Friday, January 13, 2012

Writing a Series

by Jean Henry Mead

After you write that standalone novel, your publisher may suggest that it become a series. So it’s important that you like your protagonist(s) and want to continue writing about them. Agatha Christie grew tired of writing about Hercule Poirot and wanted to kill him off, just as Conan Doyle attempted to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes.

When I began my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, I named my two protagonists Shirley Lock and Dora Holmes. They were known as Shirl Lock & Holmes, a corny spin on the detective and his physician narrator. When my publisher closed its doors, I resold the series and changed the names to Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty. By that time my two women sleuths had become like old friends, whom I enjoy visiting to eavesdrop on their conversations.

Dana is a bit autobiographical while Sarah is like my friend Marge, who is outspoken and often so funny that she has me laughing tears. Dana is a mystery novel buff, who, with her friend Sarah, a private investigator’s widow, buy a motorhome to travel the West, as I’ve done.
Making the two women mobile provides them new settings in each novel. Although two of their motorhomes have been wrecked in the first three books, Dana’s wealthy sister dies and leaves her a considerable sum of money as well as a Wyoming mansion. The money allows them additional   mystery solving opportunities as well as extensive travel.

Most protagonists have a job and the author needs to be knowledgeable about the occupation, or at least know the basics. And above all, enjoy writing about the job on a continuing basis, without becoming bored. Another pitfall is to change the tone of the writing. For instance, you shouldn't  begin writing a cozy and decide in the middle of the series to darken it to a noir. Readers will complain. I’ve covered various subjects in my series, including adultery, drug gangs and homegrown terrorists, but with humor, so I’ve been able to get away with subjects not usually associated with two 60-year-old feisty amateur sleuths. And readers have fortunately told me that each book has been a fun read.

If your series becomes popular, you may have to continue writing it longer than you'd like. J. K. Rowling was able to discontinue her Harry Potter series after seven books but Sue Grafton is committed to 26. Her schedule has changed over the years and she now only writes three hours a day with one published novel every two years. At 71, she’ll be nearly 80 when Z is for Zero is released, but she plans to continue writing about her private investigator on a standalone basis after the series ends. She admits that Kinsey Millhone is her alter ego and that she enjoys writing about her.

I can't imagine writing 26 novels about someone you don't like and I'm glad that I enjoy my characters, especially my lovesick sheriff.


Morgan Mandel said...

It takes special characters for an ongoing series. I'm glad you like yours!

I'm doing a mini-series of three books, based on my current paranormal romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. I don't think it will continue after that, since I only have in my mind what the other two books will be about.

Morgan Mandel

Jean Henry Mead said...

I would have a difficult time leaving my characters behind. They're like old friends.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

When I started working on my novel, I went into it with the idea that it would be a stand alone as well as the start of a series.

Now, I just need to write the rest of the story. :))

Jean Henry Mead said...

I hear you, Kevin. I think each novel in a series should be a standalone, but with a small amount of backstory to fill the reader in on what's happened previously.