My approach to planning my first two books couldn't have been more different. The first book is so much more than just a mystery. As part of a series, it's the world's introduction to my main protagonist, Gwyn Lewis, and her hometown of Blossom Valley. I had to determine every aspect of Gwyn's character. How old is she? Single or dating or even married? What kind of car does she drive? Would she purchase a reliable, economic sedan or a flashy, expensive speedmobile? And what of Blossom Valley? How many residents claim that town as their home? Are the residents beer drinkers or wine sippers? Do they visit art museums or tractor pulls? Would readers believe that people in such a place are constantly being murdered as Gwyn stumbles over a body, sometimes two, in every book?
And I had to decide all these details at the outset because once I'd cemented the information in the first book, I couldn't change it. I mean, sure, Gwyn can move to a new town with a new set of victims, but Gwyn herself will never change, except to learn from her experiences and mature. But if I said she has one younger sister in the first book, a brother can't come home for Christmas in the second one. Unless I write a subplot of long lost siblings and extramarital affairs, which is unlikely.
Book two didn't involve nearly the same amount of planning. All the basics were already decided and I could focus solely on the murder plot, outlining how the victim dies, creating a list of suspects, and determining the identity of the killer. The experience was surprisingly relaxing ,as if I was writing the book while sitting on the sofa at an old friend's house. I already knew Gwyn, her mother, and her sister. I was familiar with her curmudgeonly boss and attractive coworker.
I feel a certain fondness for these people, a feeling I hope carries through to the reader. But I can't get too comfortable with Gwyn and her family. No one likes characters who are the same in every book. They need to grow, to try new things. So as I plan out the third Gwyn Lewis book, I have to keep an eye on the future for these secondary characters and figure out where their lives are headed. And whether the reader will want to go along for the ride.