A lot of the reading I’ve been doing this year is of the In Death series by J.D. Robb (probably better known as Nora Roberts). I’m almost done. That’s close to fifty books.
And I find myself as an author in awe of her ability to stay true to the demands of her genre. Every single one of those books I’ve read so far is firmly structured as a mystery.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that the opening is about the murder. And the focus of the story is on solving that murder. Those books are definitely character-driven. They would not be the same books without Mavis, Peabody, Roarke, Feeney, McNab, and all the other relationships. And they’re not necessarily the types of murder mysteries where you’re given the clues to solve the murder yourself. You as a reader are along for the ride with characters you’ve come to like.
Despite the fact that they’re character-driven mysteries she still manages to keep the murder and the solving of that murder the frame of each and every single book. I have yet to see her stumble on that point after forty-plus books.
Now, there are some authors who would see that as problematic. They think it’s too predictable. But what those authors fail to see is that that’s how you meet the expectations of readers of a certain genre.
You show them on page 1 that this is the type of story they’re going to get. This is a murder mystery. Someone is dead. And now someone will solve that murder. And then, within that framework, you play with the characters and the story.
It seems easy to do that, right?
But I’ll tell you, I personally do not find it easy to do. I’ve now written four cozy mysteries and finding that balance between the mystery and the personal lives of the characters is the biggest challenge I have in writing those books.
And just today I published a short story set in that world that doesn’t even have a mystery! That’s how much I struggle with it.
Trust me. You don’t want to put yourself in the position of having to explain through your marketing that this book isn’t what readers have come to expect from you.
So I really, really admire J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts for her ability to consistently and continuously work within the frame of her genre and yet create unique and believable characters at the same time. She’s truly a master of her craft. Someday I hope to be half the writer she is.