I am so pleased to have talented author and my NHRWA chapter mate CHERI ALLAN visiting me today. She’s got a brand new release out – Book 4 in her Betting on Romance series, DEAL ME IN and today, she’s talking about what’s involved with writing a series, what to avoid, and when to say – sigh – goodbye.
Don’t Kill Grandma and Other Tips for Writing a Series
DEAL ME IN, my newest humorous contemporary romance, is the fourth and final book in my ‘Betting on Romance’ series. While I won’t claim this makes me an expert on writing series books, I’ve learned a few things along the way. (Pack snacks. Travel with friends. But I digress.) So, in the spirit of ‘do what I say and not what I do’ I thought I’d share some of my tips and observations for others.
- Is it a series? What kind? First, know what you’re writing at the outset, because there is a difference between a serial (one story arc told in many parts) and a series (stories which may or may not stand alone but each having a unique story arc and conclusion.) My books are stand-alone novels interconnected by characters and the fictional setting of Sugar Falls, NH. Each book has its own couple, story arc and secondary plot lines, which make this a loosely connected series. However, I do have four match-making, poker-playing grandmothers who appear in each novel. Some authors choose to have a series arc–an overarching plot line–that carries through the series and resolves in the final book. I chose not to do this for two reasons: a.) that’s a heck of a lot of plotting for this pantser and b.) I didn’t want my debut stories linked too closely together in case I decided to pop off in another direction after book two. Promising a series resolution that never comes would be worse than never planning one to begin with. Happily, this also leaves me open to add another book in there at a later date. Keep those options open, people!
- Who’s on first? It was about book three that it occurred to me that despite how intimately I knew my characters as I wrote each book, by the third book, I couldn’t remember a random character I’d mentioned in book one and now wanted to refer to. Now, I keep a master list of every character that appears in each book and a short phrase of who they’re related to or other distinguishing feature. Not only does it keep me from naming too many characters Ed (a distinct possibility), it saves a lot of flipping through old books trying to remember what I’ve named someone’s pet dog. (Max, as it turns out.)
- My hero: Ned? Speaking of throw-away names, be careful of what you name those characters you think are only popping on screen for a moment. I was very cavalier in the first book about naming secondary characters only to realize by book two one of them would be a future hero. And I didn’t entirely love his name. (It was fine, but it was no ‘Levi.’) I’ve made peace with that, but unless you want a hero named Ned, choose carefully. Or be prepared to come up with a charming nickname.
- Let each book have its own voice. You may be the ultimate plotter with color-coded sticky notes and a series bible with sheet protectors (you know who you are), but I’m here to tell you that over the course of writing two, three, or four books, your writing voice will find its rhythm, but your books may not always cooperate. When you think about it, it’s only natural that each book will have its own character. The story with the shy heroine or nerdy hero will have a different vibe than the one about the tough and snarky girl or wounded hero with PTSD. DEAL ME IN gave me heart palpitations half way through writing, because I realized this story was naturally more emotional than the others. Yes, there’s humor and grandmothers, but it has its own tone. And that’s okay. My voice is consistent, and unless I pop out of subgenre and introduce werewolves into my contemporary romance, readers will be okay with it, too. I’m growing and changing as a writer with each book, and so are you. Don’t sweat it.
- But don’t kill grandma, either. There’s a limit to how much you can deviate from reader expectations. If you’ve set up a series where the reader feels safe, amused and somewhat insulated from the ‘real world’ (for instance) be careful how much of that real world you allow to intrude into your story arc. It may feel like you need to shake things up by series end, but if you deviate too far from established reader expectations (Werewolves! Ebola outbreak!), you’ll hear about it. I could, for instance, never bring myself to kill off a grandmother. These characters represent enduring friendship and unconditional love, and they’ve been there, shepherding other characters and my readers through four books with their poker, meddling and homemade cookies. They deserve to ride into the sunset on golf carts sipping cocktails, and I plan to let them.
- Know when it’s time to say goodbye. For the very reason I can’t kill off grandma, I knew the length of this particular series was finite. They won’t live forever! I also don’t want the story premise to grow stale. That being said, I’ve grown fond of Sugar Falls, and with every fictional event and landmark I’ve brought into being, I’ve grown to love spending time there. So, I will. With a new But without grandmothers this time. They’re off playing with their great-grandbabies anyway.
So, tell me, what have you learned from writing your own series? As a reader, what is it about series you enjoy? What makes them feel stale? Discuss!
Is the game of love worth the price?
Grace McIntyre never planned to lose her virginity in a seedy motel to the hottie with the eagle tattoo, but she knew he was The One–until a heart-wrenching goodbye proved he wasn’t.
Despite three tours of duty and one heroic mountain-top rescue, Army veteran Jeff Dayton no longer dreams of a career in search-and-rescue. Two years ago, his politically-ambitious sister needed help spiffing up the family image to win a seat in the state senate, so Jeff returned home to Sugar Falls, New Hampshire, to walk the straight-and-narrow and take a job as a small-town cop. Now his tattoos are covered, his rock-n-roll father is under wraps, and Jeff should be bored out of his mind… but he never figured on reconnecting with his free-spirited high school sweetheart, Grace McIntyre.
Grace and Jeff have managed to dance around their rocky past since he’s come back to Sugar Falls, but when they’re both assigned to the town’s Harvest Festival planning committee, their attraction sparks to life, igniting both old passions and burning regrets. New revelations help them see each other in a new light, but it takes a small-town festival calamity–complete with a llama petting zoo, a female empowerment “demonstration,” and Jeff’s rocker dad on the main stage–to force these two to let go of the past and find the strength to forgive. Because half the fun of the game of love is winning… and the other half is deciding to play.
*** Mild sexual content; Mild language; No violence ***
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Cheri Allan writes hopeful, humorous contemporary romances. She lives in a charming fixer-upper in rural New Hampshire with her husband, two children, two dogs, five cats and an excessive amount of optimism. She’s a firm believer in do-it-yourself, new beginnings and happily-ever-afters, so after years of wearing suits, she’s grateful to finally put her English degree to good use writing romance. When not writing, you might find her whizzing down the slopes of a nearby mountain or inadvertently killing perennials in her garden.
Betting on romance… because every woman deserves to get lucky.
You can find Cheri here, or as she calls them, at her STALKER LINKS:
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BETTING ON ROMANCE ( Books 1-3)