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The Key to a Good Series is Excellent Characters

I’m a series junkie. In addition to those noted above, faves include Lew Archer, Spenser, Elvis Cole, Parker, Fletch, Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch … I could go on. And one of the things that draws me to series is that feeling of slipping into a familiar world – a place with its own logic and rules and history. And characters. GIVEAWAY: Steve is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within two weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Burrowswrite won.)
  1. The jalopy was occupied by Chet Morton, the Hardys’ portly chum, and Tony Prito, their olive-skinned companion.
  2. He had learned patience growing up in a tenement, where most days he was chased by a group of boys chanting “Meyer Meyer, Jew on fire.”
  3. A hairy economist who padded up and down the beach all day before retiring to his boat, the John Maynard Keynes.

If you recognize the lines above – which are, I confess, paraphrases rather than actual quotes – you are or once were a fan of the Hardy Boys, Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct, or John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee.

GIVEAWAY: Steve is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within two weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Burrowswrite won.)

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Guest column by Steve Ulfelder, amateur race driver and co-owner
of Flatout Motorsports, a company that builds race cars. His first novel,
PURGATORY CHASM, was nominated for an MWA Edgar Award in the
Best First Novel category, and was named Best First Mystery of 2011
by RT Book Reviews. His second novel, THE WHOLE LIE (May 2012,
Minotaur), earned a starred review at
Publishers Weekly and was
named an RT Book Reviews Top Pick. Visit Steve online at www.ulfelder.com.

I’m a series junkie. In addition to those noted above, faves include Lew Archer, Spenser, Elvis Cole, Parker, Fletch, Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch … I could go on. And one of the things that draws me to series is that feeling of slipping into a familiar world – a place with its own logic and rules and history.

And characters.

If you’re predisposed to enjoy a series, nothing envelops you in its self-contained universe like the brief descriptions of ongoing characters. McBain may have been the best at this (and may have had to become the best, because his 87th Precinct included such a large and rotating cast). Detective Steve Carella always had the build of a shortstop. Meyer Meyer was always prematurely bald and supremely patient. Cotton Hawes always had that surprising tuft of white hair. And so on.

I’m about to release the second Conway Sax novel, The Whole Lie – but for me, it’s the fourth book in the series. (A pair of unpublished efforts helped me develop Conway and Company.) I think I’m starting to get the hang of these thumbnail paragraphs. The idea is to offer new readers a quick description of somebody they’ll be seeing a lot of, and to do so without bogging down returning readers.

(How to create an effective synopsis for your novel or memoir.)

So Charlene Bollinger, Conway’s longtime girlfriend, is this: Bleached blonde, no nonsense, a long-clean junkie who bootstrapped her way to a powerhouse business career.

Sidekick Randall Swale: A young combat veteran who once kicked a trashcan lid hiding a bomb that blew his foot over a wall in a godforsaken village. He’s utterly without self-pity, but hangs around Conway when he ought to be getting on with his promising life.

And then there’s Sophie Bollinger, Charlene’s 13-year-old daughter. Blessed with jaw-dropping intelligence that was throttled by a tough early childhood, she thinks Conway hung the moon because he’s the first good man who ever touched her life.

If I’m fortunate and the series progresses, these quickie descriptions may someday bring readers that feeling I love myself: the comfortable (yet tense! What’s going to happen this time around?) escape into a world populated by characters we care about as if they lived next door.

GIVEAWAY: Steve is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within two weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Burrowswrite won.)

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Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

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