Carr series stories conform to a set of criteria of the author’s devising, among them:
- The stories must attempt a realism of setting, situation, character, motivation, and action.
- The stories must occur in real, historical time: if the action takes place in 1982, R.J. Carr is 39 years old and acts it, Ginny Carr is a full-time mother and housewife to small children, and the world around them is the world of 1982, where typewriters, not computers, sit on desks, large numbers of people smoke in most environments, and so on. If the action takes place in the winter of 1998, the Chicago landscape is cold and bleak, R.J. is 55 with graying hair and middle-aged joints, Ginny has long since resumed her career as an educational counselor, their children are in college, typewriters barely exist in a computer driven world, etc.
- The personal life of R.J. and Ginny, while prosaic, must serve as a backdrop to the stories where it impacts on the action: finding a baby-sitter; suffering a broken collar bone; sharing a meal, just finding time to discuss R.J.’s cases. R.J. and Ginny must appear to carry on a layered, meaningful existence of which their engagement in detective investigation is only a small part. To a greater or lesser degree the other characters in the stories should be presented similarly.
- First person narration, usually multiple, must be the form of choice, R.J. and/or Ginny as primary narrators, but up to three or four other voices when warranted in the stories. The novel Russian Dolls has nine narrators. Omniscient voice may be used on rare occasions.
- Character and theme are and must be the wellsprings of these fictions. They have to be about realistically presented people and significant ideas primarily, plot and detection only after the fact. Behavior inconsistent with such characters and ideas, no matter how valuable and convenient in juicing up a story, is to be avoided at any cost.
- Each story must be a distinct entity. Close repetition of pattern, situation, and plot must be avoided.