Friday, 26 September 2014

Serial Killers


As you probably all know, Diamonds&Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my ex-agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but to be up for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize and the Folio Society Prize, is now developing offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. Grateful as I was to Crooked Cat Books, I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet and Haydn String Quartets, once I'd started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel, Honour&Obey whose title alone will be a cause of much distress to the US market, will hit the literary stratosphere in November. You have probably seen the Tweets. You may even have been invited to the virtual Facebook launch - please note: Victorian dress is compulsory and to those who attended last year's launch, yes we have secured the services of Ralph the Marvellous Performing Dog once again.

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a ''cop-out'': after all, you've got all your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The Spy Girl series for Usborne was the first)

The main problem is that, unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book 1 that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.

Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.

By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wonder off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3, with added lacklustre.

I have never got further than book 5 (and Usborne turned it down) so I cannot speak from experience, but I can say from avidly reading crime series, that some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't. The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.

I have been told, though, that the ''real money'' comes from a 5 book series, which means most other writers will have been told this too. This is probably why some of them are keeping doggedly going 10 + books later. I can't see myself getting as far as a fifth book right now. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third. In the meantime, I plot on with book 3, crossing my fingers, hoping that it will avoid the ubiquitous potholes and that I can pull it off successfully yet again.

If you would like to download a free sample of Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so HERE. US readers can do so HERE

28 comments:

  1. Fascinating reading Carol, and much to think about. I wish you much success with your series and am hanging on to see how it all works out for you with book 3 and whether there will ever be a book 5. I am sure there will be. :)

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    1. Seems a HUGE mountain atm, Jane ..but then it is one I've climber before. We shall see. Thanks for commenting

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  2. ...spot on, as per usual, m’Lady, Carol... some great lessons here for all off we scribblers... first of all, believing in the quality of your own work (your ex-agent SHOULD have egg all over the face, though probably is not even interested now)... secondly, the evolution of a series IS so natural... I’ve found the same with my Jack Calder stuff... and thirdly, yes yes yes,, finding the material to ‘energise’ differently for each successive book is a challenge... but happily so far, this ol’ Jurassic is enjoying that... on the distaff side, I think the detail that can get into the character development is a lot of fun for the author, ...refining the character’s whims and nuances is what gives the daily writing its flavour for me... fabulous post, ... thanks again...:):)

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    1. I actually LIKE a series..as I enjoy ''getting to know'' a character. Sometimes one book doesn't really give you that chance. Thanks Big S.

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  3. The closest I've come to a series is two memoirs. Hats off to you for the Spy Girl series and now the new one. It's funny to think we haven't seen number 2 yet but you're already weaving number 3 into shape! And you know you've got a market for them already! Excellent, CarolStar! The hard work with this one will be worth it, I'm sure!

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  4. Happy plotting, Carol!!! I admire your persistence.

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    1. Thank you Travel Lady - and I yours.

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    2. Great post, Carol! I like a series too but not one that goes on for too long. As for your ex-publisher...I agree with Seumas about the egg! I am really looking forward to reading Honour & Obey :-)

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  5. Brilliant advice to a newbie who's almost finished the first in a planned trilogy. Even the thought of a series is daunting, so hats off to you, Carol, with a deep bow, because you demonstrate that self-belief and determination pays off in bucket loads. I'm sure your book will be successful!

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  6. Good advice for a novice, Carol. Thank you.

    I've downloaded your book at last.

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    1. Yaay......finally!! Hahaha. Hope you enjoy it.... only a few weeks to wait for the second.

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  7. Good luck with the books, just love the pink sofa cake.

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    1. I know - someone on Twitter sent it to me. Couldn't resist.

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  8. I've never embarked upon a series, as you probably know, but I'm currently writing my second sequel, having said 'never again' after the first one - you're so right, it's MUCH harder than writing a new book. The first time I tried it (Full Circle) I was obsessed with the idea that it had to be a stand alone, too (and, thankfully, it seems to have worked as one because I did it as a free promotion and got some nice reviews for it from people who'd never read anything of mine before), but it was bloody difficult, getting the balance of not-too-much-backstory-but-enough-to-make-sense right. With the one I'm writing now, I've not even tried to make it a stand alone. I've written an introduction saying 'read Kings and Queens first'!! But I am constantly referring back to K&Q for little subtleties, etc, and there is the pressure to make it better than the first one, too. A sequel HAS to be, in my view.

    Another problem it has now presented is that I have become so wrapped up in my fictional family that I now want to write a third one, and indeed have half the plot. Trouble is, the second one (Last Child) finishes in March 2015, and I've got to wait for some of the characters to grow up a bit, so I won't be able to write it for at least 12 years.....

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    1. I find you HAVE to refer back to previous books...tho the trick is also to make each one self-standing. Thus new readers can enjoy it, but old ones can recognise characters they've met before. I seem to have a running character in all 3 books now --not going to say who...

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    2. Last Child CAN be read as a stand alone. The intro just says that I strongly recommend reading K & Q first, so that you will understand the family and business dynamic more better, like. The first book is 122K words long, though, and spans 35 years, so I wasn't going to try to slip any backstory in!!! I look forward very much to H & O, tho might have to have a refresher skim of D & D first :)

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    3. I had to have one writing the 3rd book!!

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  9. Fascinating to read of another serial writer's experience. Thank you for this Carol. I am now up to my seventh book in a series. The interest is not only in working with a cast of characters you know, in a place that is familiar, but to see how they interact in a given thematic situation and help you in their individual ways to work through a coherent plot. I agree with the difficulties you mention of maintaining consistency and continuity, for my books are about a whole village community. Each of the principal actors has a loose-leaf file containing information on their background, relationships and characteristics, including appearance, mannerisms, qualifications, preferences and so on. It necessary often to make reference to these files. The writer must also keep track of village routine and customs, with particular reference to season, prior events, and days of the week. As you say, writing a series presents more challenges than the demands of a stand-alone novel, but if done well, readers are likely to follow through from book to book.

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    1. Thanks for eaving such a full comment. Miss Read did this, of course, with her series of books..and the village setting worked beautifully. I, like many crime writers, are slightly more straightened,in that we have to focus on A crime and its detection..within that compass, though, there is plenty of scope for development. I hope. *gulp*

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    2. Oh, dear, Carol. And what about David and me? His 12th is out this weekend and my 14th on Thursday, with 15 and 16 already booked in. Shall we slink away with our tails between our legs?

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    3. haha...no, coz if you read what I say..it is that SOME writers cannot pull off a long series. SOME can!!!

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  10. An agent friend of mine once said that one book is lonely, two books is a sequel, three books is a gamble and four books is a series!

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    1. I think he may be right...hard work though

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  11. Perhaps such agents should be named and shamed. The award listings are a tremendous accolade for both you and Crooked Cat. Many congrats.

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  12. Five books would be brilliant, wouldn't it! In my reading of crime series experience I find that the mistake is to create a love interest for the main character and then make the mistake of letting him/her get married. Takes all the frison out of the back story!!

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  13. I'm SO looking forward to the sequel.

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    1. Thanks lovely Hap..I really hope everybody enjoys it!

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