Nancy: Serious About Series Part 2: Bridgertons

It's In His Kiss is book 7 in Quinn's Bridgerton series.

It’s In His Kiss is book 7 in Quinn’s Bridgerton series.

Last week, in Part 1 of this series, I discussed Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache murder mystery series, and some of the pros and cons of having a long-running series with the same main and supporting characters. This week, I’m going to talk about a form much more familiar to romance readers: related books with a different set of main characters for each story. And it’s hard to think of a more fun way to look at romance series than revisiting Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton family, eight siblings (and eventually their widowed mother) who each get their own HEA.

In all honesty, I can’t remember which book of this series I read first, and it’s hard to pick a favorite. Thus far, I’ve only reread three of them with the goal of learning lessons to apply to my own future historical romance series, but already, I’ve gotten some great ideas.

Assemble a fun cast of characters, and give each of them a moment in the sun. Having a new hero/heroine take the lead in each book is a hallmark of the romance series. The reason seems obvious – romances tend to be about one of the most romantic stages of a relationship, falling in love. And since another of the hallmarks is the loving couple earning their own happily ever after by the end of the book, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to bring them back as leads the next time around. While we might lose the depth of knowledge we can achieve with recurring protagonists, like Penny’s Gamache, we can gain a fresh perspective by seeing the series world through a new set of eyes.

In Quinn’s Bridgertons, there are eight related, loving, and very intertwined siblings. But they each go about love – finding it, pursuing it, even avoiding it – in very different ways. While they share family traits and history, they are male and female, span a wide age range, and have different societal responsibilities (based on birth order, gender, etc.). One of the things Quinn does well is filter different establishing events, for example, the family patriarch’s death at an early age, through each character’s viewpoint. As I’m trying to build characters with a common history for my own romance series, I’m realizing just how difficult – but also challenging in a very good way – it is to come at the same defining event from many different angles.

Pick your favorite secondary character, and give him/her a book of his/her own. It might not be fair to pick favorites, but we tend to do it anyway. And sometimes, by the end of a book, which represents months or even years of an author’s time spend with a group of characters, the one who cries out to have his story told next catches us by surprise. In my romance series, I have five school friends who make up the hero pool for the 5 full-length books of the series. I thought the hero of book 2 was going to be the swaggering rake of the group. Instead, the straight-laced, prudish one is going to get his HEA first (and is going to loosen up quite a bit in the process).

Of course, that’s not the only way to choose the lead for the next book. I don’t know whether Quinn chose each Bridgerton protagonist based on whomever became her favorite supporting character in the previous book. Because she built a world based on a family of eight siblings, she had a limited pool to choose from each time out, and she might very well have laid out the order of their romances from the beginning of series planning. In our own 8LW group, Justine has known she’s going to give her protagonist’s sister a story of her own since the early days of 3P. But whether by design or serendipity, if we spend time fleshing out our secondary characters, readers are going to find them interesting enough to come and read about those characters when they get to take the lead.

Develop inside jokes among the characters and share them with the readers. One of the fun things Quinn did in her series was name each of the eight siblings in alphabetical order, from eldest Anthony to youngest Hyacinth. In addition to being quirky, this helps fix the birth order and some approximation of age in the readers’ minds. Quinn has a lot of fun ‘making Mozart turn over in his grave’ by subjecting her characters to the infamous Smythe-Smith musicale, given annually by London’s perhaps least musically talented family ever. (The Smythe-Smiths became so popular with readers, they eventually got their own series.) The Bridgerton books also feature a notorious gossip who writes under the pen name Lady Whistledown, who is eventually unmasked late in the series.

An overarching storyline can be used in a romance series, just as Penny used a big story building throughout the first nine books of the Gamache series. But even if there isn’t a big mystery or reveal to keep readers returning, well-done romance series like Quinn’s Bridgertons are adept at bringing readers back to the story to share inside jokes and catch up with favorite characters from romances past, all while experiencing fresh new stories about falling in love.

Are you a fan of Quinn’s books, or any other romance series? And if you’re writing a romance series of your own, what are you learning about the process along the way?



17 thoughts on “Nancy: Serious About Series Part 2: Bridgertons

  1. I loved the Bridgertons! Great series! Mary Balogh had a lovely series — the “Slightly” series. I enjoyed those as well.

    The one thing I’ve learned writing a series (or planning it, at any rate) is to not make the family tree set in stone. I originally had intended Susannah to have a brother, then she didn’t, because he didn’t fit into my current story. Well, she does again. A long lost brother whose story will come to life at some point in the future (and yes, I’ve dropped a hint in Three Proposals at the brother’s existence — well, “former” existence).

    If you do make the mistake of creating a small family, don’t be afraid to look a few generations up the family tree and pluck those apples. I’ve always known that Susannah’s grandfather had three brothers, who will eventually star (with Susannah’s grandfather) in their own Revolutionary-era stories…but in some future book, Susannah will meet her Scottish cousin, a descendent of one of the three other brothers.

    Also, if you are going to have a complicated family tree, invest in Family Tree Maker or some other genealogy software, because if you’re not good at math (like me), it can be devilish hard trying to figure out when someone was born and how old they are supposed to be at a given time in history. Plus, it just helps keep the family straight!

    • Oh, one other thing, and I recall this from listening to a recording of Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean talk about writing a series, is to keep a series Bible, something that gets everyone’s hair color, age, personal details, etc. written down, so when you’re five or six stories down the road (which you’ve written over several years, but a reader has just read in several days), you have your facts straight. James said she still gets emails telling her that so-and-so’s eye color is wrong, or their birthdate is incorrect.

      • A series bible is key! Regular readers of the blog will not be surprised that mine is in an Excel workbook, with a different worksheet (page) for each different category like potential book titles, character details, setting details, when new secondary characters come into the series, conflict boxes by book, etc., etc.

  2. I loved the Bridgertons, too, and I know I missed a couple along the way, so I have some catching up to do. My favorite so far is the Whistledown one; I forget the name. Also I have to catch up on the Smythe-Smiths!

    As a writer with little imagination, I find the idea of building a career writing about the same family comforting. Another thing I like about series—the point is basically to keep the same people and settings on the page, right? So pretty much any structure would do. I think it’s Debbie Macomber who has a series set in a knitting store. That works, too—you can develop really diverse characters when the only thing they have in common is that they like to go to yarn stores. Must remember that for the future!

    • It’s funny to me that you call yourself ‘a writer with little imagination’. You write stories about people who don’t really exist in the real world – that takes hella imagination! You talk to figments of your imagination, just like the rest of us :-).

      Your point about having the same family/characters setting being comforting for the writer also translates to the reader. I read across many, many genres, but I always come back to cozies (mysteries and romance) to feed my reader’s, and ultimately writer’s soul.

  3. I guess I’ve mostly read series that focus on a main character (although . . . nervous about invoking the B-word, but different family members get viewpoints and even their own books in the V-saga. Most books are about Miles.)

    There are a couple of books that Georgette Heyer wrote that seem to fit this structure — one of them was “These Old Shades” I think, and the two books followed the adventures of the father and mother, and the other one did the son. I wasn’t very impressed by the connection. It didn’t feel like a “real” series, and I couldn’t stand the mother in “her” book.

    Using a family would certainly save on world building! I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have seven siblings . . . . It sounds like it would be a fun trip to an exotic place I know nothing about!

  4. I’ve also read series books with tenuous connections. Some writers face pressure from the publishers to turn a successful book or character into a series, and I don’t think it’s always a natural fit. Whether that’s why some series end up feeling disconnected, I don’t know, but I think it’s a possibility. The books I’m going to discuss next week, Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, are only tenuously connected by design.

  5. I love the Bridgertons – may absolute favourite of all Julia Quinn’s many excellent books.

    I’m writing a series (who isn’t these days!) – I was going to say that my top tip was to know where it was you wanted to go with the series and how it was going to end. But then I realised that’s only necessary if you want to have an over-arching story (like I have); otherwise you can just tootle on forever. If I’m still enjoying a series, I don’t mind how tangentially connected the characters are because it’s all about being back in that world.

    Also, just wanted to give a series shout-out to Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. Jilly recommended them to me and I’ve just read the first four over the course of the past few days. They are SO GOOD.

    • Wow, reading the first four books in a few days is high praise! I’m sometimes like that with a new-to-me series, then find I need to take a break and read something totally different, until I miss the series and come back to it. The worst is being all caught up and knowing more are coming…but oh, the waiting!

      Both the series I’m planning also have an over-arching story with a defined end point (although one is kind of squishy; not sure I’ve settled on that resolution yet). How we get to that end point is still a work in progress, which is actually great, because that’s where the exploration and creativity come in that keep it interesting.

  6. I love the Bridgertons and read them all at one time or another – and out of order – they still work that way. My series is like that one in that it is a set of characters that you meet in the first book and they each get their own story in turn. I just started reading a Courtney Milan series. Her conflict locks are out-of-this-world fabulous!

    • I read the Bridgertons totally out of order, too, but that’s par for the course for me. And even if there’s a bigger, multi-book story and I come in toward the end, I don’t mind – I’ll go back and read the earlier books. I know not everyone’s reading mind works that way, but – true confession time – I sometimes read the last quarter of a book first, and then go to the beginning and read the whole thing through to the end. Yes, I am a bad person!

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