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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tips for Creating a Successful Series Sleuth

Today I'm turning my blog over to Dan Andriacco, who is the author of nine mystery novels. Thc cover to the left is his latest release - Bookmarked for Murder. This is  his sixth Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody book.  Dan's going to give you his tips for creating a successful series sleuth...

Ever since The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes began appearing monthly in The Strand magazine in 1891, mystery readers have loved series sleuths.

So if you want to achieve success as a mystery writer, your best bet is to create a memorable protagonist. As veteran private eye writer Bill Pronzini said, “It's very hard to write stand-alones now and maintain a career – unless you’re someone like John Grisham.”

Presumably, you are not. And from fledgling authors, agents and publishers are looking for a series. They want to sign on a franchise that they can grow.

In my own work, I have written a trilogy featuring Enoch Hale, an American journalist living in London in the early 1920s, and the ongoing Sebastian McCabe-Jeff Cody series, which I hope lasts as long as I do.

Mac and Jeff, who live in a small town in Ohio, are only the leading actors of an entire cast of ongoing characters. Readers have been kind enough to tell me that opening a new McCabe-Cody adventure is like going home again. This is certainly an advantage in a series.

But, as fellow blogger Noah Steward told me, “The most important thing in a series is its detective character; if (he or she) doesn’t catch the interest of the reading public, you won’t be selling a very long series.”

So what makes a good series detective?

Your detective can be amateur or professional, likeable or irascible (think Nero Wolfe), young or old, male or female, working on a space station or imperial Rome. But he or she should be interesting, easily distinguished from competitors who are outwardly similar, suitable to the story’s style (police procedural, cozy, hard-boiled, etc.) and someone that you and your readers will not soon grow tired of.

One of the greatest dangers of attempting to create a unique protagonist is that you wind up with an unbelievable collection of eccentricities, more a caricature than a character. That might be okay if you’re going for farce and can carry it off, but most mystery readers want their detective to be heroic and yet real enough to believe in.

Consider a true original – Sherlock Holmes himself. One of the greatest American mystery writers of the 20th Century, Rex Stout, perceptively wrote:

“Holmes is a man, not a puppet. As a man he has many vulnerable spots, like us; he is vain, prejudiced, intolerant; he is a drug addict; he even plays the violin for diversion – one of the most deplorable outrages of self-indulgence.” But, Stout went on, there is much more to Holmes than that: “He loves truth and justice more than he loves money or comfort or safety or pleasure, or any man or woman. Such a man has never lived, so Sherlock Holmes will never die.”

There was only one Sherlock Holmes. Although I am a Sherlockian, Sebastian McCabe and Jeff Cody are nothing like him. Neither should your sleuth or sleuths be. Create a believable detective of your own who will move comfortably in the sort of story you want to write, whether it be lighter than a chocolate mousse or harder than steel. Make him or her someone you love and want to spend time with – and your readers will, too.

Know your market. But know your hero even better.

Like to know more about Dan and his writing or buy his books? Here's the links to get you started...


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