Monday, March 31, 2014

Whole Series Thinking

by M. L. Buchman

I think in series. I have friends who think in short stories. They write these charming little encapsulations of a moment, so polished and precious and refined that each is a joyous nibble. (Almost every short story I used to submit to workshops or anthologies was returned with a simple note: "This isn't a short story, it's the synopsis for a novel. Now go write it.")

For a while, I thought in single novels. One growing arc following a character, and those around her (I write predominantly from the woman's point of view -don't know why, always have). Even in my fantasy and science fiction, there is usually a love interest along for the ride, but it is then just that couple's journey. Then a strange thing began happening. Short stories that I submitted to workshops or had friends read started coming back with a new note on the rejections: "This isn't a short story, it's a synopsis for a series. I want to read this series!"

Okay, now I think in series. My "Night Stalkers" series is currently at 7 books plus two more already under contract for Aug 2014 and Mar 2015 releases. My new "Firehawks" series, launching May 6th with Pure Heat, is the first of three (at least, uh, hmm, just thinking about it, and I already see a 4th and a possible 5th).

Now, I've learned how to finish a novel. To find the end of a hero and heroine's journey that is in many ways just the beginning. It is a joy to feel that I have learned enough about that character to unravel and reveal that internal moment when they can truly step into joy and we can take the first step of that with them.

But I never really thought about closing a whole series until just recently. My "Angelo's Hearth" contemporary romance series set against the backdrop of Seattle and Pike Place Market (long-term favorite haunts) has just reached its 5th-book conclusion. Now, I thought it was to be a 3-book series, which I talked about here. But my characters still had a bigger story to tell.

And that is part of how I think about my own, "whole series thinking." Each story I write isn't a just telling a story. It is a voyage of discovery in which I uncover not only my main characters lives but have to think about those around them and how they interact. That, in turn, makes me interested in their stories. In "Angelo's Hearth," the side characters were sufficiently complex and interesting that I couldn't rest content until I had written their stories. It is in writing those, that I truly discover who they are and what they have to tell me.

Angelo's Hearth started as a simple novel, though it quickly grew to the story of three friends, each very different and yet each wholly engaging:
  • Cassidy in Where Dreams Are Born is the archetypal girl next door. Nice, consider, pretty, and genuinely likeable (to everyone except the hero who she makes completely nuts).
  • Jo in Where Dreams Reside is the calm center. She is known for speaking pure truth (perhaps unusual for a lawyer, but she does -sorry, couldn't resist the lawyer joke, I worked for them for 9 years of my careers).
  • Perrin in Where Dreams Unfold is part chaos, but also pure joy. Her chaos is wrapped in her unhappy past, and joy is the answer she chose to the question of how she wants to live her life.
However, two other characters, little bit-part characters, insisted they too had stories to tell. As an author, if feels like a pinch, an uneasiness. I knew there was more to these characters than fit within the planned series and I had to fuss and fuss with those thoughts until I discovered that they needed to have their story told as well. That gave us:
  • Maria in Maria's Christmas Table: the mother we all wish we had.
  • Melanie in Where Dreams Are Written, in many ways the most practical yet lonely of all, until she finds that she is surrounded by friends who offer a bounty of joy.
A series is not done for me until they, and I, discover what their stories are. For in the end, I don't tell these stories for the characters, not even for my readers. I tell these stories for me. And the five stories of "Angelo's Hearth" have taught me so much about making hard choices for good outcomes, about finding that joy was always inside me if I just knew where to look. I will be forever grateful to the five women of this series and the men's hearts that they won...including my own.

(Be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter at which launches volume #1 tomorrow, April Fools Day. New release news, free fiction, hot sale announcements, and "Musings from the Muse." Should be fun!)


  1. My mind thinks in series, too, Matt! I've tried to rein it in to trilogies but even that doesn't work. It must be something in our brain chemistry that goes beyond the single book and has to tell the "whole" story!

  2. And they're sneaky too. I didn't mention that. Angelo's was a nice little 3 book series that took 5 to finish. The Night Stalkers was supposed to be 4, it already at 7 plus two more under contract and a whole spin-off series launching on May 6. Sneaky and feisty! ...and so much fun.

  3. I'm the other way around. I think in single books and then have to figure out a way to make them into a series. In these times when the series is what everyone wants, your mindset is a good one!

  4. I love that you said you write your books for you. Bravo!

  5. Hi Cheryl, Let me just say that every now and then, I'd like to have a book that's just a book, but it's been over 5 years since that's happened to me. It's a simpler way of thinking that I'm missing at this point. :)

    Hi Kathryne, Yes, I really do. I decided long ago that if I wasn't telling the story with every ounce of my passion and skill, the readers can tell. So for each book, I approach it as a puzzle. What can I learn about these to characters that make them "right" for each other? Then how can I make that so that I cry as I write it because it touches me so? I used to think that "I write it for myself" was just a bit of hogwash by other authors, but I'm happiest when I'm in story. I love the craft and challenge of the actual writing more than any other aspect. So, by making that as enjoyable for myself as I can, I discover that, surprise, I am indeed writing for myself first, my wife second, and then my readers. Odd, I know.