Whether you write Mystery, Romance, Fantasy, or some other genre, you'll find the writing tips in today's guest post invaluable!
Please help me welcome award-winning author, Lois Winston, whose heroine-sleuth was dubbed by Kirkus Reviews: "North Jersey's more mature answer to Stephanie Plum." Lois is the author of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. ~ Adrienne deWolfe
How to Make Your Series
Stand Out in a Crowded Genre
By Lois Winston
Before I began writing my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, I did extensive research, reading dozens of crafting mysteries to get a feel for the genre. What I discovered was that most of these series centered around a craft shop in a small town. The amateur sleuth was either the shop owner, an employee, or a close friend or relative of the shop owner.
You need to put a unique
spin on the conventions.
One piece of writing advice I had heard for years and years was don’t follow trends. If you want your book to stand out in a crowded genre, you need to put a unique spin on the conventions of that genre. So I began to brainstorm as to what I could do differently but still produce a series which readers of crafting mysteries might embrace.
I decided to take my protagonist out of the shop and stick her in a different crafting profession. I made Anastasia the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. To my knowledge, no other author had ever featured a crafts editor as an amateur sleuth.
But I went a step further. Another observation I made in studying amateur sleuth mysteries in general, not just crafting mysteries, was that most of the protagonists were busybody snoops who channeled Nancy Drew or Jessica Fletcher and often believed they knew more than the professional investigators assigned to the crime.
In real life this would never happen, but fiction—especially genre fiction—is all about the suspension of disbelief. Readers of amateur sleuth mysteries are happy to suspend disbelief for a good whodunit. However, once again, I wondered what could I do differently so that my series would stand out, yet still give readers the type of satisfying read they expected from the genre?
What if I made Anastasia a
reluctant amateur sleuth?
My amateur sleuth would like nothing better than to turn the clock back to a time not so long ago when she led a typical middle-class life with a devoted husband, two great kids, and a job she loved. But that’s not going to happen because in order to write an ongoing series, the protagonist needs a reason to keep on sleuthing. However, where is it written that she has to enjoy sleuthing?
A successful book needs a story arc with a protagonist who is not the same person at the end of the book as she was at the beginning of the book. This is called character growth. But in an ongoing series, you can’t resolve all the protagonist’s goals, motivations, and conflicts at the end of the book. Doing so will end the series. You want to keep the reader coming back for more of your character’s adventures. But at the same time, you need your character to learn from her experiences and move toward her goal. So in the very beginning you need to set up a situation whereby your protagonist can make inroads toward her goal with each subsequent book.
I set the
In Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my series, I set the stage for what will be Anastasia’s ongoing goals, motivations, and conflicts. The series opens with her discovering that her recently deceased husband led a double life, more devoted to Lady Luck than his family. When he drops dead at a roulette table in Las Vegas, Anastasia discovers he’s gambled away all their savings and left her with huge debt. In each book she tries to find new ways to earn extra money to whittle down that debt. But since this is an amateur sleuth mystery series, she also winds up dealing with unsavory characters on the wrong side of the law, not to mention tripping over the occasional dead body.
But no amateur sleuth operates in a vacuum. She needs friends and family in her life. Creating conflict within a protagonist’s personal life adds another layer of depth to a series. Not only does the amateur sleuth need to figure out whodunit in each book, she needs to deal with life’s normal problems. Adding fully developed secondary characters that readers will enjoy will keep them coming back for more.
Lucille is the character
readers love to hate.
I receive the most fan
mail about her.
In my series, Anastasia must deal with a hateful Communist mother-in-law. Lucille is the character readers love to hate. I receive the most fan mail about her. Half want me to kill her off, the other half hope I never do because she’s so much fun to hate. But I went further with family as well. In addition to a Communist mother-in-law, Anastasia has a mother who’s a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. And both mother and mother-in-law are forced to share a room in Anastasia’s home. Conflict. Conflict. Conflict. You can never have too much.
Writing Tips: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Genre
Whether you’re writing a crafting mystery series or any ongoing series in any genre, the same advice applies:
1. Give a unique spin to your protagonist, her profession, and/or the setting of your series.
2. Set up an overall situation that will allow the protagonist to make progress toward reaching her goals and resolving her conflicts as the series progresses from book to book.
3. Develop secondary characters that add depth to your series and create additional problems for your protagonist.
Follow these three steps, and you’re on your way toward creating a series that will stand out from the competition.
About Lois Winston
Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.”
Other books in the series includes Death By Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Decoupage Can Be Deadly and the ebook only mini-mysteries Crewel Intentions and Mosaic Mayhem.
Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning craft and needlework designer. She often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth.