Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Writing a Series

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

Whenever I mention that my Sam Harper books are a series, the same questions keep coming up: “Are they a sequel? Does one book pick up where the other leaves off?”

No, a series are stand alone works. The reader will be able to read any one of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery books and know the characters well without having to read the previous books, but PLEASE, don’t let that stop you!!

Although I write crime, the relationships between characters play a major role in their development. One reviewer put it like this: “ ... the characters are real - they hurt, they fall in love, they suffer angst and explode with anger.” Therefore, what will be obvious to those who begin with book one, SILENCED CRY, is how the characters mature and grow on personal and professional levels throughout the series. The police captain forces Harper and Mann into a partnership in SILENCED CRY which of course causes some friction. Although they have their differences, they eventually work things out. So too, they learn from each other which is true to how realize life relationships work.

The beauty of a series is that they feature the same set of characters who are placed in different situations. They are allowed to respond to new challenges based on previous experiences. The cast of regulars such as Sam Harper, his father Walt, Sam’s detective partner, Dave Mann, forensics expert, Carter Grave and crusty medical examiner, Jack Fowler will help usher in new criminals and a few interesting players in each book. Although the plots may change drastically, each book will have its own unique set of twists and turns and impossible crimes for Harper to solve. And dare I mention it? In the second book Harper falls for a woman who drives him crazy but makes his weak at the knees.

For me, writing a series has been a labor of love but not without trials and errors. I was fortunate to stumble onto my characters early in my writing career. It’s taken time, however, to really get to know them but I find that with each new book, their dialogue and interactions with other characters has become easier to write. Sometime, if I’m lucky, they dictate the story which makes things easier and allows me the chance to focus on developing the plot.

SILENCED CRY was a series of “firsts.” Like all new writers, I was learning the craft, trying to create believable characters, attempting to find my voice, sorting through “my” style of writing, while creating an interesting, complicated plot that would hold the reader’s interest. Although I continued to work on all of those points, by the time the second book became a reality, I had settled into a rhythm and the story poured out of me—first draft, 63,000 words in 83 days. Granted, I spent the next several months editing it, but it was tremendously fun book to write.

Now as I work on the third book, I’ve discovered an exciting new idea to ponder. One of the new characters demands her own series. So now the challenge is to make sure that her characterization fits the plot and works well in this book but that I give her traits that will make her a strong, likeable protagonist in her own right.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta - I get the same questions at book signings about my LeGarde Mysteries. Although I wrote them to stand alone and be perfectly able to read out of order without confusion, they - as opposed to yours - do march forward in time. With the exception of two flashback books (one to 1964 and one to 1969), they progress sequentially. So - here's a tip for all you writers who do series. When you go to book signings, expect to sell MANY more of your first book than any others. Even though you may have a new book, hot off the press, most of the people who come to the table (especially at my winery book signings) are meeting you and your characters for the first time. And they always - almost ALWAYS - want the first book in the series.

I read lots of my favorite authors' series books out of sequence, and loved them all. But I guess folks like to start at the beginning when they have the option. My readers have said they prefer this order: DOUBLE FORTE(2004), UPSTAGED(2005), TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON(2007-the prequel!)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Oh, and I meant to say I loved your article!!! LOL.

Marta Stephens said...

That's an interesting observation about people wanting to buy the first book first. It sounds logical though. Based on reader comments, I know SILENCED CRY has been read by 2-3 times the number of people who have bought it (borrowed from a friend or family member. Checked it out at the library). But I suspect (hope) that those who enjoyed reading it (and don't own a copy) will want to purchase both. After all, where's the fun of reading a series if you don't have the entire collection, right? Sounds reasonable to this author.

I do have to correct you on thing, my friend. :) The Harper books do march forward in time. There's a subtle reference in each book to a character or event in the previous book. I'm not sure if I'm ready to let Sam Harper grow old yet though. LOL

Diana Raabe said...

I've often wondered if authors get tired of series-writing. Do you ever get bored with a character? Or are they more like friends (or acquaintances or - worse - enemies)?

I suppose you can just "get rid of them" if they start to annoy you!

Great piece, Marta.

Marta Stephens said...

Great question,Diana. I began writing the Sam Harper books four to five years ago and the reason I turned it into series is because I liked these characters. I wanted to see what other situations they could get themselves out of.

I remember the day I finished the first book, I felt as if I was saying good-bye to old friends. One author described it as going through a grieving process ... I couldn't wait to write another one. :)

I have several other books in mind to write that are not Sam Harper mysteries, but I don't think I could ever get tired of writing this series.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Same here, Marta. Great question, Diana. My characters are my parallel universe, and the way I satisfy my need for someone "new" is with the feature characters. Bets of both worlds, that way. ;o)

Marta - got ya about marching forward in time. Misunderstood your initial intent, but get it now! Just blame it on the heat wave!!

s.w. vaughn said...

Great explanation, Marta, and so very true! Series are addicting. :-)