Thursday, August 16, 2018

Taking Your Writing Series-ly By Regina Jennings

You’ll always remember the day your dream came true. You’ll remember when that editor said yes, the day you pushed publish, or the day you first heard from a reader (that wasn’t blood related to you). You were, or will be, flushed with pride, wanting to bask in the glory of the story you presented to the world. Then that editor/agent/reader will ask the magic question:

What’s the next story about?

Next? Isn’t this magnificent creation enough? Not if it’s any good, because the more they like the setting and the characters, the more insistent they will be that they get to see them again.

Whether or not you are planning a series, there are a few ways to prep your stories just in case the opportunity for a series arises.

1 Make sure your story has more than two single characters that readers care about.

If you’re writing romance, then you must have a hero and heroine for each book of the series. You can make it easier on yourself if you have an attractive younger brother, a widowed cousin, or a feisty co-worker already in place. Watch your descriptions of these people because readers won’t buy it if the braggart soldier suddenly turns into a humble hero. Instead, give them a character flaw that we’ll cheer them into overcoming. Or even better, give them a touching backstory that has readers waiting for their redemption.

Sometimes the setting—a wagon train, a deserted island, a federal penitentiary–doesn’t lend itself to a lot of secondary characters. In that case…

2. Tell us about other single characters, but keep them off the page.

 Lieutenant Jack keeps writing to his long, lost love. No, she’s not in Holding the Fort, but we’ll cheer when she shows up in the next book, The Lieutenant’s Bargain. Or that newscaster that the sister has a crush on, maybe there’s just a hint that he lives close by. You can think of a myriad of ways that your first story can cross paths with interesting people who might be hero material later. And here’s the beauty of it—You don’t have to use them. Just throw the seeds out there and wait to see what sprouts in later stories.

3. Take notes and keep notes.

Right now, I’m reading book eleven in the Poldark series. Winston Graham wrote the first Poldark book in 1945 and the twelfth book in 2002. I can only imagine the notes he kept on the hundreds of characters and locations. It’s a good idea to do the same. How did you describe each location? Each character? Even the ages of the characters make a difference.

My last series covered nineteen years. I had to say good-bye to some of the wise, elderly characters that couldn’t survive the span. Although I was watching the youngsters grow up into eligible adults, I hadn’t realized how old the rest of the cast was getting. Remember, everything ages. Even the trusty horse.

4. Especially with historicals, keep an eye on the calendar.

Not just because of the characters’ ages, either. For instance, Downton Abbey’s story started with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. That event throws the estate and title’s succession into jeopardy, so it was essential to the plot. But while Matthew and Mary are figuring out what the windfall means to them and their relationship, another, bigger event looms—World War I.

You can’t set your book in November of 1941 without thinking ahead to Pearl Harbor. If your historical isn’t going to address certain real events, then it’s best to steer clear of them. Watch for obscure local events that you might not be aware of.

5. Each book must have a satisfying ending.

Especially if you are writing romance or mystery, the books need to be able to stand alone. For mystery or suspense, that means that at least one crime or mystery is solved per book, although there could be a nemesis that is not conquered until the final book. For romance, one couple needs to make a commitment per story. A historical series or family series could get away with making us wait for the Happily Ever After, but please don’t sell it as a romance.

You might not intend to write a series, but it’s best to lay some groundwork in case the opportunity arises. Your fans, and your editor, will thank you.
Louisa Bell never wanted to be a dance-hall singer, but dire circumstances force her hand. With a little help from her brother in the cavalry, she's able to make ends meet, but lately he's run afoul of his commanding officer, so she undertakes a visit to straighten him out.

Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno. He can barely control his rowdy troops, much less his two adolescent daughters. If Daniel doesn't find someone respectable to guide his children, his mother-in-law insists she'll take them.

When Louisa arrives with some reading materials, she's mistaken for the governess who never appeared. Major Adams is skeptical. She bears little resemblance to his idea of a governess--they're not supposed to be so blamed pretty--but he's left without recourse. His mother-in-law must be satisfied, which leaves him turning a blind eye to his unconventional governess's methods. Louisa's never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough?
Award-winning author Regina Jennings is a homeschooling mother of four from Oklahoma. She enjoys watching musicals with her kids, traveling with her husband and reading by herself. When not plotting historical fiction she plots how she could move Highclere Castle, stone by stone, into her pasture and how she could afford the staff to manage it.