Little did I know when I began writing my first Highlander book that it would become a series. I wrote it for myself without the slightest thought that it would become published. In fact, I had my laptop password protected so nobody could sneak on and read my fledgling novel. Somehow, my feelings about this changed dramatically over time and I eventually sent it into Sourcebooks, who have published not one but three Scottish Highland books, thee Highland novellas, with two more novels on the way.
As I am now writing my 8th Highland story, I find I wish I had known from the start that I would be writing a series and taken some steps to help myself along the way. If I could create a time machine and give myself a little advice when I started, here is what I would say:
1) Keep track of all your characters. You have no idea how much time you’re going to waste, going back through previous books to remember the name of somebody’s mother, or the eye color of an important character. This is series writing 101, but you think you won’t forget. Ha! Take the time to do it now so you don’t have to go back through at a later date. Be sure to write every character, their birth date, and a brief description. Same thing with locations.
2) Keep focus on the central love story. Often secondary characters in one book will become primary characters in the next book. I know you love your secondary character so much it is tempting to add them into a lot of scenes to develop their backstory, but your focus needs to be on the story arc of the main characters. Those secondary characters can play an important role, but their presence and their storylines should be in some way important in the story arc for the main hero and heroine.
3) Don’t leave the reader hanging. Sum up the main plot points in each story. It is tempting to leave something for the next book, but don’t leave any main threads of the story dangling or you risk irritating the reader. Each book should have an adventure that wraps up with a satisfying conclusion, even while you’ve left room for another adventure to begin.
4) One book’s villain could be the next book’s hero. Everyone loves a bad guy who finds redemption (it’s harder to redeem a bad gal, but that’s a topic for another blog post). The evil villain in one book may be the misunderstood antihero in a subsequent book. For this to be a possibility though, there are some things he really can’t do. There’s a different between the bad guy you love to hate and the jackass you just want to run over with a tractor. If your villain rapes women and kills puppies, he’s got to die. End of story.
5) Plot ahead. Yes, I know you like to just write and see where the muse leads, but it’s going to lead you into impossible dead ends if you don’t spend some time plotting ahead. Think about the plot of the next few books. What are the main beats? What is important for those secondary characters to do now so they can be set up for their time on center stage? Get a large whiteboard and plot out the timeline (and take a picture of it before one of your kids erase it – word to the wise).
6) Start writing and follow the muse. I know, it’s the opposite of what I just said. After you plot until you’re stuck and your plot lines look like a Gordian knot, it’s time to start writing. Some things you can only figure out en route. Get moving!
What other advice would you give to writers of a romance series?