It started before I typed ‘The End’ on the last page of No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher mystery.
Typing ‘The End’ is only the beginning. The editing and revising can take longer than writing the first draft. This is where you polish to make the story shine. It didn’t always feel like this in the past, but once you realise how much you can improve the writing, editing becomes much less of a chore.
But I’m not talking about editing and revising today. I’m talking about the fourth novel in the series, provisionally entitled, No Smoke. A couple of weeks ago on Robservations, I talked about keeping a record of the writing process – an abbreviated journal, if you like. (Click here to read the blog).
When you write a series, you soon realise the challenges.
Everything you write has implications for future novels. While writing No Bodies, the second in the series, I was continually checking No Accident, the first book, to make sure characters hadn’t changed appearance or name, or suddenly become widowed. And that’s before you consider birthdays, anniversaries and significant events.
You also have look into the future. I’m not talking crystal balls or tarot cards, but ideas for future plots and events. I have a story idea for Book Six. Book Five needs to set it up. Book Four will contribute, I’m sure. And while I was writing No Remorse, I realised I could start the process here.
It means lots of notebooks.
My study in Crouch Corner heaves with notepads, scrap paper and Post It notes. In one pad, I made the first entry for No Smoke on 14th August last year. It says:
‘A new Detective Inspector wants Kent’s help with an old case.’
From here, I flesh out some of the details of the cold case that the DI wants help with. There’s a link to an Asian restaurant with a history of ‘hate crime’. You may think that’s a matter for the police, but under Health and Safety at Work legislation, employers have to protect their employees. If employees are subjected to verbal and physical abuse, they need protection.
It’s another area of environmental health work that I wanted to highlight at the time. Since then, and pages of notes later, the plot has moved on and changed direction into something much more complex and devious.
The notes on the backstory, however, cover five times the pages dedicated to individual plots.
And it’s the backstory that shapes the series. Events from previous books cast shadows. Characters are changed and shaped by events. Relationships develop and shift. For instance, Kent Fisher and Gemma Dean, the main characters, have a history. Nothing unusual in that, but it’s the sexual tension, the ‘will they, won’t they’ aspects of their lives that impact on the main plots.
Readers tell me they enjoy this tension.
Whatever my plans for the next novel, I have to consider this relationship. Readers want to know what happens to them. Curiously, I’m never quite sure myself until I start writing.
Then there are secrets, events from the past that are exposed by previous investigations. Lives and attitudes are changed. Friendships can be shaken or broken. New alliances are forged. As in life, there are missed opportunities, regrets and a loss of control.
What about the impact of solving a murder, especially if your life was threatened?
Imagine how you might feel if you went to work one morning and uncovered a murder? You’d probably ring the police. But what if they didn’t believe you? What if you didn’t believe it yourself?
My hero’s an environmental health officer, not a police detective. He’s not hardened to murder. He doesn’t have a team of dedicated officers to support him. He only has his wits and his intuition and a determination to uncover the truth.
How does he deal with what he finds and the dangers to his life?
Denial becomes his weapon of choice. He chooses to roll with the dice and get on with life rather than complain about it. But every time you shut away some horror or upset, it lies there waiting to bite you later.
This is what makes the backstory so much fun. It adds an extra layer of interest. It helps the reader learn more about the characters. There’s additional conflict and challenges to keep the reader reading.
And all those details to remember and consider.
So, after I type The End, I start by considering what will happen in the time before the next novel starts. What will happen behind the scenes to influence events in the next story? What are the issues left over from the last novel?
No Smoke begins about six months after the end of No Remorse. A lot has happened in the intervening period, which is why I’m filling my notebook with ideas. And that’s before I consider the murder plot and suspects.
At least I know how the story will start and that’s usually enough. But I love throwing in twists and complications at the end of chapters. What if someone does this? What if that happens? Most of the time, I roll with these twists and turns because they take me beyond the story in my head.
There’s a chance they could lead me down a cul-de-sac. There’s also a chance they’ll transport me on a more exciting journey. They did in No Remorse, which took a new direction that led to three weeks of revisions, trying to make it all work.
It’s now leading to more decisions needed for the backstory.
At least I have a good supply of notebooks. I have a feeling I’ll need them, but that’s another story, of course.
If you’d like to find out more about No Remorse, which will be published on 7th May 2018, please click here to go to Amazon, where you can pre-order the book and check out the first two novels in the series.