I spent much of this past week planning. Planning my annual writing calendar. Planning time for writing, revising, and editing the many different stories I hope to write this year. Planning the historical romance novella series that is part of that annual writing plan. And that’s where I’ve hit a snag. In fact, I’ve hit a few snags and have had to go back to the drawing board.
Problem 1. Novella 1 (book 1 of the series) is too damn long. This issue isn’t too surprising to me, as this poor manuscript has had so many different identities, it just has no idea what it is or is supposed to be. It was a novella before it was a novel before it was a novella again before it was the first book of a series. This has meant numerous conflict boxes, story maps, and manuscript versions. This past week, as I pieced the various manuscript parts together á la Frankenstein’s monster, I realized that in its current form, in order to have a beginning, middle, and end, the ‘novella’ is now around 80k words. My target was 40k. I’d be willing to go as high as 50k. But 80k? Ugh. At least now that all the words are in one file, I can do a thorough read and start making some serious cuts.
Problem 2. Who are all these people and why are they all in this book? One of the challenges of a series, especially a romance series in which each book will have its own couple pursuing their HEA, is readers need to meet and differentiate between at least some number of the characters from all the books in each story. The common thread for this series will be five ‘wild boys’ who are old school friends (the heroes) and the ladies (smart, strong-willed, and sometimes even nefarious) who will tame them. But bringing them on too fast, too soon, and without enough traits to keep them separate in the readers’ minds is a recipe for disaster. And it’s currently what’s happening in the early chapters of novella 1.
Jenny Crusie has talked about the issue of too many characters/how to keep them all straight for readers in this blog post. By sorting the characters in categories, as Jenny suggests, I hope to see who is necessary on the page when, and get the other characters out of there until it’s their turn.
Problem 3. I could have sworn there was a ‘big goal’ in there somewhere, but damned if I can find it (it was possibly stolen by a julenisse back in December). Another way to tie the books in a series together is to have some overarching goal being pursued by the related characters in the stories. For example, friend of the blog Mindy Klasky discussed her Diamond Brides series with us back in 2014, a series centered around the fictional Raleigh Rockets pro baseball team. While each book is a stand-alone, there’s also an overarching goal of the team – the goal of every pro baseball team – to get to and win the World Series, of course!
I’m a fan of the ‘big goal’. It’s one more reason to invest in and root for the characters. And I had a few ideas for my series, which I was sure I’d captured in my series bible (aka a multi-workbook spreadsheet). But that was before the craziness of November’s NaNoWriMo, which I didn’t ‘win’, but for which I did complete more than 20k new words for novella 1 (thus pushing it over the word count goal, see issue #1). I probably only imagined or dreamed or hoped I’d captured some really fabulous ‘big goal’ idea, because, alas, I have nothing in writing. After some intense brainstorming, I now have a few ideas. I’m planning to use my two upcoming writers’ retreats (one of the with the 8LWs!) to further explore and refine some sort of series goal.
It’s only the second full week of January and already I’ve got issues (but I’m just focusing on the writing-related ones here). Luckily, I’ve got some tentative mitigation plans as well. But I also have a feeling this 5- or 6-book series is going to be quite the multi-headed beast to wrestle to the ground, and I’ll likely have lots of unplanned trips back to the drawing board with this one. *sigh*
I could use some guidance and good reads to help wrap my head around all of this. So help a sister out. What series do you think is exceptionally well done? Bonus points for any historical romance series, and extra shiny bonus points if the stories are novellas!