By Katherine Ramsland
Most of us enjoy a sense of the familiar. It’s predictable, comforting, and often preferable, even if lacking in thrill. It allows us to relax and gather ourselves. That’s why adding consistent rituals throughout your series can deepen your readers’ connection to your characters. They experience repeated rituals as an element of series consistency.
When I planned my “Nut Cracker Investigations” for Level Best Books, I wanted to develop ways to cohere my PI team. I have three primary and several secondary members, but I wanted the primaries to participate most clearly in closure and commitment. All for one, and one for all, that type of thing.
Annie Hunter, a forensic psychologist, manages the investigation agency; Ayden Scott is her PI, and Natra Gawani her data manager and confidante. My secondary team features a digital expert, a forensic meteorologist, and an attorney. They’re in and out as needed.
One ritual I use runs in the background: Annie likes red wine, so whenever the team has an opportunity to brainstorm over wine, they pick a label that matches the situation. Stormy Weather during a tornado, for example. Readers recognize this display of character (and sometimes they buy wine for book club signings).
A more important ritual is the case debriefing. Although there are plenty of times when the team brainstorms, it’s the post-case gathering that really unites them. No one else is allowed, no matter what part they might have played. This is a solemn Nut Crackers ritual. Here, they patch holes, lick wounds, plan improvements, and show how much the work means to them. They might tease or toast each other, or even mourn together. For them, it’s the best part of the case.
I include a debrief scene in every novel because I want readers to expect it, appreciate it, and watch how Annie responds to their own lingering questions. She might even use the time to set up the next case, whetting readers’ appetites.
Like Annie’s wine, rituals pair well with our sense of anticipation and connection. Here are three psychological reasons to develop some rituals for your series:
It’s worth considering rituals that put your characters in motion or reveal their qualities. Thus, you’ll get an added benefit, and readers will likely look forward to how these rituals play out.
Katherine Ramsland has played chess with serial killers, dug up the dead, worked with profilers, and camped out in haunted crime scenes. As a professor of forensic psychology and a death investigation consultant, she seeks unique angles. The author of 71 books, she’s been a forensic consultant for CSI, Bones and The Alienist and an executive producer on Murder House Flip and A&E’s Confession of a Serial Killer. She’s become a go-to expert for the most deviant forms of criminal behavior, which provides background for her Nut Cracker Investigations. Her second novel in the serial, In the Damage Path, is now available.