Series Readers—What they Really Want to See in Our BooksMay 21, 2014
by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I’ve just finished the latest Southern quilting mystery—book five in that series, due to release in late 2015. So that means, right now, I’m no longer under a contract until Penguin decides if they’d like to acquire more books for the series (likely something they would determine after seeing sales figures for book four, coming out in August).
For the first time…ever, really…the only project I have to work on is my self-published Myrtle Clover series. I started book seven at my usual full throttle, and then slowed my writing pace down a bit and decided to take a more thoughtful approach.
I have a completed outline for the book. The mystery looks pretty sound. Readers told me they especially wanted more humor and the book’s outline has plenty included.
But then I remembered some of the other emails I’ve gotten. Readers have been writing me and mentioning things they’d like to see in my Myrtle stories. Others wrote that they were “so glad to hear more about____”. I remember reading these emails and being baffled because the elements the readers liked and wanted to hear more about seemed very incidental to the story.
But I know by now that anything readers like, even if it seems incidental to me, is simply a sign that I’m not getting it.
I started looking more closely at those elements and what I saw was that they were interested in seeing more glimpses of what everyday life is like for my recurring series characters…when they’re not solving a mystery.
Someone mentioned wanting to find out if Myrtle’s sidekick, Miles, had children and grandchildren and what they were like.
Someone else wanted to know where the yard gnomes all came from and how long Myrtle had been collecting them.
The things they’d mentioned fell into a couple of groups—information that I identified as background info that’s up in my head but never written about, and information that I had honestly never even considered.
What’s curious to me is that there is so many articles out there warning against extraneous detail and how readers don’t want it cluttering up a story. That’s one of the main writing “rules” that we all read about over and over again—dump the backstory.
So I’m wondering if there’s a point in a series where readers suddenly are really very interested in this extraneous backstory. Because it still has no bearing on the mystery or subplots. And, unless I work it very carefully into a story, it still would resemble an info-dump.
What I’d rather do is to work a story around some of this information that readers have become curious about and make them either important to the mystery or important to the characters’ general personality—have it be something that either gives the readers some insight as to how they ended up being the way they are or show more about them as they are now. Maybe I could even pull some of the info into a subplot—extra points if I can connect the subplot to the main plot.
I do enjoy glimpses in characters’ pasts in other long-running series. Elizabeth George has done a nice job showing us working class cop Barbara Havers’s background and how her background is now impacting her present.
What I did was make a Word document with a list of questions. The questions were both what I thought readers might be interested in knowing and what they had already indicated to me that they’d like to find out. They included everything from the unnamed street where much of the action in the stories takes place to what book literature-loving Myrtle is currently reading.
I’ll set about incorporating some of them into this story, some of them into upcoming stories. I’ll try to make the information significant, too, because there may be some new readers happening into the series for the first time.
As a reader, is there a point when you start becoming interested in extraneous detail? As a writer, when have you started adding some of this backstory into your series?