Sunday, September 05, 2010

Planning a Mystery Series

This week, I’m working on something I’ve never really tackled before, at least on paper. I opened an Excel spreadsheet and began plotting a timeline for the release of upcoming books in my Casey Holland mystery series. The purpose is to create a story arc, including plot themes, for the series so that my publisher and I can take a look at the development of Casey’s personal and professional changes throughout the series.

So far, the exercise hasn’t been difficult because book two is finished, four drafts have been written for book three, and book four is in the first draft stage. I have an idea for the plot theme for book five, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Two interesting things have developed from this process: one is that for the first time, I’m gathering all of the major events, points, and changes in Casey’s life onto one sheet which will make for easy reference later. The second is that I’ve begun to think about this series as a whole, from beginning to end, which has led to some interesting questions, like how many books do I envision the series being? How do I want the series to end? How will Casey change and how will her relationships change? Sure, these things have popped into my mind as I've been writing the books, but I've never stopped to really figure out where I want to go with this series and how the books will progress. For me, it makes sense to have a plan so that the series doesn't go on so long that it becomes tedious and repetitive.

It might seem premature to consider all this when the first book won’t even be out until next spring, but I’ve listened to other writers discuss their series. Many of them wish they could go back and give more thought to the starting point. Some felt they’d aged their characters too quickly, others too slowly. Here’s another issue: if you want to set your books 3 or 4 months apart but it takes you two years to write each novel, technology will run so far ahead of you that your new books might wind up reading more like period pieces. Sue Grafton’s novels are a case in point. She started writing them in the 80’s and, although I haven’t read her most recent books, I believe her stories are now set in the past, i.e. pre-Ipods, cell phones, webcams, social networking, Google, and so forth.

I’m hoping that thinking things through now will help eliminate future problems. There could be plenty of other issues to contend with later.

My amateur sleuth, Vancouver-based, Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

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