Monday, August 29, 2011

"L" is for Littlefield: Sophie Littlefield

Continuing the crime fiction author alphabet meme, today I welcome award winning mystery author Sophie Littlefield.   "L" is for Littlefield. I'm just amazed at the variety and skill of her writing. Sophie Littlefield will be on my panel at Bouchercon in St. Louis in September. Be sure and attend. Today she shares her writing wisdom on how to keep a series going.

Sophie Littlefield grew up in rural Missouri. She writes the post-apocalyptic AFTERTIME series for Harlequin Luna. She also writes paranormal fiction for young adults. Her first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, won an Anthony Award for Best First Novel and an RT Book Award for Best First Mystery. It was also shortlisted for Edgar, Barry, Crimespree, and Macavity Awards, and it was named to lists of the year’s best mystery debuts by the Chicago Sun-Times and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Sophie lives in Northern California.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Make a comment below about  your experiences with series-either as a writer or fan-- to win a copy of Sophie Littlefield's Bad Day for Scandal. Be sure and give your email address (can be cryptic: john at  gmail dot com)



Having recently turned in the edits on the fourth Stella Hardesty novel (tentatively titled A BAD DAY FOR MERCY) my thoughts turned to what sort of adventures my girl might encounter next.

It’s not a subject to take lightly. Building a sustainable series, one that satisfies and entertains readers well past the first blush of acquaintance, is a delicate dance. A challenge unsuitable for beginners or tentative sorts.

Most of us, beginning our first series, are ill-equipped for the challenge. We fail to augment our cast of characters, lay the groundwork for future developments, or set up conflicts strong enough to sustain the burden of a dozen more books. But that’s not the end of the world, because it’s in the cagey catch-up in later books that we get really creative. If we created fertile story worlds from the start, we would be less inclined to invent the startling, surprising, even shocking twists that keep readers interested.

Still, making book five as compelling as the first is a challenge not to be underestimated. Here are some tips for keeping a series fresh from the start.

1. In the first book, introduce a complex, richly-layered protagonist. Choose actions that reveal character. Set up an intriguing cast of secondary characters, and don’t stint on the quirky and engaging. Introduce the protagonist’s “ordinary world” but lay the groundwork for internal conflict substantial enough to resolve over time

2. In the second book, round out the cast. Upset the relationship apple cart – find a way to wreak havoc on whatever stability the protagonist has had in her professional, family, and romantic life.

3. In the third book, consider what readers are saying (usually you won’t have a chance to do this earlier, given the publishing lag of a year or two before publication.) Do more of what works, less of what readers found off-putting. Get creative with the central story problem – at this point the readers are ready to explore! Introduce a secondary romantic interest, if you haven’t already done so.

4. In subsequent books, stay fresh by putting effort into the central story problem. Take your protagonist on the road – a fresh setting injects new interest. Introduce a person from the past (secret lover, baby, avenger) or event from the past (military heroism or shame, romantic entanglement, inheritance, scrape with the law) that will challenge your protagonist, who is now familiar to your reader. Consider a timely subject matter, something from the news or innovations in science if these are appropriate to your genre.

5. ….and finally, never forget the Contract With The Reader. I’m a big believer in this imaginary but powerful obligation – you must never breech the trust of the reader that your character will behave in character. You don’t get to decide that he or she was “really” different from what you created; by now she has taken on a life of her own and you must honor that.


Hannah Jayne said...

Perfect timing for this post, Sophie! Just finishing off the edits for the third book in my Underworld Detection Agency series and was scratching my head on keeping it fresh! Great tips.

Kari Wainwright said...

Thank goodness for authors who can commit to a main character for many books. When a new book in a favorite series comes out, it feels like Christmas, no matter what time of year.

Kari Wainwright said...

I forgot to leave my e-mail address. It's gkw9000 at gmail dot com.


Anonymous said...

A Bad Day for Sorry was a BIG favorite here. Glad to see the series going on.

boots9k at wowway dot com

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks, Sophie and Janet for this well thought out list! I'm zeroing in on one of the hints in #4 as I write the third book in my new series! I think it's always a more satisfying read when the protagonist has a struggle of her own while trying to solve the crime.

I'm already a big fan of Stella, so I'll forfeit my eligibility for a book. I'd love to give a new reader the opportunity to meet her!

pennyt said...

I'm a big "mystery series" reader, but I'd never thought before about how carefully those of you who write work to make a series continue in character and be entertaining. Great post. Thank you.
Penny Tuttle
pennyt at hotmail dot com

Susan C Shea said...

Always good to hear from or about Sophie and writing. Another good alphabet post, Janet!

Gram said...

Loved "A Bad Day for Sorry" and looking forward to more in the series. I love series as they give the characters a chance to grow and it is interesting to watch.
grammyd01 at

Sharon said...

Agree with Sophie on all points, but would like to add a thought. I'm working on the eighth book in the Jane Wheel series right now (the "stuff") books and in books six, seven and now, eight, I think I've taken some big risks with Jane. Even though readers love the "stuff" of the books and tell me so all the time, Jane has had to outgrow a little of it (and deal with the consequences of her addiction to the old and worn) in order to grow into some other aspects of her life. I've tried to make her real and accountable--keeping the humor lively and the "stuff" part real--but nonetheless, there have been some changes that readers at first questioned. I've tried to answer--in fiction--and in person at readings/signings. And to my delight, readers have embraced, understood, and applauded the growth. Keeping things honest is key--and sometimes the honesty involves a few of the earlier "quirks" having logical consequences resulting in some big changes.
Since I'm already a reader and owner of Sophie's books--I'll forfeit my chance at winning--and, instead, thank her, and you, Janet, for a really great post.