Thursday, June 6, 2013

Serious About Series?

The idea had never been to write a series, much less an 8-book series.  It started long ago with two books that were related only by the two heroes who knew each other and shared a common profession:  both were rodeo cowboys.  Neither had ever been submitted to a publisher, although they had been entered in a contest or two.  Then along came the need for a new proposal, and because I'd always liked the characters and stories, I dusted off the old manuscripts, made massive revisions, especially in the settings, and sent them off to my editor.  To my surprise and joy, she liked them!

Desperation, Oklahoma was born.

Tucked away in my manuscript folder was the start of another story about the long lost brother of the hero in the first book, but it received a thumbs-down from my editor, who wanted to see a story about the sister of the heroine in book two.  Okay.  Book three.  Then I realized the first hero had a sister he'd never known about.  Enter book four.  When I finally found a story for that long lost brother of hero one, book five took life.  Still with me?  The heroine of book five had a brother, and he became the hero of book six.  Having run out of family connections, I pulled out two more old stories about two brothers of a heroine from my second Silhouette Romance.  Neither had seen the light of day for years, for no reason other than I'd never gotten back to them or even knew what to do with them.  Originally set on a fictional ranch near Tulsa, Oklahoma, I moved their stories to a ranch near Desperation and made changes to the two rancher-brothers' names, backstories and more.  Books seven and eight.  A Nanny for the Cowboy was released in March this year, and Designs on the Cowboy hit bookshelves (print and digital) this week.

Two books at a time, often with no idea who or what might be next, until I started to know the characters well.  No planning ahead.  There isn't even what's called a flash on the covers to designate that the books are part of a series.  But readers have picked them up, sometimes in odd order, and decided they like the people in Desperation, Oklahoma.  I do, too.

What's needed to create a series?
A common thread.  Whether it's family or setting, professions or friendships, there needs to be something that connects each of the books.  The connection for Hearts of Desperation is the town, even though some of the characters are related.  It's all about a group of something, whether it's Navy Seals, brothers, cowboys, shared paranormal gifts, you name it.

How many books are needed for a series?
Obviously more than one. ☺ Three is often good to start with.  But, like mine, that can grow...and grow.  New characters appear that sometimes need their own stories told.  Threads sometimes continue through a series, not necessarily about major characters, but sometimes minor characters.

Why do readers like books in a series?
For me, it's revisiting former main characters, and I believe other people feel the same.  Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars series is one of my favorites.  Of course I have favorites within the series, but I loved how the mention of a character later became a book about that same character.  Did she plan them that way?  You'd have to ask her. :)  But the common bond of the story characters revolves around a professional football team.  Wynette, Texas, is another series, connected by both setting and a variety of characters that appear or are mentioned in earlier books.

When it comes to Stephen King, anyone who's read some (or all) will recognize the names of the two towns where many of his stories are set...or are mentioned.  According to Wikipedia, nine of Mr. King's works (novels and novellas) are set in Castle Rock, Maine.  Twenty-two of his works refer to Castle Rock.  Then there's Derry, Maine, which appears in twenty of his works.  It doesn't hurt that he lives in Bangor, Maine, and knows the region well.

How does a writer start a series?
Sometimes by accident, as I did.  Sometimes the connection of a series comes first.  Some are planned from the start, some grow from one or two books.  Choose wisely and always keep those connections in mind.

Why do writers like to write series?
For the same reasons readers like to read them.  Then there's the plus of good sales if the books are well-liked.  A series can keep a writer going for several years.  Yes, new stories must be created, but because many books are character driven, finding a new character isn't as difficult as created a new one from scratch.

Do you think you might like to give writing a series a try?  Great!  There's an abundance of information online, although reading series by other writers is a good start.  Take care, though, that the introduction of minor characters doesn't take over the main story!  Focus on the main characters, their conflicts and resolutions, and leave the next major characters for a new book.

Next week I'll be back to share how to handle the hardest thing about writing a series: Keeping track of characters and details.  I'll explain my own method and links to those of others, so if you're interested, stop by!
"The easiest thing to do on earth is not write." ~ William Goldman

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