Among the book genres, mystery is one which is often serialized into a series of novels. Whether it’s episodic or covering an overarching plot, mystery series have been enjoyed by its readers for decades and years on end.
However, the challenge of writing a mystery series is definitely greater than writing a single book. The number of things you need to consider increases rather exponentially, so we’re here to help you with a few tips in mystery series writing. Of course, we’ll also show you how LivingWriter can help with your first mystery series.
Find Your Space in the Genre
As with any genre, the mystery genre is also a broad field that encompasses many smaller subgenres. These smaller subgenres may have a separate set of reader expectations and tropes that are different from the others. By knowing these beforehand, you understand your audience and plan how to structure and plan your series ahead.
Popular mystery subgenres include cozy mystery, amateur sleuth mystery, romantic suspense, and police procedurals, among others. While the first three mentioned might be a bit more light-hearted, the last one is definitely on the more technical and hardcore side. This is just one of the many differences that each subgenre might have. Research and read up on the subgenre that you wish to pursue.
Part of finding your space is also knowing what type of series you would write. When you write a mystery series, it could be either episodic or continuous. An episodic series is similar to that of the Sherlock Holmes stories, where each story stands independently from the series: each crime is discovered and solved in the same book. A continuous series is one where a larger crime is unveiled, and will take a few books to resolve.
Episodic series have the freedom to not have a “true end”; stories can be produced as long as the author wants. On the other hand, continuous series have a predetermined end: the resolution of the overarching plot/crime. Understanding which series type you’ll write will also help you visualize how you plot your series.
Develop an Interesting Sleuth
If you want to write a mystery series, the first thing you really want to focus on developing is your main character. This character will be the main character of more than just one book, so this character must be interesting enough that they can carry multiple books on their own.
One particular aspect you might want to fixate on is your sleuth’s occupation. For police procedurals and noir mysteries, it’s often a no-brainer for them to be either someone with a position in the police station or a private detective.
However, if they’re not someone who solves crime day in and day out, your character must be at least someone whose job allows them to be out and about for the most part of the day. This makes sure that your character is mobile enough when looking for evidence and motivated to be moving around. Office workers are hardly the type of people who would take multiple days of leave for a mystery that they might just be looking “too much” into.
Write an Interesting Sidekick, too
Most mysteries aren’t solved by a single mind, and two is always better than one. This is one of the tried-and-tested tropes of the mystery genres, producing the John Watson to your Sherlock Holmes. These sidekicks are beloved as much as the main character, and they can be anyone, from a coworker, a relative, a close friend, or a life partner.
As you write a mystery series, your sleuth will undoubtedly come across issues that cannot be solved simply by logic and pure deductive science. Sidekicks serve to balance their inquisitive nature, often by tapping into hunches, gut feeling, and intuition. They may also spice up the personality mix in the novel, adding another layer of interest.
Another point to consider is that your sidekick might not even be the same across the series. It might be impractical for a person to be consistently within calling distance from your main character, so you can change up your sidekick every now and then. Your older sidekicks can re-emerge in the series at random points, too, as secondary characters.
Speaking of secondary characters…
Have a Moderately-Size Cast
Meeting many characters is par for the course when you write a mystery series. The nature of inquisition will in fact lead your sleuth into many people of varying backgrounds working on different fields. However, you should also judge the size of your secondary cast and find a perfect size that neither overwhelms nor is unexciting.
If you have too few secondary characters, your novel might be too uninteresting with very few character interactions that would be able to accentuate certain traits and characteristics of your main character and keep the story moving. Too many, and your reader would be burdened with names to remember, saturating your sleuth’s presence.
Unless necessary, you don’t have to re-introduce a character from a previous installment. Speaking of previous installments…
Let Each Novel Stand on its Own
This advice is true for all series. This is especially applicable for continuous series; your novel should still be a complete novel that has its own start and resolution that is independent from the series itself. That means that there is a crime or conflict in the book that is discovered and solved in the book itself, while at the same time progressing the overarching plot.
Episodic series may not have this much of a problem, since each book is inherently independent when you write a mystery series. However, being independent from the series does not mean straying from facts and details previously uncovered. Speaking of that…
Keep Track of Details in the Series
If you want to write a mystery series, one more common thing about them are the details. You need to stay on top of each character’s personality and whereabouts, as well as the design and arrangement of significant settings. For each book, you have to take note of each minute information about the scene of the crime, for example.
Whether your series takes place in a real location or a fictional area, you should describe the setting with enough detail. This includes the atmosphere and mood of the area. Noir mysteries, for example, would often paint the image of a bleak place in the point of view of the main character who has seen much of the dark side.
However, for series-wide information, character details and dates are also important to take note. Particularly pay attention to the idiosyncrasies of the characters in your series, and keep them consistent across the series. If your character changed at some point in the series, succeeding mentions should also highlight this change.
Keeping track of dates is a no-brainer. You should consider the passage of time between events, most especially between books. For example, a detective of today will have far more tools in their arsenal than one from a few years ago.
To help you keep track of these details, LivingWriter offers the powerful Story Elements feature. Story Elements allow you to create a story element, whether it be a character, setting, or a custom element, then write exhaustive notes about them. You can even divide your notes into sections for organization, as well as add images for visual reference.
The cool thing about Story Elements is that you can mention a specific story element at any point in your manuscript, and LivingWriter pulls up all your notes about that element in the sidebar, so you don’t miss out on any detail about them. This is extremely handy when you write a mystery series, especially when you’re trying to reiterate the events of a specific date.
Write a Mystery Series with LivingWriter
Writing a single mystery novel is hard enough, so making an entire series of them is understandably more difficult. However, with our tips, you should be well on your way to making a great first mystery series. With that said, you might be also inclined to try LivingWriter, the best writing companion app with powerful features aimed to empower you, the author.
Try LivingWriter now!