Saturday, August 21, 2010

Old characters, new ideas

I've learned a lot this week on criminal minds about brainstorming. Everyone has such good ideas (some of which I'll probably steal). When you're blocked, you'll do anything to get started again.

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.

Lydia’s bosses are two brothers, Italian-American private eyes. They’re bachelors, and pretty much under their mother’s thumb. Mama D’Angelo is a force to be reckoned with, and no woman is good enough for her boys. In POSED FOR MURDER, one of her bosses, Frankie D’Angelo had a girlfriend. It was so entertaining to write that, in the second book, I wanted to give Leo a girlfriend, too. I also wanted, in the second book, to meet more D’Angelos. And with the introduction of their cousin, I certainly got a better sense of how their family dynamics.

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.

7 comments:

Mary said...

Wow! This post was like taking a a writing seminar. Very helpful to me, so I've bookmarked it.
And now I've got to go get your books.

http://www.tracyfarr.net/2010/08/2nd-period-think-processes.html

mollie bryan said...

Great post Meredith. Very helpful.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks Mary! I'm glad it was useful for you. And for you, too, Mollie!

Gabi said...

Like you, I'jm going to "reallocate" some of the ideas offered this week including some of yours especially with regard to theme.

Like you, I gave my single investigator a relationship (a husband) because she didn't know what to do with one. Kindred spirits, I think.

Shane Gericke said...

I got some ideas on what to do with a husband ...

No, not that. Such a naughty mind.

Liked your post a lot.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for stopping by Gabi and Shane! Ah, husbands. I think it's hard to have your sleuth settle down and still keep the romance subplot brewing. That has to be why Janet Evanovich keeps giving Stephanie new boyfriends...

I look forward to your post tomorrow, Gabi.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

What a delightful direction to take the question, Meredith! I like hearing about series writing and the issues other writers grapple with. I didn't intend to make Hannah Vogel a series character, so have been giving it a great deal of thought since book 2. :) Thanks for a fascinating take on it!