Spy Novels and Reintroducing Characters

DefectorI finished reading Daniel Silva‘s latest Gabriel Allon thriller The Defector last night, and I wanted to talk about it. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know I don’t represent thrillers, but I do enjoy reading them, and Silva is one of those authors I like to keep up with.

With a multi-book series like this, though, I think the author can run the risk of boring readers with long, detailed descriptions of characters they’ve met before, in previous books. I’m not saying I was bored, exactly (and that may be because in Silva’s books, I don’t have a hard time keeping track of the important characters — Gabriel, Chiara, Shamron — and I don’t mind forgetting about the others), but I felt like if I had the previous book in front of me at the same time as The Defector, I could easily flip to similar descriptions the last time these characters were introduced.

Don’t get me wrong — it needs to be done somehow. As a writer, you can’t assume that every reader will work their way through your entire oeuvre. Some may come to you midway through a series, and you have to make some new introductions, even while your faithful readers are standing nearby at the cocktail party that is your book, saying to themselves, “Yes, I know who that is, we’ve met before, get back to your story!”

I’m remembering another author’s series where I read two books in close succession, and I noticed word-for-word repeats of character description. You have to find the middle ground that works for you — that keeps your longtime readers engaged, and doesn’t leave your newer readers clueless.

Those of you that are writing series certainly need to be aware of this, but it’s useful information for all writers. Even if you don’t NEED to find different ways to introduce your characters, can you? And (nod to this off-color but dead-on review of The Phantom Menace) can you do it without describing what they look like, what they’re wearing, or what their job or “role” is?

Try it with some of your favorite characters! I’ll give you one to start with: Spencer Martin. Ok, go!

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