I would love to see you blog about writing connected books. How do you keep straight details concerning recurring characters? Do you know your characters so well that you remember? Do you keep characters bios to which you refer? Or what? And do you ever get tired of a character before your readers do?
This is an excellent series of questions, Janga, and with it you’re my book-winner. (I’ll email you separately for your address.)
As I run a rough mental bibliography of Wench books through my head, I’m guessing that all of us have written connected books of one kind or another. Sometimes the connection is a family of characters. Sometimes it’s a group of school-friends grown, or colleagues brought together by circumstance. Sometimes the books are so interwoven that, if read together, they make one large story, while other series are independent of one another, joined together only by overlapping characters. You name it, and I think we Wenches have written it.
The trick of any series, of course, is keeping the readers’ interest form one book to the next. We’ve all read books (NOT by Wenches, I’m sure) that have long, tedious passages of back-story, or worse still, characters that spout soap-opera updates: “Oh, didn’t you know that two years ago Lord Peterboo married Lady Faretheewell soon after the scandal with the wild boars was revealed and Sir Henry shot himself, the villain?”
I’ve always liked writing connected books. I like the chance to tell a “bigger” story, and I like the different points of view. I like being able to see families change and grow through historical time. And, like most writers, there are characters that you just don’t want to let go without having their own story told. You want them to have a happy ending of their own.
My first series revolved around a Colonial Rhode Island family, the Sparhawks. More correctly, I should say that it “evolved”; I wrote one book, and my editor suggested I write the next about one of the brothers. Then came sisters, another generation, and a generation after that, until I’d written eleven books in all. Being a new and clueless writer, I also wrote them out of order –– one book in 1702, then the next during the War of 1812 –– with a number of unrelated single-titles scattered in the middle. As you can imagine, this led to all sorts of confusion, both my readers’ and my own, and I lived by the elaborate family tree of the four generations, my only hope for keeping them all straight. (It’s on my web site, if you’re curious: http://susanhollowayscott.com/images/Sparhawk_FamilyTree.jpg) Even then, I still would have readers ask me “What about Johnnie’s story?”, and I’d have to admit that I’d completely forgotten about Johnnie’s existence, let alone his story. OK, so Johnnie died. End of story.
Since then, I’ve mostly limited my historical romance series to three books at a time –– a mini-series, I guess, instead of a season-long event. My current series, loosely called “Love on the Grand Tour”, follows two sisters and their governess touring Europe in the late 18th century (before Napoleon’s shenanigans had such an impact on tourism) The first book is THE ADVENTUROUS BRIDE. I begin them knowing not only how each love story in each book will end, but how the last book’s “big pay-off” will be an ending for the series, uniting all three books into one story. It’s satisfying, yet it’s also manageable.
But now my historical novels are turning into a series, too. With these books, Janga, I really must tend to my character continuity, because all my characters are based on real people. I can’t adjust history for the sake of plot convenience. I use a program called Stickies on my computer that creates multi-colored post-its on my desktop, and that’s where I stow all the important info. I have Stickies for the dates of historical events, each character with their birth-death dates, their parents, spouses, and children, their titles and houses, break-downs of scenes by chapters, even favorite descriptive quotes I’ve come upon through research. I sort the info by color, too, which makes my desk-top look a little like an Easter basket, but somehow it works.
With the success of DUCHESS, my editor, agent, sales reps, readers, booksellers, even my cats, wanted me to stick with the late 17th century English court setting. DUCHESS begat ROYAL HARLOT, which will soon beget books about Nell Gwyn and Louise de Kerouelle, Duchess of Portsmouth (all newly under contract to NAL, yayyyy!) In these three books, the link comes not from the three individual women, but from the fact that each was a mistress to King Charles II. In other words, one hero, many heroines, and (I hope) never a dull moment.
What do you think of series books? Do you like the “community” of interlocking books, or do you find the complexity annoying? Do you wait until you have the entire series before you begin reading, or doesn’t that matter? And if you’re a writer as well, how do you keep the continuity in your series books