It’s great to be back at Savvy Authors again, this time to celebrate the release of my tenth novel, South of Surrender. This book is the third book in my Greek-mythology-inspired Hearts of the Anemoi series—one of four series I’m currently writing.
From writing all these simultaneous series—two paranormal and two contemporary—I’ve learned a number of lessons about how to plan a series, how to organize the writing of a series, and how to write a series, so I thought I’d share them here today. These are lessons I figured out as I’ve worked through my four series, and hopefully they’ll be useful to you, too.
Plot out the series arc.I know some of you just made a face. I would’ve, too, because I hate plotting. I almost feel it steals some of my creative mojo. BUT. In a series, it’s more critical than ever. Across three or four or five books, you must have a continuous and consistent world. You must have a conflict that emerges in an early book and carries through, building in each book, and leading to some ultimate big conclusion that will be satisfying for that final book and for the series. The conflict of each individual book must be, in part, specific to the story of that book, and contribute in some way to the overarching series conflict. All of this represents a lot of moving parts, and knowing at least some of them from the beginning will make the writing easier and the read that much more compelling.
Separate voices. In a typical stand-alone romance, there is usually one hero and one heroine. Generally, it should be easy to keep their character voices separate and distinct. It’s harder in a series, where you have multiple characters. For example, in my Hearts of the Anemoi series, I have a minimum of five main male characters and four main female characters, plus a large number of secondary characters, too, mainly male. Sticking with the guys for a minute, they can’t all sound the same. I’m kinda fond of a male character saying, “Aw, hell,” but it wouldn’t be believable that all four brothers say this. They have to have different personalities, different motivations, different favorite phrases, different cadences to their speech, different affectionate pet names for their heroines. This distinctiveness is even more important because, since you’re writing a series, earlier characters will often reappear in later books, and some readers will sit and read all the books in the series back to back—both will highlight any laziness in this area. You therefore need a sense of these distinct characterizations and separate voices for them from the beginning.
Unique…everything.For the same reason each book in the series requires a unique voice for the characters, it also requires unique plot elements. One hero drives a motorcycle and wins his woman over in part by taking her on a thrilling and romantic night time ride? No one else can do anything like that. The bike thing is that hero’s, and the romantic night time ride thing is that couple’s. You have a heroine with a terrifying phobia she at some point will have to confront? She’s the only one who gets that conflict. You have a hero who needs to practice sexual domination because of some past trauma? Again, that plot element has been used and is now done. You get the idea. Each book needs totally unique elements while tying into a shared world. It can be tricky, and knowing some of these elements in advance helps.
Subplots and secondary characters.Have them! Particularly in full-length books, subplots and secondary characters add conflict, depth, and interest. Don’t just throw them in to fill space, of course, but subplots and secondary characters can be very useful for fleshing out a world and giving your readers more people to root for. Interesting secondary characters can also give you the possibility of adding more books or shorter novellas to the series. Just keep a handle on them so you aren’t deluging the reader with too many people or plot points to remember and keep straight.
Consistent rules.The rules and social conventions that you lay out for your world in the first or earliest books—whether in a paranormal or a contemporary world—must be consistently applied throughout all the series, or there needs to be a really plausible reason for the change. Avid readers will spot inconsistencies a mile away and call you on them, and we can all probably think of series where a rule was broken without a good explanation.
Conflict resolution.Here’s another tricky one. Each book must both resolve the specific conflict of the individual book, and further develop the overarching series conflict without resolving it. The first is critical to giving your reader the feeling that the couple featured got a satisfying happily ever after that resolved their issues, the second is critical to maintaining the tension in the overarching series and bringing the reader back for more. The book-specific conflict resolution also helps make each book in the series able to stand alone without requiring readers to read other books in the series to get at least some closure.
Raise the stakes each time.Each book in a series should ratchet up the stakes for the protagonists to build conflict and reader engagement with the series. And, in each book, the big bad should get bigger and badder. Both of which will create the feeling that the series is building toward a fantastic resolution.
Stand alone.Each book in a series is obviously connected to all the other books in that series, but you should avoid writing a series book such that a reader must read the earlier books to understand it or the later books to get some resolution. Readers may find your series three books in, and they might want to dive into the current book getting all the buzz. They should be able to understand who everyone is and what has previously happened to get the characters where they are—without long-winded info dumps bogging things down. This all allows someone to have a full and complete reading experience with just one book in your series. There’s a lot of discussion of cliffhangers around the net right now, with some readers being okay with them and others hating them. But with the typical gap between series books being several months or more, this is something to keep in mind to keep your readers happy.
Series bible.Have some way to keep track of your characters, your conflicts, your settings, and other details, especially if your characters from earlier books will reappear in later books. This will not only keep your books consistent—your green-eyed, blond-haired hero from book one won’t all of a sudden have blue eyes and red hair—but it will also make your life a lot easier because you’ll have a handy place to go to remind yourself of all these details and save you from having to scroll through previous manuscripts to get the information. The longer your series and the more characters you have, the more important this becomes.
What kind of series?There are two kinds of romantic series to consider: 1) each book in the series features a new couple, and 2) each book in the series features the same couple getting incrementally closer each time and/or fighting the forces keeping them apart or trying to tear them apart. An example of the first would be my own series or, to name an absolute favorite *grins*, J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series: Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Butch, Vishous—they each get their own romantic plotline in a separate book. An example of the second would be Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series: each book features Bella and Edward, and each one throws a new obstacle at them that tries to keep them apart or from finding a true happily ever after. Both have challenges. In the first, the issues of uniqueness and distinctiveness pose challenges—the more characters your series has, the more creative you need to be to make each separate and believable. In the second, you have to find plausible conflicts that keep them apart, maintain your readers’ belief that the couple should have and can have the happily ever after book one seemed to promise, be sure not to frustrate your readers by having them behave in questionable ways while separated, etc.
So these are some of the things that I’ve learned and strive to achieve in my series. What have I missed? What lessons have you learned from writing series?
Thanks for reading!
Laura Kaye is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of a dozen books in contemporary and paranormal romance. Growing up, Laura’s large extended family believed in the supernatural, and family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses cemented in Laura a life-long fascination with storytelling and all things paranormal. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two daughters, and cute-but-bad dog, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.
She’s the only one who can see through his golden boy façade to the broken god within…
Chrysander Notos, Supreme God of the South Wind and Summer, is on a mission: save Eurus from his death sentence and prove his troubled brother can be redeemed. But Eurus fights back, triggering vicious storms that threaten the mortal realm and dangerously drain Chrys.
Laney Summerlyn refuses to give up her grandfather’s horse farm, despite her deteriorating vision. More than ever, she needs the organized routine of her life at Summerlyn Stables, until a ferocious storm brings an impossible—and beautiful—creature crashing down from the heavens.
Injured while fighting Eurus, Chrys finds himself at the mercy of a mortal woman whose compassion and acceptance he can’t resist. As they surrender to the passion flaring between them, immortal enemies close in, forcing Chrys to choose between his brother and the only woman who’s ever loved the real him.