Are Janet Evanovich’s novels romance, fantasy, or paranormal? No matter which genre I search, her books appear, but I avoided her because of my current frustration (check out February’s post). Evanovich’s books aren’t sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal; technically, her works might not even qualify as romance.
So why does she keep appearing? Why is she so popular?
I finally gave in to temptation. I tried the Lizzy and Diesel series; then I tried the Stephanie Plum series. Well, five books later, I was shocked. Stephanie Plum is a New Jersey bounty hunter, who quite luckily finds her criminals, with twenty-five novels in her series. Twenty-five criminals, plans that go awry, near misses, and eventual take downs. I read the books, and I know what to expect every time, yet I keep reading.
The plots were interesting, with events funny and unexpected, but her characters made me keep reading. The people in these stories seem unique, real, and authentic.
A lot of writing advice talks about character development: the character mustn’t be too perfect. She must be flawed, relatable, and unique. This advice is mostly true since my favorite characters blurt out the wrong things at the wrong time, act aggressively, or are moody SOBs. However, those flaws become annoying quickly if they are the only distinguishing characteristics. Honestly, I know quite a few “unique” real personalities, but I wouldn’t want to read their stories. So, the advice doesn’t capture what is truly important about a character.
Why are Evanovich’s characters great? What makes great characters?
Great characters have nothing to do with the plot. I’ve read books that frustrate me. The plot makes no sense. The world is too far-fetched, and the events are too ridiculous to draw me in, but I kept reading. I made it to the end, and sometimes, I bought the next book in the series. And I wasn’t plot-motivated. Instead, I was invested in the character. I wanted her or him to be happy or to be safe, but the plot didn’t guarantee it. I needed to finish the book.
For me, Janet Evanovich’s series do that to me. I like the stories, but the characters draw me in. They feel like people I know and care about. They feel real, which is the next requirement.
The characters must feel like real people. An author shouldn’t follow her grand-aunt Bess around to cultivate her mannerisms for a book persona, but the character must feel like a living, breathing person.
Janet Evanovich does a great job in her series. Everything about Stephanie Plum feels like a real person rather than a façade. As I read her dialogue, I can hear her accent and envision her gestures. Even her responses seem real rather than silly slip-ups and mishaps to make her more interesting than she is. Every eye roll, every snort, every joke seems in character. She feels like someone I’ve met in Jersey. She is familiar without being a stereotype.
Characters should draw the reader back in. No, not the plot. I don’t mean the reader is anxiously biting a nail and tapping a foot while jonesing for the results of a particularly frustrating cliffhanger. That’s the plot keeping the reader hooked.
Instead, the great character comes to mind when a word or phrase or situation comes to the reader’s mind. A clumsy colleague reminds me of the moment Jillian’s brother slips off the side of the mountain, and the protagonist dove to catch him. She caught him, clinging to his hand as he kicked and screamed and slowly drug her lighter weight over the edge with his heavier form (Linda Howard, Heart of Fire).
Yes, the moment is pivotal, but as a reader, I remember Jillian’s instinctual response to protect a brother. I remember her quiet determination, despite a dislocated shoulder, not to drop him. I remember her refusal to let him go. And I admired her.
Characters should draw the readers’ response. The character makes me laugh because the character said something that still makes the reader shake his/her head. Like Mencheres, a reserved Egyptian pharaoh who is now one of the most powerful vampires in the Night Huntress series. I see a stiff character in a movie and laugh because I think of Cat (the main character) complaining that Mencheres should speak English to which he replies: “The shit’s gonna splatter, start bugging yo.” (Jeannie Frost, Destined for an Early Grave).
The character who makes readers cry because I remember the heartbreak or laugh at the shock, the vampire who makes me forget that vampires aren’t real–those characters—their tangle of complex behaviors, their humor, and sorrows, are why readers read.
So, writers, could you give me more of them?