Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by historical and suspense western author C.K. Crigger.
Writing a Series
Everyone seems to love a series, readers, writers, and publishers. I’d say mysteries lead the way, followed by Science fiction and fantasies, and even Westerns. Standalones are becoming almost a rarity in these genres.
What draws us to a series? Characters, first and foremost, just like every other story. Create a hero/ine a reader can relate to, throw him into an impossible situation, and you’ve got the reader hooked.
As a reader, your acquaintance with the hero(ine) grows with every book. Soon you’re likely to know her friends, her job, even her relatives almost as well as she does. How would you like a Grandma Mazur for a relative as written by Janet Evanovich in her Stephanie Plum series? Grandma is so far over-the-top she’s flying, but boy, is she fun.
We become, in fact, so involved in these character’s lives, loves, and adventures, that the next book in a series becomes an automatic buy—lovely for the author. If by chance the publisher drops a series, we write letters on Twitter and Facebook urging them to bring our favorites back. Sometimes the campaign works–sometimes it doesn’t.
Beyond characters, of course, the writer needs a good plot. Something original, if there is any such thing anymore. But even if the plot is a little mundane, readers will often stay with beloved characters. I can’t imagine not reading Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mystery series that is written from the perspective of a dog. Sounds a bit silly, you say? It’s not. Not mundane, either. The whole process is completely believable as written by Quinn. This is a series on my “automatic buy” list.
Setting also often features in why we love a series. I’d never know the Jersey shore (not that I know it, exactly) except for books by the likes of E.J. Copperman, Chris Grabenstein and Elaine Orr. They all write a clever and funny mystery series set in the east. I’m from the American West and their chosen locale seems almost exotic to me. Each series helps bring it alive.
Then there’s era. I love stories set from around the 1890s to just after World War I. I’ll try just about any book depicting that time frame, as long as it’s gives me an accurate look at life in the period. A whole series thrills me. Think Anne Perry, Rhys Bowen, or Victoria Thompson. Want the Victorian era in the American West? Think Meg Mims, or C.K. Crigger’s China Bohannon series.
This is the way I see a series from a reader’s viewpoint. But what if you’re the one writing the series? What is the advantage to you? Any disadvantages?
We come back to the characters. The writer had better have a pretty good grasp of her characters before the book is even begun, but during the course of writing, leave room for the characters to grow. Facts about them need to come out, some quickly, some slow. How are they going to react to zig-zags in the plot? How do they interact with other characters? What are their fears, their weaknesses, their strengths. Remember how a reader likes to relate to the character? You’ve got to make those characters come alive.
With a series you can start a thread in one book, and keep it going in the next—and the next, and the next. From a writer’s standpoint, the challenge is fun. The kind of thread I’m talking about, for example, might be like one in my Gunsmith series, in that Boothenay Irons always seems to get stuck riding a horse. She is not a fan of horses, in a general way. You can’t, however, leave a thread integral to concluding the story dangling for another book. A satisfying end to the action is a necessity. We’ve probably all heard complaints about books where writers failed to do this and instead of enticing the person into buying the next book, made them angry.
By the time an author has two or three books featuring the same star players, writing those characters should be almost second nature. Just don’t forget to have your character grow—and surprise the reader once in a while. Change can be good for your characters because you want to keep them bright and invigorating for the readers. And for you, too, as the writer. If you get bored, so will readers. It may be a good idea to break out and write a different book now and then, just to keep yourself fresh.
Publishers are also fans of series. Makes sense. Anytime people line up outside bookstores to buy the latest in so-and-so’s series, (Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, for instance) it’s money in their pocket. Promotional expenses are lowered—an obvious win-win situation for everyone. And since bookcovers, often a considerable expense, are likely to be similar in tone and content for the series, this will also help in the production expense department. Another win.
Have fun with your series, as a reader or a writer.
Morgen: Thank you, C.K. Having written six standalones (one’s online as an eBook, the rest are still in files), I’ve started (half-way ish) through a series and it’s much tougher as I keep moving things from one book to another. I’m a pantser rather than a plotter but I’m wishing I’d plotted for the series. It would have made life easier, so I’m doing a chapter-by-chapter plan and that’s really helping. I have a publisher interested in one of the standalones so hopefully if that works out, the series can go that way too.
Born and raised in North Idaho on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, C.K. Crigger lives with her husband and three feisty little dogs in Spokane Valley, Washington. She is a member of Western Writers of America and reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup magazine. Imbued with an abiding love of western traditions and wide-open spaces, C.K. writes of free-spirited people who break from their standard roles. In her books, whether westerns, mysteries, or fantasy, the locales are real places. All of her books are set the Inland Northwest, the westerns with a historical background. Her short story, Aldy Neal’s Ghost, was a Spur finalist. Her western novel, Black Crossing, won the 2008 Eppie. Letter of the Law was a Spur finalist in the audio category.
A member of Western Writers of America, she reviews books and writes occasional articles for Roundup Magazine. Recently, she’s begun reviewing for CnC Bookstore in the mystery and science fiction categories. CK’s website is http://www.ckcrigger.com.
Released February 1,2014 from Amber Quill Press: Gone Rogue: Book #5 in the Gunsmith Series
This isn’t time-traveling gunsmith Boothenay Irons’s first foray into a different time or place. She’s even been kidnapped before. But this experience is shaping up to be unlike any of the others. Events in this strange steampunkish world, this alternate America, don’t mesh with history as she knows it.
Boothenay, along with her dog, McDuff, has been accidentally dragged behind a mysterious veil between worlds, and the only way home is through the good offices of her kidnappers. The thing is, they’re just a little busy to attend to her needs, what with a dicey hostage situation, a massive land grab, political dirty tricks—and that’s just the cream off the top.
What’s a woman to do?
Stay out of it, that’s what. If she can, because when Boothenay takes a hand, people had better look out. And she’d best not get too interested in freedom fighter Kellen Tatrov, either. That kind of guy doesn’t have a record of living a long life…
ISBN: 978-1-61124-548-6 (Electronic) $5.25 and / or ISBN: 978-1-61124-840-1 (Paperback)
- from this blog, another guest who has written on this topic is… Nicole Dunlap.
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