Blogging from the Crime Bake: “Not Your Mother’s Miss Marple: Making Series Compelling and Believable”

Point number one about Crime Bake: When you’ve been “visiting” with other authors all weekend, you quote them by name, as Roberta Isleib — today under her nom de plume Lucy Burdette — just did: “I love writing a series,” she told more than a hundred working writers, “because as Joe Finder said, ‘It’s all about character.'”

I actually wrote down Finder’s entire paragraph when he said that, earlier in the day: “People read for characters, not for plot. I think that’s an incredibly important thing to say. People bond with and fall in love with the character.”

Does that mean plot doesn’t count? Nonsense — plot is what defines a book as a mystery. But the best books are the ones that hook readers, and the most powerful hook is the characters. In the panel called “Not Your Mother’s Miss Marple,” Roberta Isleib, Sheila Connolly, Toni L. P. Kelner (aka Leigh Perry, for her upcoming Family Skeleton series), and Kaitlyn Dunnett talked of characters, and the love of writers and readers for those characters, as what makes a series compelling and arouses reader demand for “the next book.”

“I fall in love with my characters,” agreed Sheila Connolly, who is writing three (!!) series at a time. “In each case it’s about a woman who gets dropped into a situation that’s unfamiliar to her.”

All agreed that one of the challenges of a series is not knowing when the publisher will say “that’s enough” — and therefore not being sure how to pace the development of relationships among characters from book to book. And each has a different way of keeping track of the details from one book to the next, whether it’s looseleaf notebooks (Kaitlyn), or Scrivener (mentioned but maybe not adored by this particular group), or rereading the earlier books for the details that have slipped away already (yes, it’s true, that kind of continuity takes regular refreshing).

But as Sheila Connolly said firmly about the characters themselves, “They’re real people — you don’t confuse your friends, do you?”

And that takes me back around to recalling how Joseph Finder put it this morning: that your protagonist should become your “imaginary friend,” someone you even talk with. “If the character feels real to you, it’ll feel real to [other] people.”

You knew all this, right? But now you can say with confidence, “Authors who write great series of mysteries and thrillers agree with me …”

That’s one of the pleasures of being here at the New England Crime Bake.

About bethkanellbooks

My life is always a three-strand braid: love for Vermont, love of mysteries, and the need to write (and write better and better). Come visit and chat at any of my blogs and posts -- there's a big wonderful world of writing and reading, and we're in it together.
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