My first mystery series, The Outsiders, has three published books, while my other two series have only one published book each. I have another book planned out for each of those series, and they’re all tugging at me to write them. I know the characters extremely well, and even without a full outline, I can anticipate much of what will need to happen in those books to get the characters from Point A to Point Z.
That’s not so with the book I’m currently writing, The Handyman. It’s the first book in a new mystery series. The book is set in a troglodyte village in France, similar to the village in my Outsiders series, but the characters are new. I’ve done a lot of background work–I know a great deal about each character. But a writer (at least most of us who don’t create full outlines beforehand) can’t really know what it will take to get those characters from Point A to Point Z until we begin moving them through our story world. We need to see them react to the setting, see them interacting with each other, before we can truly know how they will react to various situations. Understanding human nature and psychology help, but many of us really need to explore the story with the characters in action before we can completely understand the specific characters we’ve chosen.
I’m now a quarter of the way done with the first draft of The Handyman, and it’s going great. That doesn’t mean I know everything that will happen, but that’s okay. If I’m engrossed in the story and can’t wait to find out what will happen next, it keeps me eager to write.
Getting back to what I was saying about exploring with our characters, sometimes we find that we have to get rid of one character and replace him or her with someone else. Sometimes we find that we need to add another character who will contrast with or relate to a particular character. Other times we find that the story we originally thought to write isn’t the story we’ll write after all. In getting to know our characters, we may discover a more important story. That’s the fun of creating a work of fiction.
Even if we’re working with characters we’ve already used in previous books, we might have to make changes. While I was working on Winter Tears, the third book in The Outsiders series, I thought Elena Pearson would be the protagonist and the story would be focused mostly on the disappearance of one of her children. As I wrote, I quickly realized I’d gotten it wrong. The story I really wanted to tell was more about the joy and fear that parents face. Although Elena is certainly a main character, the gendarme captain who is investigating the child’s disappearance is really the protagonist. He’s about to become a father for the first time, his wife has been in an accident, and his life is full of turmoil and fear.
So, if you’re working on a book and are worried because you don’t have everything planned out in advance, keep writing. You may uncover a great story. If not, don’t delete it. Make changes to your cast or your setting. Think about what you really want to create. Let your imagination engage.