Almost Over Before It’s Begun

I’m currently writing the third of three books in the Material Witness mystery series, a fabric-themed cozy series. Interestingly, the first book won’t be out until 3 months after the third book has been turned in. While I’ve written other series characters in the past, I’ve never approached a book as if I was writing the last of the books with those characters. And maybe I’m not. This is a 3-book contract, but if readers enjoy the characters as much as I do, they might be asked back to the party. And if not, that’s okay too, because these characters get three whole books to tell a story. Which brings me to the three-book story arc.

It’s an interesting challenge for a writer. A first book in a series is an introduction to a set of characters. In the case of a cozy, it’s also an introduction to a setting—a critical part of the series. I chose to make up a town that was geographically based on a real town. But as I wrote that first book, I added characters that I’d like to see again, and interestingly enough, they became a part of book two and are now becoming a part of book three. New characters come and go, but exploring the secrets at the core of the town that has become my cozy version of Peyton Place has been a lot of fun! If in book one the character is displaced and learns Something Big about herself, then in book two she’s moving forward with this new knowledge, in this new life, and getting established. Book three has to up the ante, but also wrap up any loose ends that were introduced in the first two books.

It is a strange thought to have in the back of my mind that this book might be the last book that these characters are in. (not discounting the fact that I could continue the series on my own, but for the purposes of this post, I’m thinking about the 3-books). It’s not a sad thought. It’s an analytical thought, one that helps me determine what a character might say or how they might act in a specific situation. How much of my hand do I show? If I give away all of the secrets of the town in books 1, 2, and 3, what happens if there’s a book four? And if I don’t give away enough, will people want to keep reading about them?

I read somewhere (I think it was Janet Evanovich’s HOW I WRITE: Secrets of a Bestselling Author) to never hold anything back for the next book, and that advice has served me well. I think, as writers, we have to trust that the ideas will be there when we need them, for the next book, and for the one after that. We also have to know that some characters are best in a stand-alone and others can support dozens of books. For me and my set of characters I’m currently working with, I’m happy they’re going to get their place in the sun (come November 2014!)

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Author: Diane Vallere

Diane is the author of four mystery series. Like her character Samantha Kidd, she is a former fashion buyer; like her character Madison Night, she loves Doris Day movies, like her character Polyester Monroe, she lives in California; and like her character Margo Tamblyn, she has a thing for costumes. Find out more at http://dianevallere.com/.

6 thoughts on “Almost Over Before It’s Begun”

  1. Thanks you guys! I still think the 3-books series is awesome, but when I wrote for my fashion series, I had so many ideas I never stopped to think one day Samantha wouldn’t be solving mysteries. Good thing I control that series!

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  2. Loved this article, Diane. I’m struggling with writing a series a bit but in the opposite way. I have a really nice arc for a three book series. Even though they offered me a 3 book deal we only agreed to two books (long story) so if the series ends up only 3 it has a great arc and ending. However, best case scenario it takes on a life if it’s own and spawns multiple books – then how do I handle jumps in time and age things? Many series characters stay the same age for 20 years right? lol and don’t really change marital status etc . It’s s fine line to walk having your characters show some growth and arc in three books and yet leave the door open for many many more books if the series takes off. So much food for thought. Thx

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  3. This is super interesting! I have only written two out of what I hope will be three but already I have confronted the arc/character/movement issue as well. I also found that writing the second one made me go back and shift some things in the first one, so have you been moving among all three in that way? You’re my hero!!!

    Kristi, good point about the age thing. Also, there are some series with more than three books where the protagonists’ relationship with their romantic interest(s) = stretched to the point of losing all sizzle.

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  4. I know I can’t go back and change things from book one or two (both have been turned in) so the backstory is set. And I do think characters need to show growth in each book, so there’s that too. For my Samantha Kidd books, I can clearly see where she was and I know where she’ll be in future books, and the arc spans everything in between. But I want Polyester Monroe to have a good life too–3 books, 4 books, or 10 books!

    As a reader, I get frustrated by relationships that don’t move forward or end, but as a writer, I understand the challenge. If an author thinks a book is ending at 3, they might make things happen by book 3. And then get a contract for 2 more…how to progress? And then get a contract for two more after that? I think what we need is a new industry standard: the 10 book contract!

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