Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Tips on writing a series

Have you ever thought about writing a series of books? Here, prolific author and great friend, David Robinson, gives his thoughts and advice.

On Friday, November 23rd, Crooked Cat Books released the fifth STAC Mystery, Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend. Five books, all with the same central characters, but the only theme common to them is a murder mystery.
Writing with a series in mind is a fine idea, and even when I produce stand alone novels, like Voices, I tend to finish them with a sequel in mind. There are many pros to turning out a series. But, equally, there are a few cons.
The STAC Mysteries are just beginning to be noticed, and a part of that lies in the series factor. A reader buys one, enjoys, and buys another, and another, and another. Why? Because they know what they’re getting.
From the writer’s point of view, this is a great advantage. As long as you can keep the storylines fresh, keep the characters in character, maintain or improve the level of quality you set at the start, then the readers will follow, perhaps slowly at first, but they will be there.
In a stand alone novel, you have 100,000 words to develop your character(s). In a series, you can have them grow. Joe Murray, the amateur sleuth of the STAC Mysteries, is a case in point. Grumpy, hiding a heart of gold, Joe remains obstinately single after his divorce, but with this fifth book I took the opportunity to re-introduce him to the joys of love (non-graphically, of course) and in the sixth book, I’m taking that theme a stage further.
Another advantage is you don’t have to go into detail on character backgrounds. Most of the groundwork has been done in the first book. A few reminders here and there in subsequent tales are all that is needed. It frees you up to concentrate on plot and action.
Finally, the great advantage a series has over, say a serial, is that each novel is a stand alone. Think of Harry Potter as an example. Would Goblet of Fire make complete sense if you had not read the earlier books? But if you read Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend, it would make perfect sense, and you could go back to The Filey Connection (the first STAC Mystery) at your leisure.
But it’s not all plain sailing. There are downsides to the series, and the biggest one is accuracy.
Joe was born sometime around 1955. He was 55 years old in The Filey Connection. I cannot, then, have him as 54 years old in Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend. Opposite Joe’s cafĂ© is Doncaster Road Industrial Estate. It will always be Doncaster Road Industrial Estate. It cannot suddenly change to Sanford Industrial Estate, anymore than the local newspaper can start off as the Sanford Gazette and later become the Sanford Herald. To make such changes needs an explanation, and to avoid error, keeping detailed records is vital.
It’s one of the tenets of writing novels that you should know every, tiny detail about your characters. That goes double for writing a series. One of Joe’s friends is diabetic. I cannot have her taking heaps of sugar in her tea when I’m six books in. Another is a self-employed painter and decorator. If I have him installing a new central heating system several books down the line, the reader will want to know where he got the skills and whether he’s just doing it as a favour.
Another problem you face with the series is variety. The Filey Connection was a traditional, British seaside mystery. When I began work on the second book, The I-Spy Murders, I set it in Skegness, but then I changed my mind and moved it to Chester. I did not want the STAC Mysteries to become seaside mysteries. Since then, I’ve set them in Leeds, York, and with Murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend, Lincoln. I vary the murders, the murderers, the circumstances and the motives as much as I can.
Is there a limit?
I don’t know. Alan Hunter, author of the George Gently novels, turned out 46 between 1955 and his death in 1982. I’d like to think that the STAC Mysteries could go that kind of distance, but only time will tell.
In the meantime, if you’re contemplating a series, go for it. I’ll keep an eye out for you in the Kindle charts.

David Robinson is a 62-year-old freelance writer, novelist and blogger. He lives and works in Greater Manchester, England.
He has published six novels with Crooked Cat Books, five of which are STAC Mysteries.
He was a volunteer editor on 50 Stories for Pakistan, an anthology whose profits go to the Red Cross to help those afflicted by the 2010 floods in Pakistan. He was also a managing editor on 100 Stories for Queensland, the proceeds going to help victims of the Queensland floods of January 2011.
You can find David at http://www.dwrob.com and you can learn more about the STAC Mysteries at https://sites.google.com/site/sanford3rdageclubmysteries/

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1 comment:

Catriona King said...

Great article and I completely agree with everything said here about writing series