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Parting Shots

In writing a series of crime novels, I've had various characters' story arcs to carry over from one book to another.

This has led to tricky decisions about how much to fill in someone's back story, to make their behaviour plausible to a newcomer, and how much to assume loyal fans will already know what's happened. Fortunately, the most crucial information can be imparted in a couple of sentences.

My protagonist is a middle-aged detective, who was widowed two years before the first story. Childless, his parents long dead and with no siblings, he clings to his job as a support structure, aware that he's spiralling into depression. Book Two sees him in the doldrums, taking anti-depressants and having panic attacks, tasked with hunting a serial killer. He sails into clear water in the closing chapters, thanks to counselling and support from his detective team, allowing me to propel him on a buoyant wave into the third story, in which he reinvents himself by moving house and taking up painting, wild gardening and motorcycling. The fourth novel sees him comforted by his Green lifestyle and Bohemian attitude, but he's feeling lonely after seven years without a partner. His only social interaction with women has been via emails and Skype, for he's stayed in touch with a witness from Book One, who returned to her native America, though he doesn't expect to ever see her again.

While my protagonist has been sad, uncertain and isolated, it's been relatively easy to fire a few parting shots, to set the mood for the next story, an extended form of foreshadowing.

Now that he's more cheerful about life, and contemplating the notion of dating again, I'm fearful that he's going to become insufferable—to the readers, and to me! :confused:Readers may like a bit of happiness, but it's not the natural state in a crime novel, which depends on fear, threat, repulsion and vengeance.

I'm one-quarter into writing Book Five, and already I'm cogitating on which direction I'm going to send my detective hero as he closes the investigation. I'm not going to make things easy for him, for though there'll be some unanticipated sexual pleasure when his fanciable American friend makes a surprise reappearance, their dalliance rocks the boat in a 'beware of what you wish for' way.

How do you wind your story down?

Do you leave a message for your readers, by slanting your protagonist's mood?

If you write a series of stories, do you overlap the action?

We previously discussed whether a story should have a message, and if yours does, it's surely in the closing pages that you make your parting shot.

Incidentally, 'parting shot' has an interesting etymological source:

parting shot - Wiktionary