Jilly: Who’s Next?

Who's NextHow do you feel about series? Do you like it when a secondary character from one book becomes the hero or heroine of the next?

For me, it totally depends. Sequel bait is high on my list of no-nos, right up there with plot moppets and TSTL heroines, but when a character I’m already invested in gets their own story in a world I already know, I love it with a passion.

What really makes me snarl is when a new character suddenly pops up towards the end of a book. We’re at a critical stage in the plot or sometimes even in an epilogue and suddenly (WTF?) the heroine’s sister or the hero’s cousin arrives on some slender pretext and gets shoe-horned into the story with some telegraphed dialogue or a superfluous conflict with another secondary character that has nothing to do with resolving the story I’m reading and everything to do with setting up the next one. If the story is good, I’d seek out the next book by the author anyway. Clunking me over the head with this kind of device is more likely to put me off.

Sometimes it’s clear that the author has planned a series from the outset. As soon as you meet Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon, Loretta Chase’s Carsingtons, or Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons (protagonists conveniently named in alphabetical order, presumably for the reader’s convenience as well as Lord and Lady Bridgerton’s), you know what to expect. I’m very happy about this (more books to look forward to!) provided the supporting characters in a particular book are fully developed, and their only role in the current story is one relevant to that story. It might be that their actions in the book propel them into their own story later – that’s fine, provided I don’t feel that those actions or that sub-plot were grafted on and dilute the current book in order to seed a future story.

What works best for me is when an author creates a world, complete with fully-developed secondary characters, and then branches out to develop the world and characters in a new book, maybe in a different direction. I’m thinking of Suzanne Brockmann’s SEALs and Troubleshooters, or SEP’s Chicago Stars. For me as a reader, that feels that the next story has developed organically from the growth of the characters, which is less predictable and more fun.

This is what I’ll be aiming for. My current WIP is a contemporary romance starring charismatic entrepreneur Ian Kinross and arty misfit Rose Lloyd. I already know I want to write about Ian’s younger brother, charmer Cameron Kinross, Ian’s best friend, over-achieving Scottish/Italian chef Roberto McCulloch, and scheming super-bitch Sasha Montgomery, but I did not put any of these characters in Ian and Rose’s story because I wanted to write about them later. I’ve grown to know and love them as they play their parts in Ian and Rose’s story, and I care about them and want to know what happens to them. To leave them hanging would feel like unfinished business.

One thing I’m not sure about yet is whether I’ll bring back Ian and Rose as minor characters in Cam’s, Rob’s and Sasha’s stories. It makes sense that they’d be around, because they’ll continue to be part of the same world, but if they put in an appearance it will be because they have a genuine contribution to make, like Dain and Jessica in Loretta Chase’s The Last Hellion or Avon in Heyer’s Devil’s Cub. I really dislike it when the hero and heroine from a previous story drop in for a cameo just to assure the reader they’re still totally loved-up. Grrrr.

Do you enjoy series? Who do you think gives good sequel?

And are there any characters who never got a book and whose story you’d like to read? Mine’s the devil’s spawn Dominick, Dain’s adopted illegitimate son from Loretta Chases’s Lord of Scoundrels. I bet he’d grow up into a flawed, fascinating man.

15 thoughts on “Jilly: Who’s Next?

  1. I really like series. There’s an ongoing development, and you learn a lot more about the setting and community. I like to follow the same characters, but if the author is very skillful, I don’t mind reading about side characters.

    I love hearing updates, though, about characters I’ve met in previous novels. What makes me really snarl, though, is when the update characters have better lives/more interesting lives than the main characters of the book I’m reading. I accidentally read book two of a series, once, where the protag and antag were in this horrendous struggle. Depressing, and I would have shut the book and started chanting “DTMF” if I had known about Dan Savage at that point. And out of nowhere came the heroine of Book 1 for a cheery hello. Apparently she had gone through the same crap with the hero of her book, but now she was safely ensconced, and bossing around a bunch of Book 2 hero’s buddies. I thought, what a fascinating story! How does she keep all these bad boys in line? Never found out, because here comes old Sturm and Drang, the real heroes of Book 2, to wrestle the storyline back and fight some more. Bleh.

    But everyone has her own favorite cup of tea. Some people would enjoy the struggle, and the little “hey, it DOES get better” message from the formerly bullied heroine.

    If you do use characters that weren’t the main characters, the nice thing is that you don’t have to hold back anything in Book One. In theory, the main characters in B1 will have completed their arc, and you are free to find “the most interesting episode in their lives” for a new couple. I think when you follow the same couple, it’s possible to come up with the best idea ever. And then you have nothing left for Book Two.

    (That said, when you are following the same person and doing a coming-of-age-until-they-are-almost-senile book, there are huge milestones. First love. Getting into higher education. First job. First major promotion. Marriage. First child. Middle-age crisis/menopause. Etc.)

    • I didn’t know about Dan Savage until now, so I learned something today, thanks, Michaeline :-) I’m with you on the Sturm und Drang, too.

      I don’t believe you (one) should ever hold something back for the next book. If it rocks, and it belongs in your story, put it in there. Make the story as good as it can be, and challenge the Girls to come up with something new for the next book. If the character’s story is done, write about somebody else.

  2. I’m with you, Jillly, I often thought Dominick’s story would make an excellent sequel to Lord of Scoundrels.

    In general I like follow-up stories. I like it when we get to (briefly) check back in with the original characters and see how it all turned out for them, but I think it’s important to keep the next story fresh and original, too. Too often I’ve seen series that really degenerate with each successive book.

    I wasn’t planning on making my current work book one in a series, but recently a new character popped and I’m really interested in telling his story. Turns out Cheyenne has a half-brother who is a former marine (now cop in Dry Creek) who lost part of his leg in the war. So far, he’s on the fringe of Cheyenne’s story, but he’s definitely shaping up to be the hero and antagonist of my next book.

  3. I’m planning my current book to be the first in a several-book series (multi-generational, no less), so I am carefully thinking about the current characters in my book, as well as what comes next. Some will be about relations to the current characters (sisters, brothers, etc.), others will be friends (Sir Guy Smithson). Not every character will be revealed in the first book, though. Some will crop up later…otherwise, I’m sticking them in the book for no good reason.

    I think the multi-generational ones will be their own series, but loosely tied to what I”m writing now in that it’s the parents (or grandparents or distant cousins/nieces/nephews) of my current WIP characters.

    I personally love family sagas, but I’m with you on the shoe-horning. Not very attractive in a book.

    • I really like multi-generational series, Justine, but isn’t that going to be hell from a research perspective? Though I know you’re a history buff, so perhaps not :-)

      • Well, the era before Regency involves Revolutionary America, which I know a little bit about, and the era after is Victorian England/early Pioneer America, which I know a little bit about. Do I know everything? No, but I love history (and research) so I think I’ll be ok. :-)

        I may also skip a generation, which helps. I like the Civil War period, too, so I have lots of options. Just need to figure out my family tree and where everyone ends up!

  4. I agree Jilly, I think in order for there to be a series you need to be invested in the character, which means that he or she needed to have a moment in the preceding book so that the reader connects and wants to know their story.
    I think Suzanne Brockmann and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are masters at this. J.R. Ward with her BDB and Angel series. Also Susan Mallery with her Fools Gold series and Sherryl Woods has many different series that work on this premise.
    For myself as a reader, these are my favorite kinds of books because I feel as if I’m part of that community, you know these people. :)
    As a writer I’m striving towards this with my series set around a small town in coastal Washington.
    Big boots to fill, lol

    • Jacquie, you’re absolutely right about community. I may be the only reader left out there who hasn’t read JR Ward’s BDB. Maybe it’s time!

      Good luck with your Washington series. As you say, big boots to fill – but someone’s got to do it :-)

  5. The non-protagonist characters I’d like to see with books of their own are Jenny’s Alice and Nadine. I like the idea of writing series mostly because (not that I’ve done it) it seems easier for the author and fun for the reader. The world is built! If readers like it, why stop? Otherwise, just a comment that this thread has stuck to romance novels in terms of talking about series, but mysteries are series all the time, and oftentimes the sleuths are in on-again, off-again relationships. That makes sense for mysteries—who wants to have to call home when you’re out on surveillance to say you won’t be back for dinner?—but the extra tension around personal matters adds fun to the mystery mix, I always think.

    • I don’t often read mysteries, Kay, but my husband is a huge fan. The thing that makes him growl (loudly) is when character development / relationship takes over and becomes the main plot and the problem solving takes a back seat. It usually seems to happen at some point in a mystery series. For him, that’s breaking the promise to the reader.

      • And he’s so right about that! Mysteries that focus on relationships and not the mystery do break the promise to the reader. But if the relationship is the subplot, or even a sub-subplot, then I’m all for it.

  6. I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries, but then I feel I can’t comment too much, because I don’t read them often. But I do prefer when character have their own stories, I don’t mind if a secondary character gets a book of their own, as long as it doesn’t affect the book I am currently reading :)

  7. Sorry to be slow, I’m just catching up after a few days away…. I absolutely love books written in series. Over my whole life, I’ve probably been more of a mystery than a romance reader (though currently it’s switched the other way round), so I have an expectation of books running in series. The current trend for series in romance books suits me to the ground (and perhaps is one reason that I’ve moved more over to the romance genre). I’m interested that your husband says mysteries that focus too much on relationships don’t work for him – one of my favourite series of all time is Reg Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe, and that is very much about the relationships between the community of detectives as well as very strong crime plots. Would that come into your husband’s category of too much focus on relationships?

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