Monday, November 16, 2009

On Marriage and Series

American Gothic--Grant Wood--1930 My husband and I started dating when I was a freshman in college. This will be exactly 20 years ago December 7th and means that I’ve known him longer than I haven’t known him.

You’d think there wouldn’t be too many surprises left, but there actually are. Oh, we have our set-in-stone-patterns most days, but sometimes we shake it up a little. And I think we’re hitting our midlife crises, so we’ve become somewhat more unpredictable lately (my husband has rediscovered his enjoyment of scuba diving.)

But even with some surprises along the way, I can frequently guess what my husband will think, do, or say about a given situation. He does the same for me. It’s very comfortable in many ways. I like the ability to read someone’s mind.

With series, you get to know the protagonist similarly well over a series of books and years. If I met Adam Dalgliesh in the street, I’m pretty sure I’d recognize him. PD James has made sure of that.

Reasons to write series:

For one thing, I enjoy reading series. I’m going into a book with some knowledge. I know the sleuth, I know the sleuth’s personality. I know the sleuth’s sidekick. I know some of the internal conflict. Just bring on the new victim, suspects, and murderer.

It’s easier for me to write. My setting usually stays the same. The constants I mentioned above (regarding sleuth and sidekick) are the same. I even have recurring characters in my books. I’m starting with a bunch of ‘knowns’ to build on. When you’re starting with Book One, you’re making everything up as you go along.

From a purely commercial standpoint, I make more money writing series. And I’m building up a name for myself (on the bookshelves) in the industry.

Challenges in series writing:

Making sure you don’t bore your returning readers by providing too much back story. Making sure you don’t confuse your new readers by not providing enough back story.

Some people don’t enjoy reading series, preferring stand-alones and a fresh story each time.

Not getting bored with your protagonist. And not boring others with him or her. Like a marriage, you really get to know your main character. This can be a good thing….or not. Try to keep it fresh—either by providing your protagonist with new challenges or new characters to interact with.

Things to check:

Is your protagonist likeable? If not, is he or she at least interesting to hang out with? Otherwise your reader might not want to stick around.

Is your protagonist growing as a character? I think marriages get boring when there’s no growth or change. Same goes for books.

Are you a series reader or writer? If you don’t like reading series, do you enjoy writing them?

7 comments:

Jess Lourey said...

Congrats on the marriage, Elizabeth! I want to know what surprises you have for him. :) If he's taking up scuba diving, are you on to sky diving?

I'm both a reader and writer of mysteries, and I love coming back to the same people I've grown to know.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I enjoy reading and writing series, but also love to read stand alones. You're right on the money with your points about series. The biggest snakepit to avoid is boring your readers, and yourself.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Congratulations on your anniversary. I known my husband since I was 14, so we hit that milestone a little sooner than most!

Love your comments on series writing. Very useful. I've written the first of a series, though I won't continue until the first gets picked up. But these are excellent points to keep in mind!

G.M. Malliet said...

Congratulations on the anniversary!

As to Adam D - yes, I'd know him anywhere, too, but he'd look like Roy Marsden. Once a series is filmed that seems to happpen.

signlady217 said...

We'll be celebrating our 24th wedding aniversary towards the end of next month, so congrats to you guys, too.

I love reading series, especially those that have characters I would actually hang out with if they were real! They feel like friends that you've known forever. I read stand-alones, too, and then with some of them I start wishing they were series!

Keith Raffel said...

Isn't that Grant Wood painting of a man and his daughter?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks, Jess! I've decided that I'm a lot more boring and predictable than my husband. :) Or maybe, I have a more well-developed sense of self-preservation...

Sue Ann--Boring isn't good in a series. Losing a reader is worse than not picking up new ones.

Carolina--Thanks! And you've known each other since you were 14? Wow! I don't think anyone would have been able to stand me at that age!

GM--Yes, I think he'd look like Roy, too! Isn't it funny how TV and film warps us that way?

SignLady--Me too! And then I'm so disappointed when the characters aren't picked up for another book.

Keith--I think it's the artist's SISTER, isn't it? And she'd never met the man or seen him and they didn't pose together? Early days of Photoshop.... :)