With the permission of our leader, I'm going (partly) rogue today and picking up on last week's topic: writing mystery series. Not that the LadyKillers of last week didn't do a great job, but I'm more comfortable with this topic than with social media, the rules of which seem to change by the nanosecond.
(Plus, I dusted the shelf to take this photo, and I don't want to waste that energy.)
My four series, plus a few odd articles and a couple of standalones.
Here are my tips for writing a mystery series:
Tip 1. Plan ahead. Think carefully about your protagonist before you begin a mystery series. Your sleuth, if amateur must have an interesting enough job to ride out many books; thus, a loner in an accounting office might not work. If your protagonist is a professional investigator, he should work enough outside the box to be appealing and worthy of return visits.
Tip 2. Ride the best friend wave. Give your protagonist/sleuth a complementary friend! Is your sleuth logical and literal to the point of obsession? Give her a friend who will force her to dig into her intuitive side, someone who shows her another way to approach problem solving-and life. This Best Friend Forever can be a partner, a spouse, a grandchild, or the old fashioned Watson-like sidekick. You'll be able to bring the best friend forward in other entries to your series.
Tip 3. Make each cohort count. Other than having a best friend, how "connected" should your protagonist be? Not as much as you the author need to be to sell and promote your book! Giving your sleuth too many friends makes the story hard to handle, but give him too few and you're stuck with not enough of a cast to keep a series going. Avoid the trap of needing to conjure up a long-lost cousin in the fifth book.
Tip 4. Location, location, location. Whether your setting is real or fictional, make it sparkle. If it's a real city, be sure to use its special character, whether climate, storied neighborhoods, or physical attraction. If you make up a town, you're free to give it a specialness of your own choosing, like an annual festival or performance, or a unique cuisine. Convince the reader that it's worth revisiting your setting over and over in the series.
Tip 5. Become a bookkeeper. Keeping track of details is especially essential when writing a series. Create a handy chart where you list each character's physical attributes and back story, plus her preferences for things like music, books, hobbies, and fashion. Each time you start a new book in the series, check to be sure that if Virgil has a son in book two, he still has a son in book three.
Tip 6. Become a sketch artist. Even a crude sketch of your crime scene will come in handy for keeping the details of the crime straight throughout the book. Sketch every room that's important in your story. The sketches also serve as inspiration if you find yourself blocked and needing a new avenue to explore. Go back to the sketches. Where's the bullet casing? What purpose is served by the window overlooking the garden?
Tip 7. Start in the middle. Be ready when readers want the first in your series and the bookstore has only your latest in stock. Remind readers through promotion that each book stands on its own with a fully developed and resolved story and that your protagonist can be completely understood as he appears in each book. Just as you can make new friends mid-life, you can meet a character mid-series and have a satisfying relationship.
Tip 8. Make your own calendar. Books in a series are typically released a year apart. Does your sleuth also age a year? Are you ready for a sleuth that's twelve years older in the twelfth book? It's your choice, but if you make your sleuth ageless, be sure to deal correctly with factors like changes in technology. A fictional investigator operating even five years ago has significantly fewer resources at her disposal. Keep track of your schedule of aging!
Tip 9. Kill creatively. Be aware that readers of series like to be surprised, but not too much! Stay true to the personalities and voices of your characters, but be creative with your villains, weapons, and the resources your protagonist uses to solve the crime. Find a new way to build suspense in each book and a new escape route for your sleuth in each threatening situation.
Tip 10. Postpone the wedding. Romantic threads are common in mystery series and there's much debate about whether keeping the romantic tension between unmarried characters is preferable to marrying them off quickly. It does seem that there are more opportunities for adventures and hazardous duty if your sleuth doesn't have to be home for dinner every night! Your choice, and it's your job to be sure no excitement is lost whether your sleuth says "I do" or not.