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,
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.