Justine: Getting Perspective on a Series

eyeglasses and deskAs some of you may know, I’ve been on a hiatus for the last two years working as the PTA president for my kids’ school (Pro Writing Tip: If you want to make progress on your book, don’t volunteer for the prez position…or any other board position, for that matter). I’m grateful that I had a hand in getting their school up and running (it was just opening at the time), but now I’m learning to say “No.” A very valuable word if you want to make forward progress on any personal endeavor.

I will say that the hiatus from writing has allowed me to see my book, when I finally came back to it this fall, in a whole new light, and some advice from an editor I met on a writing cruise in October lent even more clarity…in particular to who my book was about, and indeed who and what the whole planned three-book series is about.

Background: My historical series had always intended to be about a family. I’d read (and loved!) plenty of historical romance series that revolved around a central family like the Montgomerys and Taggerts (Jude Devereaux), the Mallorys (Johanna Lindsey), the Bridgertons (Julia Quinn), or the Cynsters (Stephanie Laurens). I had planned out books for three siblings (plus their cousins, but in a different series), and that’s before I went forward/backward a generation or two.

However, on my writing cruise, I heard an editor from a top 10 publishing house (in terms of volume) suggest that a mere family (unless they’re the Montgomerys or Bridgertons, etc.) isn’t enough to draw new readers in if you’re a new author. She could have been on to something, or she could have been feeding me a load of bull. But it made me think.

I thought about the other books I had planned. Besides the novel-length books about my three family members, I had several novellas in mind for their friends. In particular, Nate’s friends. His male friends. And by “in mind,” I mean I knew exactly what their stories would be about, what their HEA would be, and what challenge they had to overcome.

The more I started thinking about it, the more I realized, too, that just about everything that was happening in my current WIP was driven by Nate, my hero. Not Susannah, my heroine. Yet the book, as it was currently written, was clearly Susannah’s book…except she didn’t really have agency…she merely kept reacting to everything Nate did. I asked myself why I was spending so much time in Susannah’s head when clearly Nate was the one with agency.

My mind started working…if a family wasn’t going to cut it (at least to this editor, probably others, and besides, what interesting thing did my fictional family have in common except that they were family?), and if Nate was the driver for most of my current WIP, and if I had stories planned for Nate’s friends who all have a shared past, then why wasn’t I making this a series about Nate and his friends, rather than a family series?

And that’s how The Beggar’s Club was born.

Say hello to Nate Kinlan, Earl of Rainsford, and five of his mates from Eton. The Beggar’s Club refers to the Brotherhood of Eton Graduates – and I think you can guess that Nate and his friends aren’t beggars. They’re not all rich and titled, but they share a common background and a friendship that goes more than skin deep.

So now my WIP, which used to be Susannah’s story, is Nate’s story. The other friends – Guy Tradwick, Rev. Andrew Walpole, Ben Cressingham, Captain James Hedlington, and Sean (still working on his last name, haha!) – will all have their own books, and with the exception of Ben, I already know their stories. And with the exception of James and Sean, they all make an appearance (some more than others) in Nate’s story, my current WIP, which will hopefully make the reader emotionally invested in those characters even before they have their own books.

There are probably a dozen different ways to do a series, but some of the most common are:

  • Single story line/character, mini-plots in each book, overarching plot across the series (i.e., The Hunger Games or Court of Thorn and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas)
  • Family sagas, where the stories revolve around a central family/last name (i.e., the Montgomerys/Bridgertons/Mallorys/Cynsters)
  • Group/Kinship/Brotherhood/Sisterhood. These usually have something in common, such as a school girls attended, men who fought in a war together, run a business, etc., and there may be an overarching plot across the books (i.e., Lauren Smith’s League of Rogues® or Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels)
  • Single thread. Each of the stories in the series are standalone and may share characters or story lines, but there’s a single thread (usually with its own plot, which spans the whole series) that that ties them all together (i.e., Jenn Windrow’s Redeeming Cupid series)
  • Single character, but no overarching plot that spans the series. Mysteries are a great example of this (i.e., Alex Cross or Stephanie Plum).

No doubt you can come up with more examples.

I’m excited about the trajectory of my series now, about the stories I want to tell for the members of The Beggars Club, and I have to admit, I’m looking forward to selling folks on this series.

Have you started a series, only to find that the direction takes a turn midway through a book? When you write your series, do you plan out the story line for all the books in it, or do you start with Book One and wing it from there?


10 thoughts on “Justine: Getting Perspective on a Series

  1. I LOVE the idea of the Beggar’s Club. As soon as I read that, I got this little jolt of “I want to read that.” I think you’re onto something.

    My Touched by a Demon series falls into the Brotherhood/Sisterhood category–all my main characters are demons who work for Satan. There is no overarching thread to hold them together, just a recurring theme of demons coming Aboveworld to sow havoc and discord, only to learn that humans are more resourceful than they anticipated.

    • Thanks, Jeanne! I’m glad someone likes the sound of it. 🙂 Hopefully I can pull it off.

      I can’t wait for you to publish your series. I think Michille’s is a family saga, and Jilly’s is a single character across multiple books, if memory serves.

      In some of the reading I’ve been doing online re: pitching, I’ve seen differing advice on whether to pitch the whole series or merely say “this is book one in a planned series.” Some suggest not bothering to mention the series, because if you can’t deliver on the first book, the rest don’t matter. Others say they want to know there’s more in store, particularly if characters reappear.

      I know my friend Jenn pitched the first book and mentioned the rest (because she’d planned out all 7 books in the series, which have an overarching thread, rather than plot). After the first book was published, her publisher offered for the rest of the series.

  2. My ‘Harrow’s Finest Five’ series revolves around five male friends who are, obvs, graduates of Harrow :-). The opening and closing novellas don’t have one of the Five as the hero, but the first one introduces them and ‘gets the ball rolling’, and the last one will tie it all up with an older couple’s love story (the hero of book five’s widowed mother and her series nemesis). So it’s clear that I love stories with strong male friendships, and I’m all for you Beggar’s Club books!

    Weirdly, while the male friendships are still the thread of my series, now that I have the kickoff novella and book 1 written and book 2 underway, I can safely say that the heroines are the ones with the greater character arcs in these books. I have thoughts and concerns…I think I’ll share on my next blog post and elicit the help of the hive mind about whether the branding still works.

    ETA: I’ll write about this next week, as I just realized tomorrow is Accountability Monday. Where did January go???

    • Oh my gosh, tell me about it…January disappeared. *poof* There and gone.

      I’m interested to read about your issue with your series.

      What’s so weird with my book (and I’m literally just realizing this) is while Nate’s the driver for the first half of the book, Susannah’s the driver for the second. Reason for that is Nate’s character arc has to do with letting go of control..he’s always been the “I’ll do it to make sure it gets done right” person, but he gets arrested and has to depend on Susannah and others to get him out of the fix he’s in. What else can Nate do while he’s in jail? That’s actually something I’m grappling with right now and it may end up being a topic for a future blog post.

      Right now, I’m getting through the midpoint of the book. After Nate is arrested, I’ll have to figure something out. I see a brainstorming session with my CPs in my future.

  3. Congratulations on refocusing your series, Justine! It sounds like a great way to go. I wondered when I read this post—how was Nate’s arc of “letting go” tied to your arc of letting go of your PTA responsibilities? Seems like there might be a theme there!

  4. Sounds like a lot of fun!

    I’m in the middle of a series (if short stories count) with my Summer/Winter Bae series. I will daydream about the last two stories, but I try to keep my attention focused on the book (or is it a story?) I’m writing now. I have to give it my all, because if I don’t, people won’t want to read on to the next book.

    (-: I’m trusting to the bounty of the universe’s fund of creativity. There will be ideas, and even better, there will be higher levels of skill because I will have more writing under my belt by the time I get there. If it turns out that the idea sucks and I can’t get a series out of it? Well, there’s always the next idea.

    Bunny Blavatsky (Gilded Age Spirit Photographer) is also vaguely a series, but first, I have to get through this winter with her. Now that she’s got a new love interest, maybe things will move forward a little faster!

    • I hope you finish the Bunny book(s) soon! I can’t wait to read them.

      As for universal creativity, I could use some of its bounty, so if you have extra, send it my way!

      • LOL, sent. Look at your nearest book shelf, and open the highest book (you define what that means) at random. You’ll find a spark in the middle of the left or right-hand page. (Bonus if it’s not a word, but something like a chocolate stain (-:.)

  5. Pingback: Kay: Getting There! – Eight Ladies Writing

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