Friday, March 6, 2015
Writing a Series
by Rhys Bowen
The truth is that the choice is often not ours to make. Many writers, including myself, find out that we're writing a series when the publisher accepts the first book and asks, "Do you already have an idea for the next one?"
In fact most mystery writers get their start writing a series, and this has many advantages: you have a chance to build a readership over several books. You develop a presence on the shelves of the chain stores. You have a chance to develop an ever-deepening relationship with your main character, rather like an ongoing friendship in which he or she reveals more and more interesting personal and past details.
In many ways it's more comfortable to write a series. Each book starts with known facts, familiar characters, setting, subsidiary characters.
Of course there are disadvantages to writing a series: The biggest one is that you are stuck with your sleuth. Make sure you like him and find him interesting at the beginning. Agatha Christie came to loathe Hercule Poirot. You're stuck with the environment. If you aren't really fascinated with llama breeding, don't make your sleuth a llama breeder. You'll get mail from llama fanciers every day. You'll be expected to go to llama shows and knit llama sweaters.
Certain crimes will never happen in your environment.
You are not free to try new approaches--alternating points of view, darker approach, etc. Make sure you start off with the kind of book you want. If you start with a cozy series you can't go dark in the middle, as I have found out. Your readers except a certain type of book and will be angry if you change. My first Evan was deemed a cozy series. As I've come to know Evan better the books have become darker and meatier but they are still designated as cozy. There are some places I could never go with the stories. Likewise the readers of my Royal Spyness series expect to laugh and be entertained. They would be shocked by anything too dark happening.
And the last disadvantage: if the series becomes popular, you'll be expected to go on writing it forever, which takes from you the chance to try something new. Or, as in my case, you want to try a new idea and find yourself juggling several books a year.
It's hard. A writer should be free to write what whatever wonderful ideas come into her head, but writing these days is a business. I expect it always was. I expect Mr. Dickens's publisher said to him, "Charlie, I told you, no regency romances."
(Excepted from Mysterious Writers, Poisoned Pen Press.)