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Writer-Talk Tuesday: Wrapping Up a Series

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In less than a week, my third “end of a series” book releases. I’ve had nine books, containing over 901,000 words, published. In each individual book, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. In each series, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end.

And it takes a different form in each of the trilogies I’ve written. So, here’s a little of what I’ve learned about writing series.

You Can’t Change a Published Book
Before starting a series—whether it’s like my contemporaries, where each story is stand-alone but they’re tied together by the characters from the other books, or whether it’s like the Ransome series in which the story and main characters continue from book to book—it’s best if you know before the first book gets to the galley stage what’s going to happen in the second and third (and more, if your series is longer) books—because once that first book is published, it’s out there. And readers notice things that the author may think is trivial enough to change.

In the first two books of the Brides of Bonneterre series, I mention that Forbes and Meredith are from a family with eight children. Meredith specifically tells Ward in Menu for Romance that she has seven siblings. However, in A Case for Love, a mistake was made and it says that Forbes has six siblings. I actually had a reader contact me within a week or two of the book’s release to point this out—and she named all seven of Forbes’s siblings just to show that she was right. A few of those siblings are mentioned only once or twice by name in the previous two books.

Readers notice details like that—so it’s important to make sure you know where your series is going before getting that first book out there in readers’ hands, because you can’t change a published book!

You Can’t Rely on Your Own Memory
You’re going to forget between 50 and 70 percent of the details from your previous book(s) before you start writing the next one.

When I started writing Turnabout’s Fair Play, I was going to have Flannery driving the convertible BMW that she saved for all through high school and college and bought (used) on the day of her college graduation. But then, when I was re-reading the lead up to the proposal scene in Love Remains to answer a reader’s question, I re-read the conversation in which Zarah and Caylor are teasing Flannery that the only reason she bought a new car is because it serves as an extension of her phone. (Or something to that effect.) If I’d had her driving around in the old BMW she bought on the day of her college graduation, I know at least a few readers who would have called me on that.

Keep a series guide (also known as a bible) in which you record these kinds of details. I didn’t do as good of a job of that with the Matchmakers series because I was on such short turnarounds on these books. And you see where it has and could possibly have led me. Don’t fool yourself into believing you’ll remember everything. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend writing and revising a manuscript—you’ll never remember it word for word. So keep lists and documentation and research and character and setting information in a place where it’s easy to access and update—because you cannot rely solely on your memory.

Learn to Let Go
There comes a point at which series, or characters in a series, are played out. It’s Fonzie jumping the shark. It’s the fourth Indiana Jones movie. The “first” through “third” Star Wars movies. Sometimes, you just have to let go. Yes, for you, the author, you still love the characters and the setting. But there comes a time at which you have to let go and move on to something else.

There’s a reason why I didn’t propose a second contemporary series set in Bonneterre immediately after completing A Case for Love—because no matter how much I love those characters and that fictional city (and I’ve been working with that setting since 1991, so I’ve “lived” there longer than I’ve lived anywhere in the real world) I knew it was time to move on, to challenge myself with a new setting, with a completely new cast of characters, with the dynamics that those can bring. I discovered it’s much harder to use a real city in a contemporary novel—I poured so much of my writing time into researching the city in which I’ve physically lived and worked since 1996 just to make sure what details I was using were correct.

Also, even though I proposed a follow-up series to the Ransome Trilogy as an idea for my next historical series, I was actually relieved when it was rejected—because I knew it was time to move on. I’d already started by choosing a different time period (it, too, was set in the early Victorian era and would have culminated with a trip to England from Jamaica to visit the Great Exhibition) and by using as my main characters the children of the main characters from the Ransome books. But when the rejection came, I was happy—because it meant I was no longer bound by the constraints of the original story/characters, and I was able to get closure and say goodbye to them when I finished writing Ransome’s Quest and move on to something new.

Sticking with the same characters, the same setting, or the same story for too long, for too many books, holds us back in our craft and in our storytelling. Author Heather Hall Martin said: “Writing what you know is good for the soul. Writing what you don’t know is good for the mind.” Letting go and moving on to new stories, characters, settings, themes, and ideas is good for both the soul and the mind.

Let’s talk series. As a writer, how can you tell if your story is a series or not? If it is a series, how do you know how long it should be?

As a reader, what makes you keep reading a series? What makes you give up on a series?

  1. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 12:40 am

    Hey Kaye, and congratulations on all the books! That is a real accomplishment!

    When I started Hearts in Flight, I wasn’t looking to do a series, simply tell a story I felt needed to be told. But as I came close to the last chapter, one of the characters kept telling me a very unique story, a secret that I found interesting so soon, I was writing the second in the series. As for the third book, I had many fan letters begging for the heroine’s aunt in the first book to have a story of her own so it made pretty sense to focus on her and her former husband.


  2. Lady DragonKeeper permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 2:26 am

    Primarily what keeps me reading a series are the characters. For example, in the Star Wars books that cover events after the movies, I’ve grown up with and attached to the Solo kids (Han and Leia’s children) and their friends. Although I don’t like the current series’ storyline, I keep reading because I have to know what happens to the characters.

    The only things I can think of that would make me give up on a series is that if the storylines become repetitive and I become bored or if there suddenly is a lot of graphic language or situations introduced.


  3. Carol permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 5:09 am

    My WIP is most definitely not a series. Even though it’s not, and never will be, published, I’ve lived with the idea in various forms for a long time, and I’m ready to finish it. I’m ready to move on to something else.
    But I do enjoy reading books that are part of a series.


  4. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 6:40 am

    the idea of extending my WIP into a series was when a contest judge said she’d love to see this secondary character have his own book. I had felt that way too!
    plus, we do a lot of research for our books and it’s nice to use it for more than one story. I’ve been in this setting for so long, I’m not ready to give it up either!


  5. Sarah permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 7:25 am

    Personaly I feel like I have to keep reading a series, whether it is good or not.I am always wondering if the story will all of a sudden get any better. But usually I don’t have that problem because the books I find myself reading are good ones.


  6. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 8:48 am

    The story of my heart [at least to this point] was the story I’d wanted to tell for a long time. Then a friend was like ‘uh, we need to know what happened BEFORE that’ [in more than just a sprinkle in backstory sense]. So I wrote it. That’s now book 1. Book 2 is the story I wanted to write for a long time. Book 3 follows it. Book 5 is a story that came to me for one of the siblings but to get to it, it needed Book 4. So 1-3 go together and 4-5 go together as far as the main characters.

    In my most recent MS [pitched at conference], I knew publishers like series so as I was writing it, I kept an eye out for a character who could be a good book 2. Found her :). Was writing the beginning of book 2 and found the character for book 3 :D.

    The MS I’ll be working on for NaNoWriMo is about 1 of 3 friends so it makes sense the other 2 friends would get their own stories.

    And, Kaye, if you ever decide to go back to Bonneterre, I’ll go with you ;).


  7. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 8:58 am

    I’ll keep reading a series as long as I’m engaged with the characters. In a well-done series, those characters almost become like family. But, each book needs to have a fresh concept & follow a unique path. I’ve read a few series’ in which the same journey is enacted with each book. Names, places, careers may change, but what they go through is predictable. When that happens, the author loses me.

    Question for you: When mistakes our discovered, will they be fixed in subsequent printings?


  8. Abigail Richmond permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:21 am

    I am always sad when a series comes to an end. It always feels like I know the charecters personally.
    I have always wanted to become a writer!


  9. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:39 am

    Got a message from a friend who works at Lifeway this morning . . . Turnabout’s Fair Play is already out in about half of the Lifeway stores across the country—which means, hopefully, it’ll be in full release by this weekend!!!


    • D Ritz permalink
      Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:49 am

      Thanks for that tip–will check my local store this week!!


  10. D Ritz permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 10:54 am

    As a reader, I keep following a series to find out what happens to all of the characters. The Ransome series–have to find out what happens with Ned and Charlotte but want to keep up with William and Julia too! Can’t think of a series I have given up on if I made it all the way through the first book.


  11. Rachel Wilder permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 1:48 pm

    As a writer, with my current series it started out as two books. Then the more I got to know another secondary, the more I realized he had his own story to tell. Then it was a matter of finding the right heroine for him, the woman to convince him to take a chance on marriage.

    I’m always on the lookout for a secondary or other minor character who seems to have more going on than they’ll tell me.

    I like the number three for romance series. It’s a good number and the reader doesn’t get bored with it. The writer is less likely to be bored with it too. That said,with thrillers I like them to go for as many books as the author thinks can be pulled out of the characters. I’m totally addicted to the Riley Covington football thrillers right now and in another week I can let myself buy #4. I’m fairly certain when it’s over, I’m going to wish there was another one.


  12. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 2:33 pm

    You know it is interesting…when I started reading Christian fiction in the 1990s, series were all the rage — and some of them went on FOREVER. I really am liking the trend of series tied together by place/time period/etc., instead of one person or couple’s story told over multiple books. Maybe this is due to instant gratification issues I have, haha!!!


  13. Janet Kerr permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 2:36 pm

    Congratulations Kaye, you have been very busy writing and that is some accomplishment.

    As for series, I want to write one. Why? Because for one I like following characters. Once I get to know them I want to stay awhile.

    I think it is a good question about series. How can you tell if your story is a series? Well, I think that I have to look future to see if my characters, with their subplots, can carry through many books. I would have to outline the books and find the arc of the whole series.

    As a reader, I keep reading if the characters become important and I want to follow them. I do give up however, if the plot is bory.


  14. Sylvia M. permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 4:48 pm

    I love series. Some of my favorites are family series like the Bonneterre books. Each book is about a separate child or close cousin in the family. They interact with each other regularly in each novel. I know the Matchmaker series doesn’t involve siblings, but they are close friends almost like sisters. I’m not fond of the books that are supposed to be a series, but none of the characters from one book have anything to do with the characters in the other books. Another kind of series I love is when the couple meets in the first book, but their relationship is slowly built up over the whole six or eight books series. By the end you have a clear engagement and wedding. You don’t have to cram in their love story in one book and you closely get to know their families and friends. Usually, that only works in series like Cheney Duvall, M.D. (Lynn Morris) and the Million Dollar Mystery series (Mindy Starns Clark). Each book takes place in a different part of the U.S. with a particular theme that they are working with. It works here because both heroines have jobs that take them all over the place. The characters stay the same ,but the scenery has changed. One series is a mystery series so each book has a separate mystery. In all of these I have to fall in love with the characters and feel like they could be friends of mine. I also have to relate to their kind of business occupation. If it’s a job I have no interest in than it’s difficult to constantly be reading about it.


    • Sylvia M. permalink
      Tuesday, October 25, 2011 4:52 pm

      Also, the friends/siblings have to play a big part. If I can tell they’ve only been added as page filler and have no individual personality beyond generic black hair and blue eyes, than I’d rather not hear about them.


  15. Sylvia M. permalink
    Tuesday, October 25, 2011 4:53 pm

    Yay for Turnabout’s Fair Play! I’ve been stalking Amazon to see if it’s available yet. 🙂


  16. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 5:00 pm

    I will stay with a series if I have liked the first book. Think Debbie Macomber, Fern Micheals, etc.I didn’t stay with Janet Evanovich because each book’s plot was the same except maybe the people she had to serve papers to. It was always her, LuLu and the two guys. But your series are all good and no boring repetition of the plots!


  17. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 5:49 pm

    I keep reading because I want to know what will happen next although when books are a year apart I tend to forget alot of detail and its hard to remember what has happened especially when I read so many books.
    why I will stop its to long a gap between books and I cant remember the story, or its a series that didn’t grab my attention to start with. Often its more I have the next book and dont have time to get to read it or it takes forever to get to it.
    The other reason is the series is becoming to predictable. This has happened to me in novellas where all 4 stories could have been the one story they all had the same issue and it really put me of them for awhile.
    Ok my time is up for another day not surewhen I will get back online.


  18. Tuesday, October 25, 2011 8:46 pm

    I love series. I think what keeps me reading depends on the type of series. The characters are always a huge part of it. But in the case of a series like the Ransome series, it was the story as much as the characters. The story was intriguing and becuase the characters were so interesting, I cared enough to come back.

    Some authors do hang on too long. When the series becomes a cottage industry and the books all start to feel the same, it’s time to let go. I also think there’s the danger of not improving in craft, and over time, it will show. Readers are fairly sophisticated, and as the grow, the story craft has to grow with them or the stories lose their charm.


  19. Wednesday, October 26, 2011 11:05 am

    I typically love series books- as soon as I read the first one, I can’t get my hands on the 2nd/3rd soon enough. I guess multiple errors or inconsistencies in the stories would make me stop reading– or if I just can’t seem to “click” with the book.


  20. Wednesday, October 26, 2011 11:08 am

    I love to read series! But I know like when a ton of the same information is repeated especially if I’m reading the series back-to-back.

    I also love when the series takes a very unforeseen turn. I don’t like when I can pretty much figure out the whole book from the first chapter. After investing in a series a little bit of surpise is great!


  21. Audry permalink
    Wednesday, October 26, 2011 9:00 pm

    I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to post yesterday, but I agreed with a lot of what’s already been said. I follow series mostly for the character investment. I think it’s probably similar to how people follow tv shows because of the characters. I also think that certain genres are more suited to series than others. I see a LOT of romances as series – especially trilogies, but also 4-book series, but I think as often as not those stories could have the names of the characters changed and be solo books and work just as well.

    Several series I’ve followed have been in the crime/ mystery genre, which I think works well just because you can throw so many different kinds of mysteries and scenarios at a detective without getting repetitive, where romance is more formulaic. Also, if you have a homicide detective as your main character, it’s easy to believe he’ll be put in one book-worthy plot after another, whereas it stretches the imagination a bit more to believe that three friends, three sisters, three women with some other close relationship, will fall in love and get married one after the other 😀

    No matter what the genre though, I am with you 100% when you say that enough is enough and authors (moviemakers, etc) need to recognize that point! Yet somehow, even when a series is dead and gone, if I’ve followed it right along, I still keep reading. A good example is Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series. Thie first several books in the series were excellent, but I think she got to the end about 4 books ago. Still, I’ve read all of them, and when she comes out with the next one, I’m sure I’ll read it too. Same thing with Outlander. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of that series, but really, while I find a lot of the well-researched history absolutely fascinating, the books themselves have been going steadily downhill since about #3. But I’ve read them all and will read at least the next one, just because of the cliffhanger ending of the current latest.


  22. Friday, October 28, 2011 8:16 am

    As a reader, I stick with a series if the opening novel keeps my attention honestly. I’m so busy that the time I have to read is pretty slim so if I don’t get “into” the book right away, the odds are that I’m not going to be able to continue with the series. So great details about the setting (not too little, not too much), interesting characters and dialogue in the beginning are impt to me.

    I’ve dropped a series before because I was disappointed with the follow up book. Sometimes you love the first book so much and have high expectations, and then the 2nd book just doesn’t live up to the first one. Sometimes it’s not enough action, or the story doesn’t flow well enough or the characters just aren’t going where I wish they would. Or sometimes later on in the series it just gets stale and seems to drag on when it should have ended. It doesn’t happen very often for me.


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