Grace's Mosaic Moments


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Series - Summary

The series that never was.

Someone is killing people at the Bellman Museum, staging the deaths as bizarre works of art scattered over the museum's sixty-six tropical acres, the creation of famed circus entrepreneur and art connoisseur, Richard Bellman. FBI Special Agent Aurora "Rory" Travis is visiting her grandmother in Florida while recuperating from a three-story fall that killed her partner and lover. Although broken in spirit as well as body, Rory volunteers as a tram driver on the tranquil museum grounds, ignoring the outside world, until a friend becomes a murder suspect and she feels obligated to do a bit of private sleuthing.

As the first ripples of a possible suicide, compounded by a series of odd pranks, stir the serenity of the Bellman complex, Josh Thomas, a man of mystery, hops onto Rory's tram to a clap of thunder. Josh is dangerous, Josh is ruthless. Josh has not come in her life by accident, of that Rory is certain. Villain or hero? As the murders continue, she can only wonder.

I had every intention of The Art of Evil being Book 1 of a series of mysteries, but my Regencies continued to be the place where the money was. And, let's face it, money talks. Which doesn't keep this mystery, set at a thinly disguised Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, from being a really good story, with some fascinating secondary characters, including an elderly lady with onset dementia, a golf-ball scrounger, and members of the circus community. And- surprise - although the murders are solved, it has a classic cliff-hanger ending.

Maybe someday I'll find time to continue the story of Rory and Josh. After all, it took twenty years for Jack Harding to get the girl in my Regency Warrior series.

~ * ~



Writing a Series - Summary

As often happens, something I was reading this week reinforced an important point about writing a series. I started a new book on my Kindle, and found myself going, "Huh? What is this author talking about? Did someone leave a couple of chapters on the cutting room floor?

Finally, it dawned on me that this book was part of a series, and the author was beginning her next book as if the reader had just finished the first one and had every detail fixed in his or her mind. Major oops! Every book in a series must immediately tell readers enough about any continuing plot or characters so the reader can readily understand what is going on. Every single book in a series must be able to stand on its own, from identification of characters to brief summaries of relevant action that has gone before. 

Frankly, I am only continuing to read this book in order to find other errors that may make good lessons for future blogs. (And for the workshop I will be delivering at the BeauMonde's mini-conference on Wednesday of the RWA conference in Orlando next July. My topic: Creating the Regency "feel" or How to make your book read like a Regency instead of a Contemporary with long skirts, tailcoats, and a title thrown in here and there.)

Grace note (added later):  Couldn't do it - finish that is. I sent the book above to Archives about a third of the way through. Not so much for missing plot as for too much introspection, repetition, a shortage of dialogue and action, and an outrageous situation inadequately justified. Sigh.  I promptly switched to Gail Carriger's latest, which brought a smile back to my face.

Okay, humor aside, here's a summary of what you need to remember when tackling the challenge of writing a series.

1.  Series are money-makers. Readers positively salivate over what will happen next to the continuing characters in a series, or what will happen to new characters set down in a world already familiar to readers. Series with continuing characters tend to emphasize plot, often tales of mystery or suspense, while a new set of heros and heroines dropped into a world familiar to readers - their lives touched on by characters from previous books in the series - tend to emphasize romance.

2.  Some books in a series read like stand-alone books; some have cliff-hanger endings; and some are a mix of continuing plot and romance. (As I edit The Bastard Prince, Book 3 of my Blue Moon Rising series, I realize I have three romances in one book trying to fit themselves into a long-running action plot. Definitely a juggling act.) 

3.  Above all else, no matter which kind of series you're writing, be sure you identify your main characters, as if the second, third, or tenth book were the first of the series. Get in a mention of important action in previous books that affects the plot of the new one. To phrase this differently, NEVER refer to something that did not happen in the present book without explaining what you're talking about. Readers absolutely hate to be left out of the equation, and that's what you're doing when you charge ahead without regard to whether or not they read the first book. (And even if they did, it's highly unlikely they remember the details of what they read six months or a year ago.)

4.  If you are writing a series with the continuing main characters, you need to add new faces, new settings, new ideas to keep your series from going stale. Some authors go as far as killing off a continuing secondary character. A practice that makes me wince. (See #5 below.)

5.  Conversely, once your main characters in a continuing series are established, do not mess with their characters or with their primary setting. Readers wallow in the comfort and expectations of the "known." That doesn't mean your main characters can't have a revelation or two, but basically don't mess too much with characters your readers have come to know and love. It is, however, expected that a continuing couple will have ups and downs in their relationship. (James Lee Burke seems to enjoy providing a new wife for his main character from time to time!)

6.  It's always important to create in-depth characters, but in a series where one person - or one couple - carry a series over multiple books, their characters have to be particularly well drawn. The secondary characters who appear in each book as well. These are the men and women who must appeal to your readers, as they deal with every kind of trauma and tragedy, and still, miraculously, survive to live and love another day. 

7. If you are writing a series where the plot is primary (rather than romance), be careful you don't make your ending too much of a cliff-hanger. There are many readers - like me - who really like a more "finished" ending to each segment of the long-term plot. Exception: if you know you are writing for a market that actually likes books that don't wind anything up until the very last book. (Definitely not my cup of tea.)

8.  If you are writing a series where the romance is primary, you're likely writing "single title" type stories with a new romantic couple in each book, although there is always some device, such as extended friendships and a fixed setting, that ties all the books together.

9.  Many series with continuing characters are Mysteries or Thrillers, often written in First Person. Some provide the point of view of other characters by combining Third Person POV with the hero's or heroine's First Person narration.

10.  Series that emphasize Romance, however, are usually told in Third Person, so readers can see the story from the point of view of both hero and heroine. And perhaps a villain. In his A Song of Fire and Ice series (Game of Thrones), George R R Martin provides an almost infinite number of POVs, each giving readers a look at the overall epic tale from a different point of view. A tour de force of amazing brilliance. 

11. Whatever type of series you write, keep faith with your readers. Provide them with the information they need to enjoy your book. Never assume they know, or remember, anything from previous books. (Except, hopefully, their interest in your characters and their appreciation of the fertility of your imagination!)

Grace note:  I have always enjoyed the creativity of new people, new settings, new plots, which means I've written very few series. If I had it to do over again . . . I'd probably think differently. So if you haven't tried a series yet, give it serious consideration. And for those who are in the midst of a series, remember the need not to leave your readers behind, floundering in a morass of forgotten plot. Identify your characters. Reprise what readers need to know. (And there, I've said the same thing three or four different ways now. Pay attention. Shine the light of revelation on succeeding books. Don't leave gaping holes your readers will deal with by slinging your book against the wall or hitting "Archive" on their Kindles.

That said, Good Luck with your series, whatever type it should be!

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

Grace
 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.


For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.  
  





Saturday, February 11, 2017

"Mixed Approach" series

Book 2 of the Blue Moon Rising series



"MIXED APPROACH" SERIES


Once again, I've had to make up a title in order to differentiate one type of series from another. So far, we've talked about "cliff-hangers" and about series books that read more like "single titles." This week's Mosaic Moments is going to concentrate on series that use a bit of both. In these series there is an overall goal which must be reached, but each individual book is a completed portion of the greater story. Readers are not left hanging, with the feel of "If you want to know what happened, you'll have to wait for the next book." As a detailed example, I'm going to use my own SyFy Adventure/Romance series, Blue Moon Rising, to try to illustrate what I mean. 

In this series a princess from a pacifist planet accidentally inspires a rebellion against a greedy empire, and finds herself not only drawn into the resistance but involving three other young royals as well. The first book features imprisonment, travel to distant planets, and space battles, but it also emphasizes romance, as it was originally intended as a stand-alone book. Basically, Rebel Princess has its own Happily Ever After ending, even though by the time I got there, I realized it was going to take at least three more books before the rebels could take down the nasty empire.

Book 2, Sorcerer's Bride is the story of a different princess and her not-so-eager husband, but it dwells more strongly on the triumph of the rebellion on a single planet, and the significance of this triumph to the final victory over the Empire. In other words, there is romance, but the long-term theme of rebellion is becoming stronger.

In Book 3, The Bastard Prince (written but not yet out), the theme of rebellion becomes stronger and romance becomes less defined by being spread among three couples: 1) the ups and downs of the hero and heroine from Book 1 as they struggle to expand the rebellion. 2) A second romance that does not have the traditional HEA ending, and 3) the romance of the young prince who doesn't talk. A prince who manages to redefine the traditional concept of HEA. We also see a vast panoply of characters ranging over an entire sector of the galaxy. 

Grace note: As the overall goal of the Blue Moon Rising series becomes more important, Happily Ever After fades a bit; i.e., the rebellion overshadows romance. I even allowed myself a bit of a "cliff hanger" at the end of Book 3, pointing toward the final resolution of who rules in the Empire, not to be settled until Book 4, Royal Rebellion. (At least I hope I can resolve all the bits and pieces in one last book. That's the problem with a cast of what seems like thousands, many of them pulling in directions of their own.)

So what is the point of Blue Moon Rising? How is it designed to entertain? In a nutshell, the first three books spell out the romantic fates of two princesses and a prince. And how their lives are forever altered by becoming part of a rebellion against a powerful foe. Book 4? Well, there's another royal out there, as well as more aspirants to the Emperor's throne than anyone anticipated. Hopefully, I'll manage to wrap it all up into a HEA for most of those left standing. And in the course of doing so, while striving for a "single title" feel, I managed to use all three types of series, finally letting the overall theme of rebellion overshadow the romances, and even sneaking in a moment of "cliff-hanging." 

Grace note 2: What is described above is not a formula for writing a series. It's merely used as analysis of a series that does not stick to one style. Each author must decide which style works best for his/her work.


..............................

I saved Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick for this post because she has written all three kinds of series. In her Futuristics, writing as Jayne Castle, she created Harmony, an earth-like world which is totally cut off from Old Earth and has had to learn to survive on its own. Most of the books set in Harmony are individual romances with strong suspense elements, all with HEA endings. The initial four books grew into book after book about Ghosthunters (no, not the kind you're thinking of) and the women who find them fascinating. Women who grow stronger and stronger in their own right with each book. 

And then, oops, some of the characters on Harmony turn out to be descended from the psychically charged characters in Amanda Quick's historical novels. And magical elements make their way into books by Jayne Ann Krentz. In fact, I'm not even going to attempt to unravel the cross-over between these series, except to say that some of Ms Krentz's series are "single title"; some have a strong continuing theme with not all problems resolved; and some have characters who echo down the centuries from old earth to the far-away planet of Harmony. I call that creativity to the max.

.......................

Rhys Bowen in her Royal Spyness mysteries has a strong continuing theme, with emphasis of romantic frustration to the max for the hero and heroine. Yes, a mystery is solved in each book, but the romance is so rocky, as well as the heroine's problems with her family and poverty (in spite of being something like 33rd in line for the British throne) that the reader is always left with wondering what is going to happen next. I had to laugh when Ms Bowen managed a Christmas retreat for her poor beleaguered hero and heroine, undoubtedly so she could keep her faithful readers from gnashing their teeth over continued celibacy. Again, individual mysteries but with a strong overall theme that never lets up.
..................

Kim Harrison, in her series, The Hollows, writes incredible stories of magic and sorcery, piling on problems for her heroine in book after book after book. The overall idea is definitely "cliff hanger," yet Ms Harrison manages to provide a satisfactory ending without leaving the reader gnashing his/her teeth too loudly about an unfinished story. But yes, there's a overall theme, building stronger and stronger with each book, until readers wonder how the heroine's problems can ever be resolved. Yet Ms Harrison does it so well, I didn't mind waiting all those years, wondering if the poor girl was ever going to get her happy ending.

 I'd like to end with one of my all-time favorite authors, Gail Carriger. If you have not read her Parasol Protectorate series, you've missed some priceless creativity. Comedy and high drama, well laced with magic, werewolves, and vampires. (And, believe me, I don't even like vampires - until I met the ones created by Ms Carriger.) She is now creating a series for the offspring of the characters in the Parasol Protectorate, as well as a YA series. All have acceptable "finished" endings to each book, while maintaining a strong continuing set of problems that will not come to a successful conclusion until the of the final book.
.....................

Next week: a summary of what I hope we've learned about writing a series

~ * ~
 

Thanks for stopping by,


Grace

 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.


For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.  
 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

"Single Title" series


My daughter-in-law, Becka, a devoted classic movie buff, got the thrill of a lifetime this month when John Cleese appeared in person in Hartford at a showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For a photo of Becka and John, click here.






Rebel Princess, Book 1 of the Blue Moon Rising series is on sale at Amazon for 99¢ this month. A SyFy Adventure/Romance, the series features four royal children who get drawn into a rebellion against the classic Evil Empire. 



"Single Title" Series

Let's begin with two of the best-known historical romance authors, Jo Beverley and Mary Balogh. They have each made a highly successful career out of writing series. Mary Balogh has written several shorter series, while Jo Beverly's Company of Rogues series goes on and on, spreading from relatives and close friends to acquaintances of acquaintances, all connected, however loosely, with boys who formed a tight-knit group while still in school. War, spying, personal trials, each with a romance settled by the end of that couple's particular book. Because both Ms Balogh and Ms Beverly surround their romances with action plots and well-drawn characters, and give each book its own Happily Ever After, they provide highly satisfying reads for their devoted fans. Naturally, members of the original group of boys pop up, almost randomly, in later books. Readers do love to know that the marriages in earlier books survived, children were produced, etc., etc., even while cheering on the newest entries in the Regency and Georgian romance sweepstakes.

Grace note:  There may be a continuing theme through series of this type; for example, in Mary Balogh's Survivors' Club series, at least one couple in each romance was physically or emotionally damaged by the long war with Napoleon. But the action is always secondary to the romance, which inevitably concludes with the traditional HEA ending. I.e., characters from other books may pop up in succeeding books, but each individual book is strongly centered around just one couple.

Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily mystery series adds a new wrinkle to this concept. Each book is a separate mystery; but very early on in the series, she allows the heroine to marry. Which adds the warmth of romance to each mystery while leaving the suspense to the mystery itself. She is also very careful to keep Lady Emily to the forefront, even though her charming husband works at one of those hush-hush jobs for the government. Yes, her husband is allowed to help her on occasion, but these are Lady Emily's books, her mysteries to solve. Something female readers can appreciate. 

The Lady Emily series provides a varied background for its main characters - London, France, Italy, Greece, etc. - as opposed to many series which cling to one city or a certain part of one country. 

Jumping to the modern, an excellent example of a "single title" series are the Stephanie Plum novels of Janet Evanovich (now at #23). In the Evanovich books, the characters are supreme, the more incredible the better. And it helps that she's provided two such intriguing heroes that her readers are split into two camps: Is Stephanie going to end up with Joe or Ranger? (Just one more thing to keep us panting in anticipation from one book to the next.) Although Ms Evanovich has a string of continuing characters, from long-suffering parents and outrageous gramma to her astounding cohorts in the office, each book brings a new story, new murders, a new set of close calls, and even more zany characters to add to the mix. Each story is complete in one book. No one is tacking on hints about unfinished business or what may happen next. The mystery is solved, the killer(s) found, Stephanie triumphs once again - if only by accident - and we can hardly wait for what Ms Evanovich will think of next.

I'm also a great fan of Jack Higgins, James Lee Burke, and Randy Wayne White. Time and time again, they create great adventures with the same main characters and still manage to keep their stories fresh. All three have a gift for developing the villains of their tales, making them human and not just cardboard bad guys. Higgins writes Thrillers; Burke and White write mysteries. Both Burke and White are good at integrating third-person point of view into what are essentially first-person books. But again, each book is a stand-alone story. Yes, they read better if you've read the earlier books and have become familiar with the characters, but none of the authors above forget to feed in the information you need to know in order to be able to understand and enjoy whichever book you're reading. I recall one Higgins book that opened in Washington, D.C., and noting, and admiring, that every bit of vital information about the continuing characters was laid out in the first few paragraphs. Way to go, Jack!

Grace note:  It should be noted that James Lee Burke committed a cardinal sin that the authors of series are warned to avoid. After writing book after successful, highly colorful book set in the bayou country south of New Orleans, he suddenly decided to move his characters to the mountains of Colorado. Oops. I hated it. I suspect other readers did as well. We don't want authors to mess with people we have come to know and love. We don't want them to change. Oh, the hero or heroine may be allowed a different love interest, but move them a thousand miles or so to entirely different environment? That's not a fresh approach, that's desecration! I am happy to report that Dave Robicheaux has returned to New Orleans.

Lindsay Buroker (mentioned in last week's blog), who writes what might be called "Steampunk SyFy" has something in common with Jack Higgins. They both created villains so intriguing and well-defined that they simply wouldn't go way. Higgins first did it with a Nazi, whom he had to resurrect from the dead to satisfy his fans. But a Nazi-era character wouldn't translate well into modern times and keep Higgins's series going, so—to my astonishment—he seized on a rather nasty Irish villain, who wanted to blow up Downing Street, a villain who cold-bloodedly killed a girl—and turned him into the hero of one of the longest series around: Sean Dillon, whom we've all grown to know and love (!), in spite of the murkiness of his earlier days. Lindsay Buroker does the same for an assassin who has an epic battle with the hero in one of her books. Somehow this "villain" becomes the hero of her long-running series, The Emperor's Edge.

The Emperor's Edge was included in "Cliff-hanger" series because it has a strong central theme, which carries over from book to book, even though each individual adventure comes to a satisfactory close. When writing SyFy Romance, however, as Ruby Lionsdrake, Buroker writes in flat-out "single title" style. One couple, one romance, with a strong hint toward HEA at the end of each one. The same author who wrote nine books of The Emperor's Edge series with the hero and heroine doing nothing more than eyeing each other, embellishes her Mandrake Company books with enough hot sex to satisfy any enthusiast of sexy details. Yes, characters from the other books appear, but these books are a series because they share a single setting. There is no long-term goal, just adventure and sex on planets and space stations far, far away.

Other authors who do a great job of writing "single title" stories while sticking to just one locale are: Julie Hyzy (whose heroine is the chief cook in the White House), Catherine Lloyd (who writes mysteries set in and around an English Regency-era village), and Linda Castillo (who writes modern mysteries set in an Amish community). Castillo is another example of an author who allows her heroine to settle down with one man (several books into the series) and still manages to write marvelous stories, each standing on its own merit.

Summary: There is a surprising amount of flexibility in series which keep the same characters (and often the same locale). The creation of new situations, new adventures keeps things fresh, as does the addition of new characters. Well-drawn villains - not just evil stick figures - also add to a story. Keep the continuing characters humming along, doing what they do best; don't make any drastic changes in personnel or setting unless you want to incite your readers' ire. But if you find you've created a character who seizes the bit and runs with it, then maybe you'd better keep that character around, make him/her a permanent member of the cast. And above all, if your series has an overall theme - a goal that remains unsolved, whether it be the overthrow of an empire or the finalization of a romance, be sure each of your books has a satisfactory ending of the plot-of-the-moment. 

As I looked over my list of series I have read and loved, I was surprised how many were of the "single title" variety. (Clearly, I am not a fan of series that focus so heavily on one main theme that no book seems finished until the final one.) Next week, I'll look at more favorites of mine - series that have a defined overall theme but still manage to produce satisfactory endings to each individual book. 
 
~ * ~
 
Thanks for stopping by,

Grace
 
For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.


For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.