who likes to keep my stories as real as possible, I tend to age my characters and keep track of the time/years for each book. If I write three books in one year, they are set in that year. So the next year, my characters are a year older and things, like secondary characters getting pregnant are part of my secondary plots. I remember reading books with characters that didn’t seem to age. Like Kinsey Milhone (the character who was the impetus for me to try my hand at writing mysteries), Miss Marple, Stephanie Plum, Mrs. Pollifax, and even James Qwilleran, and his two Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum

It will be interesting to see how long I can keep my character Gabriel Hawke traipsing about the Eagle Cap Wilderness solving murders when I started him out at 53 years old. But I have a feeling he will be going strong for a good long time. People around him will age, as will he, but we’ll see if his aging makes him think harder about family, his own presumably.

As for Shandra Higheagle, she has married since becoming a mystery character and while her friends are all becoming pregnant, I haven’t decided if she’s going to become pregnant, if she and Ryan will be a childless family, or if they will bring an older child into their family. It’s all up in the air at this time. It all winds around in my head as I ponder the future for these two.

One thing I know for certain. My characters will age, their lives will have ups and downs, and I hope they continue to be characters readers want to read about.

What are some of your favorite characters and have they aged over the course of their series or stayed the same?

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8 thoughts on “The Aging Protagonist by Paty Jager

  1. I intentionally started my series with my protagonist in her late twenties so I could follow her life for a long time. I plan to take her into her forties, as long as I keep having ideas for more books. So far, I’m not running out. I prefer series in which characters age. I love how Anne Hillerman has carried on Tony Hillerman’s series, and how Joe Leaphorn is portrayed throughout the whole, long series into old age and through major life changes. There’s one series I stopped reading when the author wrote an article in which she said her protagonist would always be thirty. No one is always thirty. (I wasn’t crazy about that series to start with.) James D. Doss aged his characters in his Charlie Moon series. Charlie’s aunt, the shaman Daisy Perika, was so old at the beginning it was hard to tell how much older she got, but he began describing her as the oldest living member of the Southern Ute tribe. Another major character in the series, Sarah Frank, matures from a shamanically gifted child to a young adult over the course of the series. A humorous touch in the aging of the characters is how Charlie goes into middle age without seeming much older while his closest friend, police chief Scott Parris, aware of the contrast, battles with his weight and starts going bald. As for your books, I can see Hawke still going strong in his sixties. Going deeper, but still working.


  2. I like series characters to age… but not too much. Sue Grafton was a sort of rebel and Kinsey Milhone got sort of left behind. If the series clips along nicely and is a page-turner, readers don’t pay much attention to character’s ages…. unless the author makes a big deal with it.
    Just write… and we’ll read!

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  3. Denise, I felt the same way about the Stephanie Plum books, but I only made it to book 10. 😉 I like believable characters. Thanks for commenting!


  4. I’m glad you wrote this piece, Paty. I think about this all the time when I’m writing in my series. How much should my character change in this story; what will he/she be doing in the next one? I want my characters to change and grow in the series, but I don’t want their story to take over the mystery. Joe Silva changes more than Anita Ray, and so far Auntie Meena changes not at all.

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    1. Susan, I have the same feelings. A character needs to age and show growth to be a character I want to read or write. It makes the characters more realistic.

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  5. The entire cast of Harry Potter, of course; Earlene Fowler’s quilting mysteries featuring Benni Harper; Mar Daheim’s Emma Lord series. Denise Swanson’s Skye Dennison series …

    I thoroughly enjoyed the first dozen or so of the Stephanie Plum novels, but part of what put me off was she never progressed – that and the love triangle.

    I like to see some forward motion in my characters, makes them seem more real and relatable.

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