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Posts tagged ‘YA crime novels’

Writing Series Fiction, by Anne Cassidy (guest article)

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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Why I Write Mysteries And Thrillers – And Read Them, Too, by April Henry

I love reading and writing mysteries and thrillers because they offer the built-in drama of life or death. The stakes can’t get any higher. There’s also crime fiction for every taste. It can be as cozy or as bloody as you like. The mystery can be solved by cats or shapeshifters, amateurs or professionals.

Mysteries and thrillers are also democratic – appealing to most people at some point, if only as a beach or airplane read. It’s one genre that attracts a wide following. Most men won’t read romance. A lot of people won’t read westerns or horror. But almost everyone will read a mystery or a thriller.

So why do writers and readers like them so much?

Making sense of the senseless

All too often, real life often doesn’t make sense. Events happen randomly. You get a great new job, your best friend gets cancer, someone breaks into your car and steals one boot, you go to to the grocery store, you find a five-dollar bill in the bushes. There is no story arc.

It’s not always darkest before the dawn. Sometimes there is no dawn.

Real crimes are usually senseless and stupid. A lot of murders involve, not a criminal mastermind, but rival gang members, people selling drugs, or someone who is far too drunk to be driving, let alone handling a gun. The murderer may not be a black-hearted villain and the victim is not always lily white.

The randomness of life is one reason why the more predictable patterns of fiction are so appealing. And in a book, you can usually count on there being a good guy. A good guy who wins at the end. He may be bloody and bruised, but he still wins.

There is something very satisfying about writing or reading those kind of stories.

Using brain, not brawn

In a mystery or a thriller the crimes are usually clever, involving layers of deception. Each one is slowly peeled back to reveal yet another layer.

In the real world, killers are not often geniuses. The predator who manages to keep several steps ahead of the cops, or who plays a mean game of cat-and-mouse, is not a staple of real life. How much more satisfying for a reader to mentally match wits with a mastermind, not some mope with a gun.

And as a writer, it’s even more fun to think up a complicated, convoluted crime.

A little learning on the side

Often, the reader of a mystery or a thriller gets to learn something – something the writer either knows or had the pleasure of researching. (Of course, sometimes what you learn, especially if it’s on TV or in the movies, is wrong. Like female CSIs don’t wear four-inch heels and low-cut tops. And a lot of the flashy technology you see exists only in some screenwriter’s imagination.)

To research Girl, Stolen, I interviewed people who had gone blind, read autobiographies, and visited The Guide Dog School for the Blind. When you read Girl, Stolen, you not only wonder if Cheyenne will be able to escape her kidnappers, but you learn how to use a cane or a guide dog, and even how to create makeshift versions of those tools. You learn how blind people handle everything from money to meals.


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