I knew, early on, that I wanted Standpoint to be the first in a series of thrillers. It’s a truism that novelists often write the sort of books that they want to read; in my case I wanted to get inside someone else’s head, visit their world and spend some time there! I also liked the idea of writing a book that asked questions and made the reader work a little bit.
Back-story was all-important to me because it gave an insight into their motives and choices, which would naturally also show up in the consequences and how they dealt with them. Having read and hugely enjoyed Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels, it seemed to me that an ensemble cast offered more scope for subplots and, potentially, made the whole story more interesting. All of that is a tall order for one book, so before I finished Standpoint I was already thinking about the ‘what happens next’ element.
One of the worst rejections (believe me, there can be good ones!) I ever received from a publisher included a note – presumably not for my eyes – with the phrase ‘reads rather like a poor man’s James Bond’. That really stung because that was precisely what I was trying to avoid. I’d loved the old movies but every new film was like a reset of the last. Implacable James was back to defeat the villain, seduce the girl and save the day, with no thought of the last outing. No, my ambitions for Standpoint would be different.
Envisioning a series is a double-edged sword, or perhaps that’s a series of swords!
I listed some advantages:
– I could sketch out much broader story arcs.
– It might be easier to entice the reader into Thomas Bladen’s world if they knew there was more to come.
– I could create new situations in each book, but with familiar characters.
– Potentially, I could go into more depth with the characters over several books. That also meant the possibility of making them well rounded by showing their best and worst behaviour.
– Readers may care more if they know the characters are going to stick around for a few books.
I also considered some disadvantages:
– Each book would have to be both familiar and yet different enough to avoid accusations of repetition.
– I might run out of steam with the main character/s.
– There would need to be character development, which could mean challenging the reader with their behaviour and relationships.
– Reader expectations and reactions (what if someone dies?).
– I might get bored with the books!
In the end, as I intimated above, it was the story that determined what happened. Don’t worry; I promise not to reveal any spoilers! I’m now writing the third book in the series and I have an outline for the fourth.
I’ve picked up some useful tips along the way for series writers:
– Keep a careful log of your characters and their alliances. A fellow author once told me about how a character in book two had actually died in book one, but the editor missed it and so did he!
– The spellings of names need to be consistent throughout a book and across the series. Believe me, a reader will notice.
– Keep a continuity file. If your lead character hates cheese, keep it that way unless there’s a great reason to change it.
– Be clear about a wide story arc if you’re playing the long game. You want to be able to leave teasers about the conspiracy and even have characters refer back to important scenes in previous books.
It’s a fine balance between a follow-on book and a standalone novel. The same but different is another conundrum.
– In a series you can afford to take chances. Character A might not be unfaithful if he or she is the one wearing the white hat in book one, but you can play against that in book three and show their folly and redemption (or not).
– A series may be easier to pitch to an agent or publisher. As always, check their listing and website to be clear about their requirements.
It is a big commitment to keep writing about the same characters, especially if you’ve yet to get a contract or self-publish. I was only contracted in January 2015 although I was already working on the third book in the series. (In fairness, I did take a break to write a completely separate standalone novel somewhere between books two and three.)
Within my thriller series, the books will explore:
– Thomas’s ever-changing relationship with Miranda.
– HIs relationship with his own family.
– What’s really going on in the Surveillance Support Unit, and what happens when there’s a conflict of interest between the divided factions?
– Who the hell is Karl McNeill?
– Can one good man hold the line without crossing it?
At the risk of stating the obvious, whether you’re writing a standalone novel or a whole series of interconnected novels: enjoy the writing process. Write, research, plot, plan, redraft, edit and prepare for publication.
Follow @DerekWriteLines for updates on the sequel to Standpoint coming 2015.
Thomas Bladen has been living a double-life for two years. He’s a civil service photographer, working in London, but the Surveillance Support Unit also assists other government departments. The SSU is staffed by ex-forces personnel, careerists and Thomas. He has an eye for details that other people miss and a talent for finding trouble – a combination that was never going to bring him an easy life. When he uncovers a web of deceit and treachery that puts the only woman he’s ever loved in danger, it’s time to come out of the shadows and to come out fighting.
Come visit my blog: http://www.alongthewritelines.blogspot.co.uk where you can also find out more about my other books.