Writing A Character Series.

Check out this excellent Guardian newspaper article interviewing a host of essential authors writing in the detective genre.

Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Val McDermaid, Ann Cleeves, and others talk about how they came to write their series and the impact of doing so.

www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/27/me-and-my-detective-by-lee-child-attica-locke-sara-paretsky-jo-nesb-and-more

A Tale of Two Writers – Michael Connelly and John Grisham

To begin at the beginning, this is not an exhaustive comparison of Connelly and Grisham. There will be plenty of writers/journalists out there who have already done this better than I can.

These are my thoughts and notes from a great interview with the two authors by the bookseller Waterstones, earlier this evening.

Connelly and Grisham have been writing for a similar length of time, around the thirty year mark. Both are bestseller authors.

Connelly writes novels with a number of repeating characters. Detective Harry Bosch is his mainstay, but then there is the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, journalist James McAvoy, and his latest detective Renee Ballard.

The majority of Grisham’s novels are stand alone, with only the recent ‘Camino’ stories being based on the same protagonist.

So, should you write serial characters as a new writer, or have a constantly refreshed cast? The success of both authors would seem to suggest its a tie on that score.

Connelly and Grisham both have work schedules which begin on January 1st.

They are both full-time writers and their writing habits reflect this.

Newer writers may have to work their writing in around other jobs, but there is a key point which is be disciplined. Whether you have all the time to write or practically no time, you have to sit down and write.

Connelly and Grisham both write in areas that they are very familiar with.

Connelly’s stories are very much based in Los Angeles and his previous career as a journalist covering crime clearly still has an influence on his work.

Grisham was a lawyer and most of his books are legal thrillers, with his latest ‘Camino’ books straying from that to a roguish bookseller.

I’m not a fan of the old adage ‘write what you know’, but both authors very much are of the opinion that you should write in areas which you are knowledgable.

What you know the best might not be your current career area. Your interest in sports or politics, cars or mental health, may be what you know best?

Whatever your key area of interest, make sure you keep up to date, read and watch everything you can find and look out for those story ideas.

Ploter or Pantser?

Connelly and Grisham both know what the end scenes are before they begin writing the first scene.

Grisham tends to be more heavily plotted than Connelly.

For you as a writer, plot or pants, but make sure you know where the end is before you start at the beginning.

Connelly and Grisham generally stay within their ‘genre’. Success probably has a part to play here, but they know the lay of the land and they find plenty of stories there.

Grisham has written non-fiction and sport-based stories.

As a writer you can jump around the genres but you will probably find more success in those areas of your knowledge and expertise.

Connelly and Grisham are both fans of Ian Rankin.

Connelly has had his Bosch stories made into a very successful Amazon TV series and a movie made of The Lincoln Lawyer.

Grisham has had a number of his books made into big movies, such as The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, and The Firm.

Both writers still see themselves as novelists and TV/Film are interesting side-tracks.

Writers write!

So what’s keeping you – get writing!

Connelly and Grisham could do with some competition!

Productivity isn’t always what you think.

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Choose twenty books about being creative and they will tell you to produce!

They aren’t wrong.

If you are a creative then create.

I think it was Seth Godin who said, real artists ship.

I am not arguing with him.

If I am a writer, then I need to stand at my desk and write. I need to complete that novel.

Recently though, I’ve become more persuaded that productivity isn’t just the end product.

If I write with a fountain pen, at some point I need to load it with ink. Without that ink, the words on the page will be invisible.

The ink is the books I’ve read, the drafts which have drifted towards the electronic storeroom or the recycling bin, the interviews I’ve heard or seen with authors, the ideas sparked by the movies and tv series I’ve watched, the conversations I’ve overheard, waking up in the middle of the night with words like a whisper in my ear . . .

Being creative is your way of life. It is you being productive.

Don’t always judge yourself by the final product.

If I write 200 words less than my target, I can easily judge myself a failure, but the interview I heard with John Le Carre, or Ian Rankin, could fuel my next two books.

Don’t stop shipping, but don’t begrudge stocktaking either.

 

Where You Live.

In, British designer and tv presenter, Kevin McLoud’s 43 Principles of Home, he makes the following observations in Principle 16,

Make the context of where you live part of your narrative . . . Research local history . . . Memorise your landmarks . . . Study the flora, fauna, and geology of your place . . .

And most importantly,

Invent a story for your place.

So what is the story of your place?

I confess to being poor at the background setting and surroundings. For me a building is a building and the number of floors might make a difference if I need the protagonist to jump off, but I’m not to fussy about the name or the colour or any other feature of significance.

However, for many novels and stories, the place is significant.

Reviewers and journalists write of Inspector Morse’s Oxford, or Rebus’ Edinburgh. Lee Child gives the latest place Jack Reacher visits a name and some curious quirk of past history, even if he does confess to making some of it up on occasion.

So, consider giving your story’s location an overhaul in terms of location information.

Readers seem to like being able to fix a story to a particular location.

Or, consider where you live and, as per Principle 16, invent a story for right there.

Meeting With Your Characters.

I mean a literal meeting with your characters.

You know, sat on chairs around a table, kind of meeting.

I’ve spent most of the day involved in those kind of meetings and at some point, when I am certain I was supposed to be paying close attention, I thought about writers having meetings.

Not with their agents or editors. Not even with the press in an interview about the stellar success of their latest novel. But a meeting with the main characters, possibly even some of the minor characters, of their latest work.

TV shows have read throughs in the Writer’s Room or with the actors before filming, so why not the protagonists of your latest work?

Are they happy with their roles? Does the dialogue feel realistic to them? Do they understand where the plot is leading them?

Maybe they aren’t happy with their latest date? Or they would have definitely defended themselves with the pencil and not the rolled up magazine. Or why they need to wear a mixed wool blend in their pullover despite their allergies.

I’m not even going to get into the woeful way I accessorise my female characters and or why they didn’t get to use the pencil!

I apologise unreservedly.

Imagine if James Bond had demanded of Ian Fleming why every woman he meets turns out to be working for the opposition or is killed fifteen pages after he meets them? Harry Potter arguing with J.K. Rowling about wanting a bigger wand? Or Rebus asking Ian Rankin for a transfer to Exeter.

So, how do you think you would fair with your characters in a face to face meeting?

Give it a try. Make an agenda. And make sure there is plenty of coffee.

P.s. Make notes!