The Crime Readers' Association

Leigh and Lee childWriting Series by Leigh Russell

16th May 2014

In the second of her blog posts as CRA Featured Author for May Leigh Russell looks at Writing Series.

As readers, many of us are fans of series. There is comfort in returning to a familiar character. After a while they begin to seem like old friends. We carry on reading the books, not only because we enjoy the stories, but because we want to find out what has happened to the protagonist. To begin with, I was genuinely surprised to receive emails asking me about my detective, her life and her future. I’ve met women who tell me they are ‘in love’ with Geraldine’s blond blue-eyed sergeant, Ian Peterson. Of course they are never completely serious… at least I don’t think they are… That means agents and publishers love series too. In times when it has become extremely difficult to attract the attention of a publisher, you may put yourself at a slight advantage if you are able to pitch your manuscript as the start of a series. But it takes thought and care to make this work. Many authors plan far ahead, plotting the arc of their protagonist’s progress through a series. They might decide to take the character to a certain stage in their career, or their personal life, in each book.

When I wrote the first draft of my debut, Cut Short, I had no idea anyone else would ever read my manuscript, let alone publish it. Certainly the prospect of this story becoming the first in a long running internationally bestselling series never crossed my mind. If I had known, I might have produced a very different story, or at least a slightly different protagonist. To begin with, my detective would probably have been much younger at the start of the series. As it is, when she first appears she is already in her late thirties. Now, six books on, she is having to be like Poirot, and not age. Otherwise she would  already by approaching retirement, and we’re only just over a quarter of the way through the series!

There are other potential pitfalls to bear in mind if you set out to write a series. One of these is continuity. This is crucial in any novel. The same is equally true of a series of novels. You cannot introduce a character in one book who hates coffee only to have that character regularly drink coffee in a later book. Eye colour, hair colour, family background, everything has to be consistent.
This would be a huge feat of memory – a bit of a challenge for someone like me! – so it’s important to make detailed notes. Remember to store these where you can find them. (Yes, I speak with the voice of bitter experience… ) Many readers would pick me up on any inconsistency in my books. Fortunately I have a brilliant editor who knows my characters’ details better than I do. This is just one of many reasons why a good editor is vital for any author.

Writing a series is a minefield, but one advantage outweighs everything else, for an author. Every time a new book hits the shelves with my name on it, I don’t feel unduly stressed about critics, and readers’ reviews, not because I’m impervious to criticism, but because there’s simply no time to worry. Half way through writing my next book, I’ll be focusing on that. With two series on the go, my next publisher’s deadline is never far away

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