Monday, April 30, 2012

Pikes Peak Writers Conference 3 - Series

What I'm Reading: Breaking the Rules, by Suzanne Brockmann; From the Ashes, by Jeremy Burns (Nook)

Okay, so the picture doesn't exactly evoke "series", although Robert Crais writes series, and so do I. Which hardly puts us in the same league. But he was on the series panel, and I was in the audience, so the picture sort of fits. Kind of. If you stretch the imagination. But he's easy on the eyes, so what the heck. It IS my blog, after all.

I'm trying to mix up the workshop topics so there's something for everyone. I'll still have more on publishing, and that 1875 forensics post, so keep coming back. And I'll mention again that Blogger is still not publishing my posts on schedule, so until they fix it (or I take the blog elsewhere), please bear with me if things show up later than usual. Much as I love you guys, getting up at 5 AM to hit "publish" isn't appealing.

I was especially interested in the panel on writing series. The authors on the panel were Carrie Vaughn, Jeffery Deaver, Joe Lansdale and Robert Crais.

These authors didn't set out to write series when they started. Like so many of us, they just wanted to get a book published. Crais confessed that in his outline (cringe!), he had planned to kill off Joe Pike, but when it came time to write the scene, he couldn't do it. And he's very glad he couldn't.

In writing series, it's important to keep details straight, although the authors had different ways of dealing with it. One said that one of his readers created and kept a Bible of his characters and plots. However, he confessed that he rarely looks at it anymore. Crais said his readers are quick to point out his continuity errors. All are grateful for the 'Search' function in word processing programs.

The authors agreed that they tended to minimize physical descriptions, which not only avoids the brown eyes turning blue, but also allows readers to create their own images of the characters.

Not only is it important to keep the characters' physical details straight, it's also important that the tone—the verbal quality—remain consistent. The characters need to think in the same way throughout the series (unless the plot dictates otherwise), to speak the same way, using the same expressions and catch phrases.

The panel also said they don't plot out character or plot arcs for several books in advance. They will get ideas while writing one book that they know will have to wait for the next book(s) to be addressed.

The discussion moved into talking about writing what readers want. Crais commented that he could create a poll and ask readers if Lucy and Elvis should get married, or if he should let Lucy be hit by a truck. He hypothesized that perhaps 60% might say, 'let them get married.' If he wrote that book, then those who wanted her hit by a truck wouldn't read it, and those who wanted her to get married would already know the ending, so they wouldn't read it either.

Lansdale said you can't think about readers when you're writing. You have to trust yourself. He also said that it's important to be a storyteller. He doesn't plot. (He said he wasn't smart enough to plot, at which point Crais interrupted and said he always thought he wasn't smart enough to write by the seat of his pants the way Lansdale does).

The entire panel agreed that what gives a series "legs" is the characters. It's their lives readers are following, and it's important to make sure they're three-dimensional.

The question of dealing with back story came up, and again, all agreed that less is better. As a matter of fact, even though I'm a stickler for dribbling in back story, after getting home and looking at my second Mapleton mystery, I realized I was introducing too many 'returning' characters and drastically tightened my first chapter.

Tomorrow, my guest is Bailey Cates, who's going to teach us all about Beltane.

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June Shaw said...

Thanks for sharing, Terry. I love to know what writers (okay, esp. Crais) do when writing a series. BTW, y'all look good together.

Cindy A. Christiansen - author said...

Enjoyed your blog. I shared it on my fan page on Facebook. Thanks.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Love the photo of you and Crais!
Getting famous.

Karen C said...

Enjoyed the post (and the picture!), Terry.

Kathy said...

Terry you are sharing such great information thank you for your time and effort.

car said...

Timely article for me, Terry, as I'm preparing one on series for my website. I'm almost at the end of book #2 in my series. My problem is thinking readers already know the background stuff, location, Shakespeare theaters, etc. from book #1. But not if they hadn't read the first book. Duh!

Terry Odell said...

June - thanks. He looks exactly like that in all the pictures -- and in person.

Cindy, thanks!

Jacqueline - hardly famous, but I like the picture, too

Karen - thanks

Kathy - you're welcome

Car - finding that balance is tricky. Suzanne Brockmann does it well. Other authors I'm not going to name don't.

Maryannwrites said...

Sorry I missed this yesterday. Came down to a choice, read Terry's blog or work on my book. The book won out. (smile)

But I am glad I came back today and read the interesting post on May Day, as well as this one. I am so jealous that you got to meet Robert Crais and get your picture taken with him. He is one of my favorite authors. I really enjoy all the authors that were on that panel.

Thanks for sharing all that you learned at the conference.

Astrid Bryce said...

Terry, thanks for sharing. After all your posts about the Pikes Peak Conference, you are making me want to go! Maybe you could get something from the conference organizers for all this free advertising you are giving them.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann, he's a great guy.

Astrid, I only wish! Maybe you should put in a good word for me.