I have been writing and publishing mysteries for over ten years, and I never have difficulty finding ideas for my work. I have several well-established series, two set in rural Florida and two in Upstate New York. I have a home in each location, and I enjoy writing about both areas, choosing rural settings in each location. I’m a country person as are my protagonists.
I love the fun of plotting, the sheer joy of laying out the logic of a whodunit, but a good mystery as we all know is more than that. It must capture not only our sense of tracking down the bad guy, but making us love the lives of the characters we create in it. For those writing series as I do, we must keep our writing feeling and reading new and fresh. If we as writers become bored or too formulaic in our writing, our readers will certainly spot it.
Here are some strategies I use to keep me interested and excited about my work so that my readers continue to feel engaged with the series.
Grow your protagonist
The first strategy is a time honored one of making certain your protagonist grows and develops through the story. In a series, she must also continue to change through the arc of your series. My background is developmental psychology, so I am keenly aware that as we go through life’s stages, we take on a myriad of challenges, some pleasant, some not, but it is these challenges that keep us engaged in our lives. It must be the same with our protagonist.
Use the unexpected
Elizabeth George chose to kill off a beloved character. What did she accomplish? She certainly shocked some readers, angered many others, but she made her protagonist confront a situation he never had encountered before. Was he up to it? Where would he go from here? These are the questions that make the books coming after the death so interesting. Old coping strategies may not work. Our protagonist must no struggle to find his way.
Killing off a character may be too extreme for many writers, but there are unexpected, unusual events that can challenge a character such as change in a protagonist’s profession or location.
Consider your subplots
There is more than the murder to solve. There are other issues such as love interests, family issues, community involvements and larger social issues that can impact the characters. These subplots give the story texture. I find myself using more of these as my series evolves.
Take on a new project
If you begin to feel your writing has become stale, consider a new venture whether in writing or some other area such as painting, cooking, taking a trip, learning something new, perhaps a new hobby one you’ve always wanted to do. I try to change up my writing even on a daily basis, interspersing writing with cooking, reading, hiking, gardening, cleaning a closet, vacuuming. I also make my writing life varied. I write short stories and am beginning a novella. I sometimes work on two series at a time. If I entertain myself and have fun with my writing and feel good about my life, I know how I live will find its way into my writing and my readers will see it is there in the complexity of my characters and in the twists and turns of the plot.
These are the strategies I use to keep things new, to keep my writing fresh and to make certain I don’t lose interest in what I’m creating.
When you write, what tactics do you use? Can you tell as a reader when your favorite author has lost interest in the story?
Visit Lesley on her webpage: www.lesleydiehl.com
And on twitter: @lesleydiehl
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In January, Failure Is Fatal, the second book in Lesley A. Diehl’s Laura Murphy mystery series, was released by Creekside Publishing as a trade paperback and e-book. Yep, Dr. Murphy is at it again. Our menopausal, doughnut-eating psychology professor sticks her nose into yet another murder, and why shouldn’t she? The victim is one of the students on her campus. This time she must take on some frat boys who are more interested in partying than in finding a killer. But are they hiding more than girls’ panties under their mattresses?