Writing a fiction series is more difficult than writing independent novels. You may write in a chronological fashion, and naturally you think that way. You have built your characters, you know them intimately. Your first instinct is to “just pick up where you left off before” as the adventure continues. You can’t do that. You would hope that a new reader would start out with you on novel number one. Surely would be a lot easier that way, wouldn’t it? But life doesn’t work that way. You will pick up new readers randomly. Let’s say a reader selects your third novel first. Who are these people they are reading about and why are they doing weird and dangerous things?
You can’t waste a lot of time recreating the full background or character development in your fourth series novel that you did in the first or you will turn off those readers who have been with you from the first. What to do, what to do?
Here’s what I do, and it works not only for series work but for any novel. Start the book somewhere in the middle of the plot. That gives you the opportunity to, say in your fourth series, give a brief background on your characters in a more or less off-handed casual way – and then go back to the beginning of your current story. This gives the new reader a handle on who the characters are, and yet it won’t drive off those who have been with you from the beginning and don’t want to waste time re-reading the full development of your characters.
What I am telling you is really easier to do than to tell you about it. Often it simply means writing the story – then going back and writing a new first chapter to accomplish what I have described. A great example of this technique is, “The Tourist” by Olen Steinhauer. (I’m talking about the book – the movie with Johnny Depp bears absolutely no resemblance to Steinhauer’s fine work.) The first chapter of “The Tourist” is rather vague and makes you wonder what is going on. The author makes sly references to the first chapter action all through the book which is an excellent “hook.” And finally it all comes together and you understand. It’s like an epiphany or a revelation – it makes you feel “smart.” This method of fiction is like putting a puzzle together. Some of the basic pieces are missing at first, but they get filled in as the story progresses to a satisfactory close. John MacDonald and his “Travis McGee” was a master of this and was quite an inspiration to me.
Next time we’ll talk about dialect and happy endings. Until then, good luck, and keep writing.