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!)