You have to know your characters really well. This seems an obvious point to make, but it’s surprising just how well you have to get to know them. If someone behaves in a way that’s out of character with no plausible reason, readers are going to pick up on it.
There’s a tricky balance between character development and plot. In the first book, there was a lot of focus on developing the characters so that readers could get to know them. Keeping the plot central was a balancing act, but it became easier with book two.
Your timeline has to be precise. The first book in the series takes place in January; in the second, it’s June. When writing book two, I already knew that the third in the series would take place during late October/early November.
It helps to stay ahead of the book you’re working on. As with the timeline, I had a few ideas when writing book two of where I wanted the characters to go during future cases. I’ve learned it’s easier to plan ahead than get to the end of one book and realise I’m not sure where things are going to go in the next.
Making reference to previous books is fun. In book two, there are references to the case investigated in book one. It’s not enough to plot spoil for anyone who’s not read the first book, but as a writer it’s nice to be able to add these nods to previous stories.
You get to write what you know. ‘Write what you know’ is a phrase most writers will be familiar with, but unless you’re an ex-police officer (or ex-con!) a crime writer doesn’t have much experience of police procedure. I rely on research, other crime novels and television, but what I do ‘know’ are my locations, so it’s been fun to ‘write what I know’ in terms of the places where the action happens.
I get to grow with the characters. Sometimes they take me places I hadn’t planned, so every next chapter feels like a learning curve. Hopefully they’ll make me a better writer with every story.
Research is essential. If the police were ever to seize my laptop and access its search history, I’ve got some explaining to do: I’ve searched everything from how to disguise a murder as suicide to erotic asphyxiation.
Flaws are fine, but not too many… Another balancing act: perfect characters are boring to read about (and rarely reflect real life), but if a character is too flawed they become unlikeable. No one wants to read about someone they can’t root for or empathise with.
This is my dream job. Now that I’m lucky enough to get to write a series, I’m also lucky enough to make this claim. Other than a position as quality control tester at Cadbury World, I can’t think of any job in which I would rather spend my time, and writing a series means I get to do it again and again.