Monday, August 26, 2013


By p.m.terrell 

Ever since my first suspense was published in 2002, I have been asked to write a series. There is something about opening a book and already knowing the characters that makes the reader feel as if they are visiting old friends. The action can happen more quickly and the characters have more space to become multi-faceted.

I resisted writing a series, however, because I didn’t want to become a formula writer. We all have read series in which we knew what was going to happen next because the author uses the same outline for each book. The crime might change, the scenery might transform, but the action, the climax and the wrap-up are almost identical.

I began writing my first series, which reviewers consider my best work, two years ago. And along the way, I’ve made a few notes on how to use a formula that readers love without writing a formula book.

Diverse Main Characters

I decided in lieu of featuring one main character that my Black Swamp Mysteries series would include an ensemble cast, much like those of a dramatic television series. Each character has to be distinctly different from the others and yet blend well. I decided on an introverted psychic spy, an extroverted CIA ground operative, a bad-girl computer hacker, and a political strategist who often straddles the line between right and wrong.

Surprising Plot Twists

With an ensemble cast forever tied together through blood or circumstance, one or more of the main characters can rise to the forefront depending on the plot. In Vicki’s Key, the focus was on the psychic spy, Vicki Boyd. In Secrets of a Dangerous Woman, the focus became the bad-girl computer hacker, Brenda Carnegie—who just happens to be Vicki’s sister. Complete opposites, they are inseparable due to those familial ties. Dylan’s Song brought Irishman Dylan Maguire, the CIA ground operative and Vicki’s love interest, to the forefront.

Varied Locations

Three of the main characters—Vicki, Dylan and Brenda—live in a small town based on the very real Lumberton, North Carolina. But Vicki’s psychic powers (inspired by the real CIA psychic spy program) allow her to travel the world in her mind—and take us there as well. Dylan’s and Brenda’s work, though often on opposite sides of the law, take them around the world to exotic locations. By starting and ending the books in a familiar town but allowing them movement, the changing backdrop makes the stories more exciting.

Two Climactic Scenes

I often hear writers speak of working toward a final climactic scene and sometimes how daunting that can be. Instead, I work toward a pivotal scene in the middle of the book. This means the first half of the book is laying the groundwork for an exciting scene that changes everything—and from that midpoint to the end of the book it becomes a roller coaster ride of non-stop action.
p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 18 books. Prior to becoming a full-time writer in 2002, she opened two computer companies in the Washington, DC area. Her clients included the CIA, Secret Service and Department of Defense. Her specialties are computer intelligence and computer crimes, both of which often inspire her suspense writing. She is the co-founder of The Book 'Em Foundation whose slogan is Buy a Book and Stop a Crook, and the founder of Book 'Em North Carolina, an annual Writers' Conference and Book Fair. Twitter: @pmterrell Website: and Book 'Em North Carolina: Blogs: and (inspired by her character's CIA front as an angelfish breeder)   Facebook:

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