Writing The Series
Marti Colvin aka I.C. Enger
A series or a stand-alone book, that is the question.
What I had envisioned was writing a mystery book. Just one. What I am in the middle of now is a series of at least three, probably five, mystery books. How did that happen? They say that you write what you read, and I guess it’s true.
When I go to the library or book store to find a mystery, my drug of choice, I look for an author with several books out just in case I really like it. There’s a melancholy to finishing a good book with no others in the wings that I try to avoid if I can. What a great feeling to know that those characters you have just spent days or weeks with and the place where they live will be there again, just pick up the next book and dive into their now familiar world.
I created a county, a town and a lake in the far north where the living is laid back and the surroundings are out of this world. I populated it with interesting people that I want to know, really know, and put them in a house that I designed myself. It has all of the elements a great lake house should have. Why would I want to leave them after one book and go in search of another setting for the next mystery? And why would my readers? Unfortunately it takes me about a year to pop out a new book, but one day there will be a row of them in the library.
The advantages to writing a series vs. a single book are many, not the least being that the setting and characters need be created from whole cloth just once. Subsequent books can be written with the concentration on your part, the writer, focused firmly on crafting the best mystery you can, one that will intrigue and mystify the brightest of those very smart mystery readers. Your choice of main characters has already been made. Smaller rolls can be filled by new characters in later books, and some minor characters will show up again and again. It’s your choice. The seasons can change, natural disasters can occur, plague can visit the hospital. The hospital, though, is right where it was two books ago, which brings me to one of the challenges of writing a series.
The author must possess a killer memory or keep a detailed cheat sheet on each aspect of the newly created people and settings. The readers will notice if the hospital has magically moved to the south part of town from where it was two books ago, on Olive Street on the east side. If your character wears glasses, he must continue to do so unless he visits the eye doctor and gets contacts or laser surgery. In the hospital. Located on Olive Street. You get the idea. If the setting undergoes changes, the changes must be noted in the style sheet, ditto for the characters. Does time pass? Do she grow older with each book? How does she look and feel as time passes? If she ages, all of the characters must age along with her. One great thing about writing a series is that if you have created an aspect of a main character, say a limp, that you simply grow weary of describing, you can change it. Have him go to his doctor and have that expensive operation in the hospital, the one on Olive Street. No more limp. The power is God-like, Bwwaahaha!
A pesky part of writing a series is that a reader might pick up a book in the middle of the series and start reading. Yes, I agree, everyone should begin with book one, but they won’t. The writer will need to bring these readers into the history of the characters and the location in such a way that the reader who did begin with book one does not grow irritated and throw the book across the room, perhaps landing in the fireplace. Repetition in too much detail is out, previous incidents and facts that the reader of THIS book MUST know need to be placed into conversations between characters or by very brief descriptive paragraphs. Easy does it with the past history.
In-depth character development, on the other hand, cannot be considered complete after the first book, never to be done again. The writer must be mindful to create the characters in book four and five as colorfully and vibrantly as she did in book one or risk that the new reader starting with book four will not bond with or care about the people in the book, will become bored with poorly sketched characters and throw the book into the planter. It’s all about protecting the books from destruction.
When does a series end? In some cases, such as Robert B Parker, with the death of the author, much to the bitter disappointment of his readers. With other authors the series ends when the author grows cool toward his main characters and setting. If the writer isn’t mad about the story neither will the readers be in love with it. Go on to a new series, or write a poem or a book in a different genera. Come back when the thought of spending time away from the alternate world you have created is more horrible than the thought of sitting down to the computer and grinding out a new book. That’s how you know it’s time to write that next book, and the next, and the next.
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