Friday, August 17, 2018

Writing a Sequel in a Murder Mystery Series: Guest Post by Peter Moreira

Peter Moreira: 
Writing a Sequel in a Murder Mystery Series 

My wife has got into the habit of asking me how “Number Two” is going. That’s her name for the second book in my mystery series. Some days, I wish she’d use the book’s title. Other days, well, her name seems quite apt.

The fact is that writing the sequel to a murder mystery is hard. To illustrate why, I need to start with my novel THE HAIGHT, which I hope will be the first book in the Jimmy Spracklin series of crime novels.

THE HAIGHT (just published by Poplar Press) tells the story of Spracklin, a San Francisco homicide detective, who is investigating the murder of an artist in Haight-Ashbury in 1968. He knows the neighborhood – the vortex of hippie culture – all too well, for he’s spent a year there searching for his runaway stepdaughter.

In writing the sequel, I have to develop the story of Jimmy Spracklin and his family, while writing a whodunnit that can stand on its own and reward the reader. Here are five things I’ve learned in the process of writing and rewriting “Number Two”:

1. The second book is an essential volume in a series. Book 2 is not just another episode. Let’s assume that Book 1 is good enough that readers want to revisit the world the author created. If Book 2 falls short, the reader (and likely publisher) won’t bother with any further books in the series. Everyone will assume that there’s just not enough there to generate a series. You can probably get away with Book 8 being a lemon, but a weak second book is fatal.

2. Each book needs its own centre of emotional intensity. To draw in the reader, the hero has to love someone or something more than life itself, and that passion has to evolve as the series progresses. The incidents that define the long-term relationship have to be woven into the fabric of each book. In THE HAIGHT, the key relationship is Spracklin’s love of his stepdaughter, Marie. In the sequel, he risks everything to protect her, to the detriment of his own marriage.

3. You have to lose and add characters. This is a technical thing, but I find it really important. If you don’t absolutely need a character from Book 1, cut him or her out of Book 2. Each murder mystery needs characters to kill and its own rolodex of suspects. Ideally, they’ll all have their own stories and specific incidents that will bring out their characters. Don’t confuse your reader by cluttering your text with legacy characters. Lose old characters. Gain new ones.

4. Repeat the magic of the first book without belaboring it. There’s something unique about your book that made readers love it. With THE HAIGHT, I strove to create the atmosphere of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s without interrupting the plot with tedious tracts of description. It’s harder in the second book because I need new elements of Haight-Ashbury to describe. The murder in the second book is set against a free music festival in Golden Gate Park, creating the same aura as Book 1 but with fresh descriptions.

5. Aim to write a novel at least as good as the first book. That sounds like a no-brainer, but rarely (if ever) does the sequel live up to the original. For my own part, I’m delighted by the way THE HAIGHT turned out and the feedback I’m getting from readers. My goal is to write a better book second time around. Will I succeed? Dunno. But by aiming to exceed the first book, I hope I improve my chances of producing a worthy successor.

I’ve almost finished the second draft of the new novel. I think I’m pleased with the way it’s progressing, but you’re never really sure how good your book is until other people have at it. The story is centred on the murder of a minor character from THE HAIGHT, who shows up dead on Hippie Hill, where a long-haired impresario is staging a rock festival. The working title is THE DEAD DEALER OF HAIGHT STREET. I’m not completely sold on the title, but I like it better than NUMBER TWO

Peter Moreira is the author of THE HAIGHT, the first Jimmy Spracklin crime novel. It is now available from Poplar Press.

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