Taking Series Characters on the Road

Curved road leads into the woods.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I’ve now written several books in two different series where I took my series characters on the road.

There were a few different reasons I wanted to do this. For one, I feel like it can be a good way to keep a series fresh for both readers and the writer. For one book, I particularly wanted to write a ‘manor house’ style mystery where the setting is confined to one, isolated spot (with a murderer in the group). For another book, I thought it would be an interesting hook to set the story at a place my protagonist despises: Greener Pastures Retirement Home.

My editor for the manor house story was leery about the idea.  She said that readers tend to like their characters to stay in the same setting.  I agree–that’s usually what I like as a reader, too.  But I managed with that story to take many of the story characters with me (making it as believable as I could).

With the retirement home mystery, the setting wasn’t far from the characters’ usual home base.  This allowed regular interaction between the main characters and some of the recurring ones.

But this time for my last Myrtle Clover book, I decided to try something different.   Reader reviews were mixed on the series road trips.  I did a good deal of planning for Crusing for Murder and the reviews have been much better.  Readers have actually particularly mentioned in reviews that they enjoyed the change of scenery and pace (this is also book 10 in the series, so maybe they were ready for a change).

Differences this time: 

I started and ended the book with the characters at home visiting with recurring characters who aren’t going on the road trip.

I had the recurring, non-trip characters ‘check in’ with my sleuth while she was gone.  Myrtle checked her emails and even had some written messages (mysterious ones) left in her luggage by a friend.

I kept as many series tropes as I possibly could.  Myrtle and Miles are insomniacs so I used it on the ship to help them run into various suspects.  Myrtle puts out garden gnomes to irritate her son when he annoys her and I found a way to work that in.

I kept the location moving.  Previously, I’d centered my “road trip stories” on a single location: an isolated house cut off by a storm, and a retirement home.  Putting my characters on a cruise meant that I could keep the setting more entertaining for readers who might be disappointed not to have the story located in the characters’ hometown.

Have you taken your series characters on a road trip?  How did you make that process easier on your readers?  Do you like it when your favorite show or book series takes characters on the road?

Tips for taking your series characters on a road trip: Click To Tweet

Photo credit: EJP Photo via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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18 thoughts on “Taking Series Characters on the Road

  1. As a reader I enjoy stories where the protagonist takes a trip now and then. It makes them more realistic. It’s good to have a core base with familiar characters but in a daily lives we don’t always interact with the same people so stories need to reflect that also. A cruise is a great way to let your protagoist meet new people and encounter mysteries (as well as murder) they won’t at home.

  2. Those are really good pieces of advice, Elizabeth – thanks. I think there does need to be a connection between the characters’ ‘regular’ haunts and the ‘on the road’ setting. Your post is really timely, too. The manuscript I’m revising right now has my protagonist in a different setting for most of the novel. I’m working on tying everything together, if I can put it that way.

    1. Margot–Sounds like a fun book!

      I did think that pulling the recurring supporting characters in as much as possible probably helped the most (whether by including them at the front and end of the story or by having them call/write/email at various points in the story).

  3. Thanks for these very timely tips. I’m currently working on a cozy mystery series in which the main character lives on a sailboat. One of the things I’ve been trying to work through is a desire to have the main character travel to different locations on her sailboat while realizing that readers may prefer to have the books set in one location with familiar faces. I read Cruising for Murder with interest to see how you handled taking your characters on the road and thought you did a very nice job of finding the right balance between familiar and new settings.

    1. Ellen–That sounds like a fun series! I bet readers will love the change of pace.

      Maybe you could have your sidekick on the boat, too? Or else your sleuth could have a habit of checking in with him or her remotely.

      Thanks for the kind words for ‘Cruising for Murder!’

  4. “The Murder Boat …. will be coming your way … ”

    Sorry. Keep the day job. I know.

    I’ve been struggling with this whole business of “home” for my murders.

    I’m never happy when East Farbourough turns out to be the murder capital of not only Wales but the U.K and all of Europe by the time I’m in the fifth book! I live near Detroit and so have fairly thick skin about these things but come on … we have to be a little realistic. So, road trips? Great.

    I’m making a detective who “came home” for the position of respect and accomplishment which comes from being the local law have to leave. It’s the struggle. If you promise to keep order and set a record for murders in just a couple years, well. “Home” isn’t what you thought and folks aren’t who you thought they were when corpses begin to pile up around town. Disillusionment: great theme (I think).

    Give the character a dream. Immerse them in it. Then shatter the illusion into a nightmare that runs them out of town. In effect, give a character a dog then shoot the dog.

    I wish more authors put central characters on “the road.” Who didn’t like Odysseus? Great guy — as long as you weren’t in the crew. Sorry about the cyclops, boys.

    Sometimes, you just gotta hit the road.

    1. Jack–‘The Murder Boat’ sounds better than ‘The Love Boat,’ at any rate, haha! (Cheesy US 70s show for those of you who are not from the States or are too young to get the reference).

      I know what you mean. It’s frequently called ‘Cabot Cove Syndrome’ after the ‘Murder, She Wrote’ problem of multitudinous bodies in a tiny Maine town. The corpses piling up, for sure!

      I feel sorry for your detective, but it sounds like a great book!

      Myrtle on an odyssey…hmmm…

  5. As a reader, I like the opportunity for characters to experience new places and be taken out of their comfort zone to see how they handle it. However, I also like some connection to home.
    A bit like mum and dad checking-in on the babysitter. They feel relieved all is going well. As they get to know the sitter and the kids look forward to her, they feel confident about not checking in as often, which is your book 10 stage.

  6. Hi Elizabeth–going to add this to my reference file! I especially like bookending the story with “home” and finding ways to weave the familiar elements throughout the “away” parts. My characters do travel, but it’s always between books! Time to get real, especially with their wedding coming up! Thank you, as always.

  7. Hi Elizabeth – these sound interesting … a cruise, a train trip – Agatha Christie did both … but if you’ve got a series running, which people relate to .. they’ll go along with you – being sensible with your characters and the application of the reason etc … should be good – and of course now – we can email, text etc to keep in touch .. it’s a bit hair-raising keeping all the details together. Well done and good luck with some more road journey travels .. cheers Hilary

    1. Hilary-Good point about it being so easy to keep in touch these days with people from home, which makes writing these stories so much easier!

      Agatha had an advantage in having a private eye who traveled. And Miss Marple was rarely in St. Mary’s Mead, ha! I think, as you’re saying, if we start out with our detective traveling (or character traveling, in other genres) then we set expectations from the beginning.

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