Thursday, August 18, 2011

What if?

I find it interesting and a bit ironic when I think about how the two little words "what if" can be both harmful and beneficial. In our daily lives, if we constantly ask ourselves that question, we will become chronic worriers. "What if I loose my job?" or "What if he/she never speaks to me again?" The list can go on and on, taking on a life of its own, overwhelming us. We are tense and stressed, which wears on our health and our happiness. I try not to ask that question in my personal life.

My fiction is another story, pun intended. I've learned that those same two words can create tension and suspense in my writing, which is a good thing. What if the reader knows that the killer is hiding in the basement but the main character doesn't know? What if she is about to go down there? Or, what if the main character's next-door-neighbor is a voyeur, always secretly peeking in her windows? And, what if, while he's watching, he sees a man attack her and rushes to her rescue? So many "what ifs."

The words can even generate ideas for plots and characters. Stopping at the post office to mail a package might not inspire story ideas in and of itself; it's just one of the many errands that have to be done that day. But, what about the man in line behind me who is talking to himself? What's going on with him? And, all of a sudden, my mind asks the question: what if? What if he recently escaped from a mental institution? What if he killed someone and can't cope with what he's done? What if? And then: what's next?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stand Alone vs. Series Novels

When I conceived the idea for my first mystery/suspense novel, Mixed Messages, my goal was to write a stand alone novel. I planned to introduce and develop my characters, tell their story and, by the end of the book, tie up any loose ends, leaving the reader satisfied. My plan is still basically the same but my goal has changed.

As I got further and further into writing my novel, I realized that, for various reasons, I didn't want to say "goodbye" to my characters; they had more to say and do. So, I decided to write a sequel, Unfinished Business. Surprise, surprise. I'm now in the early stages of plotting the third novel in the series. My characters refuse to let me go.

While I've read and enjoyed many stand alone novels, I've found that they often leave me wanting more; I want to know where the story and the characters go from there. I love reading mystery series because I like getting to know the characters and following them from book to book. For example, I eagerly await V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton. I will be sad when I finish reading the last in the A-Z series because Kinsey Millhone has become almost like a friend to me, as have some of Sue's other characters. Also, I've recently read Scared Stiff by Annelise Ryan and I'm eager to read the other books in her series. Her main character, Mattie Winston, is absolutely hilarious; I laughed out loud as I read. And, there are so many others.

I realize that stating that my characters won't let me go may sound silly to anyone who doesn't write fiction but I'm convinced that other writers get it. The proof of that, I think, is in the publication of so many series. While authors like Sue Grafton sign on from the start to write a series, I believe that many others find themselves in the same position that I did. The first novel is finished but the characters are begging for a second book to be written. And a third. . . .