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The Sirens of Suspense




Will Thomas is the author of the Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn series, and a Barry and Shamus Award nominee. He lives with his family in Oklahoma. His latest is HELL BAY.


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item1 Tips for Writing a Series item1

What do you do when you send your first book to your agent, a genre fiction novel, such as a mystery or fantasy novel, and before you are prepared, you receive a call saying that not only has a publisher accepted it, but they want to sign you for a three book deal?

First, you jump around for a week in euphoria. Every morning you wake, remember, and pinch yourself. You feel like a genius! Then you suddenly realize the enormity of what has happened and you start to panic. Writers are always prepared for rejection, but are flummoxed by success. Your stomach ties in a knot. You consider moving to another country and changing your name. You’re a fraud. You don’t know how you wrote the first one, let alone how to duplicate the process.

As Douglas Adams said, “Don’t panic!” You can get through this. You have actually written one novel already; it shouldn’t be difficult to do it again. The narrator is in your head. You know your characters and their quirks. In theory, no one can write this book better than you.

You monster you have to face is the Sophomore Slump, the dreaded second novel. In a way, you’re a different person now, and you have to write a better novel. At least, you must write one just as good. However, it took five years to write the first one. You only have a year to write the second.

To begin with, you have to come up with a respectable plot. If plotting is your weakness, there is an entire industry built around how to create one. Do your research. You have to overcome your weakness in order to write a series.

Having decided on your plot, you need a killer first sentence, one that people can quote when they put down your book. Then write an awesome first paragraph. Give them just a little bit more, an idea of where you are going, and you have set the hook. They can wriggle all they want, but you’ve got them, just as you did with your debut novel.

Speaking of your debut novel, it must become your Bible. How did you write it? Read it. Break it down. Understand it. Consider the natural progression of your characters and what would happen next. Study series after series that inspired you, and try to learn how the author wrote them.

Do your protagonists age? Famous characters, such as Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe don’t. Over four decades, the characters stayed the same sage, solving crimes from their little brownstone. If your characters age, does the new novel pick up where the last one left off, or is there a lapse of time? Did anything happen to the characters during those missing months or years, or have they remained static?

Each book you write should be a stand alone in its own way, a book that can be enjoyed even if it is read out of order or if the reader finds it on a shelf and doesn’t know it is part of a series. Take the time to build a brief biography of the characters to give the book context and to give yourself room to grow. In a series, you should take care to make sure you’re using different types of crimes and clues. A great book is not a rehash of a previous book. Each crime should be fully solved in one and not carried over into another. Make sure that in each book you give your readers something unusual to remember. And above all, keep in mind that your characters are unique and have their own quirks, styles and attributes that make them interesting.

Now, start writing. Be consistent in your details. Develop your sleuth; he’s on a journey, too. Create and refine your outline as you go to make certain you’re hitting all of the bases. Eventually, the narrator from your first book will creep back and start whispering in your ear, offering a new adventure set in your own little world. You’re back, typing away on your keyboard. Sophomore slump be damned. You’ve got this.





WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE SERIES CHARACTER? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of HELL BAY! (US entrants only, please.)




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