Writing Tips from Autumn by Guest Sharon Farrow

Thankful for our Readers Giveaway: Guest Sharon Farrow is here celebrating the release of her latest Berry Basket Mystery, Blackbird Burial. She’s giving away a copy to one lucky commenter below.

I love autumn so much that I chose to be born on Halloween, although my parents insist on taking full credit for this. And I don’t think there is a single thing I don’t like about the season, other than it leads directly into winter. Even that prospect can’t curb my delight in the blazing foliage, cider mill visits, and gently cooling temperatures. After many years spent savoring the delights of fall, I’ve realized my favorite season has life lessons to impart about letting go and embracing change. These lessons can also be applied to writing, especially the writing of a mystery series. So here are a few helpful tips inspired by autumn.

Add Color

Keeping things fresh, colorful and interesting in a series is crucial. This can be especially true for a cozy mystery. Unlike a hardboiled detective series or police procedural, the drama in a cozy never turns too dark or lurid. At the same time, there must be enough suspense and surprise to keep the reader coming back. Yes, a crime will be committed in each book, but that should only surprise the main character, not the reader. After all, this is a mystery. In a cozy, local color is literally built into the genre, which is marked by quirky characters, unusual shops, and regional idiosyncrasies. However, eccentric postmasters and pumpkin carving contests can’t be the sole source of local color.

Regular characters should reveal new facets as the series goes along. After several books, the reader may think they know all about the village shopkeeper or small town baker. But what if the story showed that one of them has been dogged by a crippling phobia or a family past they’re ashamed of. As a recent example, the character of Mary Morstan on the PBS series Sherlock was presented to the viewer as the no nonsense, likable nurse who captured Dr. Watson’s heart. Only later in the series do we learn that Mary worked as an assassin for the CIA. That revelation changed everything for the other characters and future storylines. We all enjoy watching the changing leaves of fall. It can be just as satisfying to see a fictional character reveal their true colors.

Cool Things Down

Cozy mystery heroines are often romantically involved with someone in the town. Expectations are that things between the fictional couple will grow stronger, sometimes leading to marriage. But going down such a well traveled path may not be the most creative choice. Just as readers expect a wedding to be imminent, the romantic interest could show himself to be someone the heroine has been mistaken about. Cooling a romance down – or ending it altogether – reminds the reader that life in a small town is complicated. And not only because dead bodies keep turning up. In the mystery series Grantchester, the romance between Sidney Chambers and Amanda provides just as much uncertainty as the crimes that need solving in the village. Although I doubt I was the only one who felt relieved when Amanda finally made her exit.

Cooling things down isn’t confined to romance. An unpleasant character in the series may not be as nasty as everyone believes. If romances in a series can come to an end, so, too, can enmities and small town feuds. A future plot may depend on former enemies joining forces, even becoming friends. While strong emotions, such as love and hate, are fodder for high drama, high drama isn’t always what’s necessary. Now and again, cool off the more intense relationships in a series. Like the first crisp breezes of autumn, it provides a welcome breath of fresh air after a hot, steamy summer.

Rake the Literary Dead Leaves

As sad as it is to see those colorful leaves fall, all good things come to an end . . . at least for a little while. Shedding their leaves allows trees to conserve energy and survive the long cold winter. The leaves served their purpose and it’s time to begin again the following spring. An author needs to look at the elements in their series which need rethinking. Maybe three books was ample time to explore the troubled relationship the heroine might have with a sibling. Resolve the problem in order to make room for future conflicts, preferably with a different character. Perhaps the main character has dealt with financial insecurity since the beginning of the series. Such a subplot can provide interesting conflicts and opportunity for growth. But how much time and space does that issue deserve in a long running series?

There are only so many pages in each mystery, and the crime rightly takes center stage. Subplots and characters that provided energy and interest earlier in the series may run out of steam. Pull out your literary rake and remove the dead weight. And don’t let the bare branches of the next book scare you. Look closer and you’ll see the buds of new subplots, new crises, and new characters. Autumn goes out in a blaze of glory, but always with the promise of rebirth a few months later.

Sharon Farrow is the latest pen name of award winning author Sharon Pisacreta. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Sharon has been a freelance writer since her twenties. Published in mystery, fantasy, and romance, Sharon currently writes The Berry Basket cozy mystery series, which debuted in 2016 with Dying for Strawberries. She is also one half of the writing team D.E. Ireland, who co-author the Agatha nominated Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mysteries. Visit Sharon at sharonfarrowauthor.com, on Facebook @SharonFarrowAuthor, or Twitter @SharonFarrowBB.

Readers: Are you a fall lover or a fall hater? Is it a season of death and dessication for you or an energizing season of renewal. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Sharon’s new release, Blackbird Burial.


76 Thoughts

  1. Sharon, what a great set of parallels! And you’ve just reminded me to reveal that CIA past in my next cozy. ;^) Congratulations on the new book – somehow this series escaped me. Must catch up. I do like the, well, coziness of fall – short days, time to bake and make soups, great for hiding away and writing and then emerging to read.

    1. Thanks, Edith! I wish I had a colorful CIA agent past in my own life. Although I once knew a man who was an FBI agent working to bring down the Mob. I need to put him in a future book.

  2. I love Fall. I love the colors before and after peak. Now that I’m retired Winter means sitting by the fireplace and reading during storms.

  3. It looks like a really good read, lots of imagination. I do love the fall, and being retired which hasn’t been that long and love to read especially on a snowy day.

  4. Welcome back, Sharon! I’m becoming more of a fan of fall than I have been in the past. It’s especially beautiful in northern Virginia right now. But I do dread what comes next – winter.

    1. Because we had such a hot September, we are only now reaching peak color here in Michigan, which is quite late for us. Always beautiful though.

  5. I’ve always loved Fall – I think because it was tied to the start of the new school years, and therefore, new beginnings. Great writing advice with wonderful metaphors. Your books sound great – I’ll order them for my winter stash (because is there anything more charming than the prospect of a snow storm when you have a good stack of books to read?)

    1. Thanks, Vida! I hope you enjoy my series. And I have a special reading chair right by the window – and close to my fireplace – where I snuggle up with my TBR pile all winter.

  6. As an October baby, fall has always been my favorite season: my birthday, but also the start of school, crisp weather, glorious colors and blue skies, and looking forward to the holidays. Especially Halloween and Thanksgiving, my favorites.

    Sharon, we met at Malice, when I sat at your table at the banquet, but you were on the other side of the table and we didn’t get to chat. Maybe we can fix that next time! My daughter lives in the northern suburbs of Detroit.

    1. Next time we find ourselves at the banquet table at Malice we need to sit closer together. The tables are big and the sound level high, so it’s difficult to speak with everyone. We definitely need to fix that. And I’m an October baby, too. Halloween, in fact!

  7. I really like fall, I am fortunate to live in a state where the fall colors are glorious, and gently ushers in what is usually a far from gentle winter! I bet you had fun birthday parties growing up, with a Halloween birthday! Thanks!

    1. There is no better day to be born on than Halloween. Every birthday party is a costume party growing up and no one forgets your birthday. You get to eat cake AND candy all day with everyone’s blessing. I also love the color orange, so honestly it’s the perfect birthday. Thanks, Mom.

  8. I am not fond of Fall. I love the colorful leaves. I love Thanksgiving. But it’s a cold time of year for me and only brings more cold.

    1. I’ve lived my whole life in the Midwest and the Northeast. I’m accustomed to a dramatic change in the seasons. Makes me appreciate spring and summer all the more.

  9. Fall is my favorite season. The temps cool down after the hot Texas summer and the leaves start changing colors. Fall also means it’s time for my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to reading your new book!

  10. I love summer, so I spend fall mourning the loss of summer and dreading the coming winter. Seriously, what’s the point of winter once we get past Christmas?

    However, your parallels with mystery series are perfect. And the long running series I love have some elements of that. Although I tend to be someone who roots for the first romantic pairing of the main character. You introduce a significant other, and I want them to wind up together no matter what comes along. There are exceptions to that, but that seems to be my default most of the time.

    1. I do agree that January, February and March are hard to get through. However it’s a great time to get a lot of writing done. As for rooting for the first romantic pairing in a series, sometimes a much better person comes along. 😉

  11. Fall is beautiful here in PA, but I’m always sad that summer is over. However, I do love Halloween.

    I like your message of making changes in the series. Too often writers get stuck in the cozy formula and the best of series get predictable and stale. Looking forward to reading your newest book.

  12. Fall is a wonderful time of year as the heat of summer abates but the winter cold hasn’t started. Thanks for the wonderful post & the giveaway!

  13. Sharon. . .a super post with good advice for series writers. We are almost birthday buddies. Mine is on Halloween eve, and I was born in Salem! Live in Florida now, so all this chatting about snow and winter doesn’t make me the least bit nostalgic !

  14. I like Fall. The weather is cooler in CA, there is Halloween, and my birthday is in November!

  15. I am most definitely a fall lover! I am a fall child- I feel renewed and energized by the changing of the seasons and the cooling of the days… Fall is the bomb diggity!
    Kelly Braun

  16. Being an Autumn baby perhaps you know this quote by L. M. Montgomery: “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” I wrote the quote in my journal next to the October date when our granddaughter was born. She loves Autumn, too! Thank you for your great ideas about cozy mysteries. You are so right that revealing new backstory keeps the series fresh. I would love to read your series. PS I am glad Amanda is gone…Sidney deserves someone to love and I hope he finds that person.

    1. Thank you for sharing the quote. I haven’t heard it before. And I hope that Amanda doesn’t reappear in the future. She had her chance with Sidney. Time to move on.

  17. I am a love of Fall since it means lower temperatures, the colors of the leafs changing and the chance to have a bonfire you can sit by and make s’mores.

  18. I tend to accept each season as it comes. Fall means dressing in layers and being prepared for damp and fog. On the plus side, that blasted Daylight “Savings” Time ends and we are finally back on natural time.

      1. Originally introduced by mill owners so they could squeeze more labor out of the workers without having to supply artificial lighting.

  19. I love fall, but like winter even more. For the first time in a long time, we are actually getting fall weather and I love it. Thanks for the chance to win!

  20. I love fall but, unfortunately, the fall in Arizona does not change much here in the desert.

  21. I love autumn. Well, as much as we can get here in south Louisiana. The forecast high for tomorrow is 83 degrees.

    1. I enjoyed reading Dying for Strawberries and look forward to reading this second book in the series.

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