Write a Winning Series, Part II

The importance of creating captivating characters ruled our  post about penning an unputdownable book series. Now story arc(s) grab the spotlight. That’s right: arcs, or a character’s overarching purpose, hoped-for results that prevail through changing times, circumstances and novels.

Characters can be interesting as heck in one book. Situations can scare your off socks off–or make them roll up and down. But to keep readers craving more books with these same characters, your main people need a quest, an unputdownable dream that they live by. Not only for one fabulous book but across several books. A morality or driving force. A fiercely held belief. In good, power, magic, family, whatever. Even if that series is only a gleam in the writer’s eye! It must be strong enough to stand through a whole boxed set, or sequential TV episodes. Yes, please!

Your character is captivating. That’s half the battle. He or she is complex, maybe quirky but always appealing, cleverly backstoried. The first book sweeps her through a twisty plot in a smart relevant setting. She prevails at  the end. Or, if you follow several people in a connected quest in this first book, they prevail. For the moment. For one book.

Big point! Because you MUST–in a compelling series with the same or related characters–create people or problems in the first novel that perhaps are non-vital to its immediate resolution, but important to the others that may follow. You finish one story but leave the door open for more.

How to develop the carryover series arc? Think bigger picture for your characters in the one novel. Leave some  threads unwoven, seemingly minor points and issues not pursued. It’s OK to go back through your work in progress and sneak IN such points, kind of “hide” them. You will resolve the book’s main issue at its end. But you also can raise other questions that need answering –often without the reader  knowing she needs answers.

With a story arc that carries and mutates through several books, you have a hero or group’s ongoing quest. Righting wrongs, working on personal or societal flaws, getting/earning something tangible. Understanding themselves or their family. Finding peace, or a home for the heart.

Ask what could develop from other puzzles you’ve brought up or thrown together as set decoration, distraction or backgrounding. What might happen with other marbles you’ve put at the edge of a table. With other characters who have their own issues. That, fellow scribes and friends, plants a  seed of craving more books in a series. A reader might not yet realize they want to know more on side issues, people or coming events (weddings, breakups, battles). But believe me, deep in their heart or mind, they do!

Even if a writer doesn’t know for sure they’ll turn their a book into a series, they should be open to the  idea. Well-written and edited books  make  readers trust the author…and want more of their novels. A good series can be an author’s best friend. As a marketing tool, and as a cornerstone of one’s  reputation.

Writing a series, you already have many characters  developed (at least partly), and settings that are often, well, set. Thank you, authors Robert B. Parker, J.K. Rawlings, Lee Child, Sue Grafton, Robyn Carr and a host of others.

Think your book can make a series? “Saddle Tramps,” the first of my five Pepper Kane Mysteries, certainly did. Along with spawning a spinoff series, The Granny Oakley Mysteries, about my star  sleuth’s feisty 80-year-old mom.

I say go for it. Write as if you might be writing a series. Fill your book(s) with great characters and quests. Consider them friends and family, if they’re decent and interesting to be with. Later you’ll enjoy crafting related stories or taking interesting side trips. This can keep you writing forward. Looking forward to writing. When you can be  with your “friends” and “family” in special places. What’s not to love about that?

What Makes a Winning Series?

Granny Gets Her Gun by Carole BeersMany of us crave certainty, continuity with “benefits.” Books and TV/film series can provide this. Notably in anxious times. But really in every time, at any age. Did you read all the Nancy Drew books? The Jack Reachers? Stephanie Plums? Doubtless for pleasure or needed distraction.

I love to fall into a good series, as writer OR reader. I write standalones, of course. But I’m probably best known for five (so far) Pepper Kane Mysteries. And now a spinoff, “Granny Gets Her Gun”—a cozy featuring my amateur sleuth’s aged mother, Martha Mosey Kane. Other series characters–including animals–as well.

How to create or find an irresistible bookTV series? One to write or to breathlessly read all the way through? First, I crave a worthwhile main character or group to “hang” with through the hours and weeks. As with Annie Seaton’s Aussie books, or Robyn Carr’s addictive “Virgin River” books that drag you safely but engagingly through thick and thin. Romance, women’s issues, action, crime. 

I also want a believable (read: flawed) leading man, woman or other to laugh and cry with, elbow knowingly, solve mysteries compelling or silly with, take a bite out of evil or uncertainty with. Someone I might want to know in “real” life. who has a welcoming/intriguing voice.

And mainly I meed a main character or group that is INTERESTING. I mean interesting through their job, family role or mission in each book. And not just someone who turns out to be an easy trope, prop or stereotype. Although if you twist a trope on its ear I might bite!

I need to know their interestingness in the first chapter. These attributes can be hinted at in passing, or stated outright with proper authority and confidence—emerging or otherwise. If characters are downtrodden, they must have those elusive qualities I call gumption and “try.” Heart. This makes me want to “help” them or empathize with them by riding along, shadowing. Staying with them. Feeling them.

My amateur sleuth Pepper Kane—in my five-book series with her name—is a fresh go-getter modern horsewoman of a certain age. She has a family she loves, a background in reporting, a yen for a good romantic relationship. Yet her Pop develops dementia, her lover won’t commit, and her grown kids live some distance away and are not always sympathetic to her wants and needs. Sound familiar? Anyone you know?

Plus I need to TRUST her. Believe in her quest or problems, know she will stay on course, not flip on me without good reason. At her core she must be strong. Steady.

Almost as important as cool characters and predicaments are settings. Whether city, beach or desert, settings should be interesting, too. They can help determine and even drive action. Provide a soothing or stirring backdrop. Mirror a character’s thoughts or mission.

But settings abso must have their own aura, good and bad qualities, personality!

In series books–as we explore questions great and small, people watch, make our way through or settle into the landscapes–let’s enjoy the author’s skill (our skill) at weaving all these elements together. Keeping the fabric. Being clear, compelling and true.

Even if in the “real” world, it’s technically UN-true, but lives true in our mind and heart.

Granny Gets Her Gun https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09VG1MBZV/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_K5QVC9KCN28170QP3YHK

Carole and Granny