Thursday, June 05, 2008

Writing a Series

© Marta Stephens 2008 all rights reserved

I never intended to write a series. It just happened -- couldn't get enough of the characters. But whenever I mention that my Sam Harper books are a series, the same questions keep coming up: "Are they a sequel? Does one book pick up where the other leaves off?"

No, although subtle references are made in each subsequent book to previous characters or events, the books in my series are stand alone works. The reader will be able to read any one of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery books and know the characters well without having to read the previous books, but please, don't let that stop you!!

Although I write crime, the relationships between characters play a major role in their development. One reviewer put it like this: " ... the characters are real - they hurt, they fall in love, they suffer angst and explode with anger." Therefore, what will be obvious to those who begin with book one, SILENCED CRY, is how the characters mature and grow on personal and professional levels throughout the series. The police captain forces Harper and Mann into a partnership in SILENCED CRY which of course causes some friction. Although they have their differences, they eventually work things out. So too, they learn from each other which is true to how real life relationships work.

The beauty of a series is that they feature the same set of characters who are placed in different situations. They are allowed to respond to new challenges based on previous experiences. The cast of regulars such as Sam Harper, his father Walt, Sam's detective partner, Dave Mann, forensics expert, Carter Grave and crusty medical examiner, Jack Fowler will help usher in new criminals and a few interesting players in each subsequent book. Although the plots may change drastically, each book will have its own unique set of twists and turns and impossible crimes for Harper to solve. And dare I mention it? In the second book Harper falls for a woman who drives him crazy but makes him weak at the knees.

For me, writing a series has been a labor of love but not without trials and errors. I was fortunate to stumble onto my characters early in my writing career. It's taken time, however, to really get to know them but I find that with each new book, their dialogue and interactions with other characters has become easier to write. Sometime, if I'm lucky, they dictate the story which makes things easier and allows me the chance to focus on developing the plot.

SILENCED CRY was a series of "firsts." Like all new writers, I was learning the craft, trying to create believable characters, attempting to find my voice, sorting through "my" style of writing, while creating an interesting, complicated plot that would hold the reader's interest. Although I continued to work on all of those points, by the time the second book became a reality, I had settled into a rhythm and the story poured out of me--first draft, 63,000 words in 83 days. Granted, I spent the next several months editing it, but it was tremendously fun book to write.

Now as I work on the third book, I've discovered an exciting new idea to ponder. One of the new characters demands her own series and I'm faced with a unique (at least to me) challenge; to make sure that her characterization fits the plot and works well in this book but that traits will make her a strong, likeable protagonist in her own right.