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Writing Series Fiction, by Anne Cassidy (guest article)

Killing Rachael by Anne Cassidy

I’ll state the obvious and say that writing series fiction is very different than writing stand alone novels. A stand alone novel is satisfying in all sorts of ways. For me it takes about six months. It starts with a central idea and I plan about six chapters. Then I make it up as I go along. (This is how I wrote my book Looking for JJ.) The ending reveals itself to me about half way through. A lot of rewriting goes on, but when it’s done it’s done. Those characters are in the past and I have to start thinking about the next book.

Series fiction needs a little bit more planning than this. My series The Murder Notebooks came to me when I was sweeping my kitchen floor. I’d written a dozen or more stand alone novels and I was pining for a series I wrote in the 1990s called The East End Murders. It wasn’t possible to resurrect these novels because they had dated. The murder weapon in the first book was a mobile phone. Remember those days when phones were big and clunky? So I was sweeping my floor and I thought: Why not do another series?

It was only a couple of moments before I got my two main characters, Rose and Joshua. They would investigate murders but they also needed to have a grim background themselves. This is where the heart of the series was born. Their parents disappeared five years before the first novel started. This gave them something to investigate but it also gave them (Rose in particular) a link with other people who were the victims of crime.

Unlike my stand alone novels, I had to know the ending to this series. I had to know what had happened to their parents. Then I had to plot the journey Rose and Joshua, who would take four books to find out the truth. By the end of book one they would know X, by the end of book two they would know X plus 1, and so on. Each book would have its own stand alone murder mystery and this might or might not link up with the search for their parents.

I had two big problems. The first was backstory. In books two, three and four I had to weave in an increasing amount of backstory in order to explain the journey they’d come on. However I had to do it in such a way so that it didn’t weigh down the stand alone plot of that novel. The other problem I had was how much to reveal to the reader about what went on in the previous book. If a reader picked up book two (Killing Rachel) first then they would know stuff that hadn’t been revealed in book one. Would this make them not bother reading book one? I decided that I would put the information in but wouldn’t explain how this information had come about. So book one still had its own mystery.

Phew! There was a lot to think about and sometimes I got myself in a tangle.

I’ve finished all four books now. Am I relieved that the hard work is over? I am - but guess what, I’m currently planning another series! Watch this space.


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