January 19th, 2007

Series - giving your main character a job

If you are writing a series about adults, you need to give your main character a job. Marcia Talley, author of the Hannah Ives mysteries, says, “It’s annoying when a character zips about town all day solving mysteries without any visible means of support.”

There are several approaches to giving your character a career. One is to give them a job that entitles them to be naturally nosy, such as a newspaper reporter.

Another is to give them a distinctive area of expertise. The plus side is that with each book, you can explore some new facet of their industry. The downside is that if you are writing mysteries, readers will need to suspend disbelief about, say, the growing pile of corpses in the floral industry. Sarah Strohmeyer has done very well with her Bubbles Yablonsky series, in which a hairdresser solves crimes and dispenses beauty tips. John Billheimer’s more serious Owen Allison series stars a “failure analyst” who analyzes why dams fail or plans crash.

A third approach is to give your character an ever-changing occupation. Editors are always asking themselves: What makes this book different from the hundreds of others crossing my desk? Elaine told me, "My hook for the Dead-End Job series was that my character and I both work the same minimum wage jobs. We've worked at a dress shop, a bookstore and as a telemarketer. More rotten jobs are planned." She has a six-book contract.

Another approach is to simply give your character enough money that he or she doesn’t have to work. In the first of my Claire Montrose series, Claire inherits what proves to be a long-lost Vermeer.



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Contest for unpubbed mystery and thriller writers

Murder in the Grove conference is sponsoring a contest along with the Popular Fiction Association of Idaho. Every entrant receive detailed information on how your work was judged. And the judges are agents and editors. I think that's worth the $35 fee. The deadline is March 31. Click here for more information.

Full disclosure: The only time I've been in Boise (where Murder in the Grove is held) in recent memory was when I was on tour for Learning to Fly. I stayed at a Best Western next to the airport. It seemed like a safe choice. While I was waiting to see if there was a room available, because it was only 11 in the morning, a housekeeper bustled in. "You'll never believe who's in Room 119!" she said to the counter girl. "The voo doo guy! I thought we banned him!" I was enthralled. Then the aircondioner I was sitting next to kicked in, and all I could make out were the words "blood" and "carpet."

Luckily my room was a long way from Room 119.



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