So far writing a series has been an interesting and fun journey. When I start the next book, I’ve already got a world created with some wonderful characters I just need to reanimate to get them going. But it can be a little bit challenging to come up with plot ideas that are new and different for the next book. I don't want to be accused of writing the same book over and over again.
One quick way I’ve found to figure out what I should be writing next is to ask myself, what do I want to find out about Lydia or about my characters? Lydia is a single gal, and she’s a bit leery of commitment. She doesn’t exactly have a great track record with men. I wanted to know how she would deal with commitment, so I gave her not only a new boyfriend, but I also had her find a stray cat in my second book, DEAD IN THE WATER. I wanted to push her not only mentally with the stresses of being in a murder investigation, but emotionally with her relationships. And I was curious to see if she would let herself get tied down by a guy and/or take on all the responsibilities that came with having a cat.
The McKenzie family has been mostly off screen so far. Lydia’s parents are retired and traveling the country in their RV, sending silly postcards from all the weird places they’re visiting. They call occasionally, but I’ve been curious about them. I wanted to know more about them, and I couldn’t think of a better way than putting them on the page. So in my third book (tentatively called "An Artful Death," they arrive for a visit. And they’ve been bitten by the amateur detective bug, too, and have a mystery to solve.
I also play with themes. Art world, sex trade, family ties – and then try to think of new twists or parts of the story I can flesh out. It’s fun to give myself assignments, like making the murder, the murderer, and my sleuth’s personal life all have a common theme. As a screenwriter, I always do better with more constraints. Seems like an odd thought when discussing creativity, but it’s true. Constraints help me focus and make a tighter story.
One important thing I’ve discovered over time, there are no shortcuts in the writing process. It takes time, and I have to still take walks, think and ruminate in order to come up with ideas (and use other people's methods to get unstuck). But having the characters waiting for me when I sit down to write has made writing a series very enjoyable.