Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christine Rimmer on Creating a Series Part 2

Creating an Ongoing Series Part 2
by Christine Rimmer
(Part 1 was posted on Sat, Dec 5th)
Okay, let’s look now at the individual books that will make up your series.
How many books do you foresee in your series? Three? Five? Whatever the number, keep in mind that you might want to go on with the series when those original three turn out to be wildly popular. It’s not that difficult to keep things open-ended. If your books are about a family, make sure you have a nice, big family tree to explore later. If you’re setting all your stories in a small town, be careful not to make that town too small. My Gold Rush town, North Magdalene, California, the setting for my Jones Gang series, had a population of fewer than 300 souls. By the time I got to the tenth book, I was running out of businesses for my characters to run when they settled down to a life of small-town wedded bliss.

You’ve considered in depth how your stories will be connected and what ongoing elements will be needed in each one. Now consider each story. What makes it different from the others in the series? What makes each story special? What are your individual hooks in each book?

You’ll definitely want to give serious thought to your hero and heroine for each book—not only in making their story engaging, exciting and satisfying, but also making sure you’ve got variety in your conflicts and that your characters stand apart as individuals. Yes, all your stories might be about untamable bad boys. But if they are, you want to make sure you’ve got variety in your heroines—and that each of your bad-boy heroes has his own distinct issues, appeal and personality.

Same with the stories themselves. Is one of your main connecting elements in the series that each story is a marriage of convenience? Or that all your heroines are pregnant? In either of those cases, you’ll want to take extra care to decide what’s going to make each story special in itself.

Ask yourself, how complex are the ongoing elements in my series? This applies especially if you have some sort of overarching mystery that you’re following through all the books. For the sake of the readers who start reading with your second or third book, you will be re-introducing the key connecting elements in each story. How repetitive is that going to be for the readers who are already hooked and eagerly awaiting each book as it comes out?

Is there going to be a heavy backstory—lots of elements in the past that are important to what will happen in your stories in the now? Again, all that backstory—or at least a goodly portion of it—will have to go into each book. This is not a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just something to consider as early as possible in the planning stages, so that as you begin to structure each book, you can make decisions about what basic material must be in that particular book and also the new, different and exciting ways you’re going to deliver this material that you’ve delivered more than once before. Maybe you’ll do it through the eyes of a different character, one who has a whole new viewpoint on the information. Or as a buildup to information you haven’t revealed before.

Do keep in mind as you structure and write the books that, while readers love touching base with “old friends,” it remains a crime against good writing to bring in characters from old books and have them do nothing more than smile and say hi and talk about when the baby’s due. See if you can choose characters from past books that you can actually use as secondary characters in the current book. Have those past heroes and heroines be part of the story in some meaningful way—whether a past heroine becomes the current heroine’s confidante or a past hero is still working to solve the ongoing mystery. You want to bring in the past characters—heroes and heroines and secondary characters—who are germane to the current story. You want to work hard to find ways that past characters can be germane to the current story. But if they’re not, leave them out.

Once you have a clear vision of your overall series slant, a working title, and a general breakdown of each of the books, it’s time to put together your submission. A series overview is a good idea here, meaning a one-page breakdown of your series idea, the ongoing conflicts, what ties it all together and a sentence or two describing each of the first few books. For a sample overview, you can email me through my website and I’ll send one out to you. Along with your short overview of your series, you’ll also turn in whatever your editor or agent wants to see from you as a proposal for the first book. If this would be your first sale ever, you’ll want to have that first book written before you submit your proposal.

And yes. There are drawbacks to creating a continuing series and getting it published. A series can be a trap for an author. You get tired of a premise or even a character for which you have become well-known—meaning, a character or premise readers want to see over and over and over again. And what if the books don’t sell well? If one book tanking sales-wise is bad, three is something it could take you a while to recover from.

On a brighter note, consider the reverse: your series is wildly successful. Who gets the credit for the triumph? Who wears the big smile on the way to the bank? When you create your own series, and you do it successfully, you build name recognition quickly. Readers remember your wonderful series. And they stay on the lookout for books with your name on them.

So. Do you have a series in the works? If you did, what kind of series would you be creating? Comments and questions always welcome and appreciated.

Note - if you answered these questions on Saturday, how about this one: Do you like reading series books that go over the complete backstory of all the previous books in every new book?

Christine will be giving away a signed book from her backlist—winner’s choice, subject to availability—to one person who comments on either Part 1 or Part 2 of this 'Creating an Ongoing Series' post. Please include your email address in your comment.

Christine Rimmer has written seventy contemporary romances for Silhouette Books, Harlequin Books and HQN. A reader favorite, Christine’s stories consistently appear on national bestseller lists, including the Waldenbooks and USA TODAY lists. She has won Romantic Times BOOK review’s Reviewer’s Choice Award for best Silhouette Special Edition. She has been nominated three times for the RITA and four times for Romantic Times Series Storyteller of the Year.

Christmas at Bravo Ridge is Christine's current release.
Valentine Bride will be released Feb 2010.

You can find Christine online at:


Karyn Good said...

Welcome back today, Christine. Thanks so much for the informative post. Since last Saturday I've been giving serious thought to individual titles for my Aspen Lake series (will be also working on the overall title) and how to connect them.

Today I'm giving more thought to what 'theme' will travel through all three and so far I've come with - Three Friends, a Town and a Way of Life. Not very complicated but I hope it works.

There is no mystery that flows through all three and not a lot of backstory. Each one pretty much stands on its own. I hope. I like what you said about 'old friends'. I'll have to watch that and make sure my previous characters have a purpose for being in a book other than their own.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and tips with us. It's really helped me out and given me things to think about and work on. I'll be coming back to these posts again.

Christine Rimmer said...

Karyn, hi again!

So glad this has been useful. And I like your three connected themes. I do think it's always good for us as writers to find ways to look at our work from a whole different perspective, to dig deep and discover elements within what we've written that we might not yet have fully explored--whatever we ultimately end up doing with those elements .

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Christine and Karyn, I've been thinking about Emma's Outlaw and her siblings, too.

No series name, but I've settled on a theme that uses these words:

- family or siblings
- adversity
- Wyoming Territory

Haven't got the words worked out yet but that's the gist of it.

I'm so thankful you wrote this post Christine.

Janet said...

Hey, Christine - Welcome Back. I, too, have been thinking lots about a series - and did my last blogpost exercise with the brother of the hero in Lady Bells. It definitely has a three book possibility - and if I played around with the word 'seduction', since the first book is called "The Seduction of Lady Bells", I can name the trilogy "Seductive Knights". Of course, some form of seduction would need to be present in all the titles and play a big role in the books (fine with me - I love writing seduction :)

The overarcing plot would be the rash of sheep stealing near the English/Scottish border - my knights would be determined to discover the 'reivers' to clear their name (given a bad reputation because of father's involvement with reiving). That would definitely bring all the male characters back into subsequent books legitimately.

Next step - some rough outlining. Your posts have been most inspirational - thanks. BTW - I'm one of those readers who love previous characters coming back to let us know they are still living their 'happily ever after'. Gives me a good feeling to know they're still very much in love :)

Christine Rimmer said...

Anita Mae, excellent continuing threads. I do find that once I discover the repeating themes, then I can sit down with a pad of paper--or on my computer--and just start coming up with words that fit the themes. Just off the top of my head, listing them randomly. I always come up with interesting ideas making a list like that...

And my pleasure. Always.

PatriciaW said...

Very interesting. I think a lot of folks "plan" to write a series without doing any of this kind of planning. Just yank out another character, and away we go. Maybe those are more like sequels?

Christine Rimmer said...

Janet, I so agree about loving to see characters return in subsequent books, see how their lives have moved on.

And I love how your mind is working on developing the threads--and the titles--in your series. Sometimes, to me, writing is more about being a conduit than anything. It's as if we need to open the gates to the possibilities and let them flow, that blocking the flow of our words and ideas are really the danger, not so much some imagined lack of "creativity." We all simply need to get out of the way and let the images, ideas and connections flow.

Christine Rimmer said...

argh. In that previous comment, I meant "blocking the flow of our words and ideas *is* the danger."

Christine Rimmer said...

Hi Patrica, excellent point. And I had been meaning to talk about how sometimes a series just...evolves. You start out writing one book, readers clamor for the story of one of the secondary characters...and you write that story. And so on. Not everyone plans out a series ahead of time. But it can be a good way to go, if you want to have a more "developed" ongoing project to offer your agent and/or editor. I have a friend who just sold a major series. There was interest from more than one publisher. She went with a house she'd already been working with. But she got about eight times more money per book because the series concept was so exciting--and editors competed for it. Plus, she will have lead status with the publisher, where before she didn't.

And all from planning out a series ahead of time and making it the best that it could be!

Anonymous said...

Hi Christine,

Enjoyed reading your posting today. Thank you for your insight to the 'behind the scenes' work on your masterpieces.


Christine Rimmer said...

Hi Karenk--

Masterpieces! I like the sound of that. Thank you!

And glad it was helpful.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Christine,
Thank you so much for doing part two on writing a series.

I've tried to turn a couple of my books into series and run into a couple of different problems. I wanted to write a sequel to my romantic suspense, "Seeing Things". However, I've found that the second book relied too heavily on information in the first book. It didn't feel like a stand alone book. I haven't figured out a way to work in the backstory without retelling the whole first story.

The theme of my other "series" that hasn't quite become a series was "left at the altar". Every story started with someone getting left at the altar. The characters are friends and a brother and sister. My problem was that I got bogged down in the second story. Totally lost my way. So then the third story didn't happen at all.

My experience gives me a real appreciation for writers like you who have written successful series.


Helena said...

Thanks again for continuing your blog with a part 2 -- rather like a series, wouldn't you say?

The story that I have temporarily put on a shelf has some potential to evolve into a series. When I get back to it for a rewrite, I will consider it. The information you have blogged about will be very useful to me at that point.

Remembered to include email address this time!


Christine Rimmer said...

Jana, thank you!

I love your left at the altar series concept. Maybe someday you'll return to it. Sadly, all of us have those books that just don't work. No matter how many books you write, just when you think *that's* never going to happen to me again, at least--it does.

It happened to me after I'd written about fifty books. I was at the midpoint and it just wasn't working. Had to chuck it out and start again--with a deadline looming, that was acid reflux-inducing.

Could be eventually you will find the workable way to redo the second story. Or maybe you will leave that heroine alone and move on and come back to her eventually. I've done that.

Or maybe you've just moved on from the series.

And yes, sometimes you just can't write the next book because it's going to be all about the book before it, just too much info in the previous book. I do know the feeling.

The writing life is full of twists and turns!

Christine Rimmer said...

Helena, yep! A lot like a series. :)

And if the information is useful to you down the line, it's all good.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Okay, I've just posted the announcement for Christine's book winner.

Christine, thanks for giving of your time and knowledge. You're a well of experience and we appreciate the time you've spent with us. Happy holidays.