Jilly: Cast of Thousands

Do you read series? What do you expect from the final book?

This week I happened to read the last book in two different long-running bestselling series, one urban fantasy and one straight-up fantasy. In each case the series ran to ten or more books, plus novellas and other related stories in a complex world with a large cast of characters.

To my surprise both grand finales left me underwhelmed, for the same reason. About a third of each book was devoted to wrapping up the series story arc in a high-stakes, satisfying manner. The other two thirds made sure that every single significant character across the entire series (barring those who’d met an untimely end) reappeared and contributed to the story resolution in some way.

It reminded me of the final number in a musical, where the entire cast is on the stage together, giving it full beans. Big finish. Rapturous applause. Curtain. Followed by individual curtain calls for the principals.

I was quite pleased to see some of the characters again, but after a while the whole setup became predictable, even tiresome. It distracted me. I started placing bets with myself about which character would appear next and how they’d be shoe-horned into the final confrontation.

These aren’t books written by newbie writers. They’re traditionally published titles written by skilled authors with proven track records. This can’t be a mistake. It must be what readers (or most readers) expect and enjoy.

When I’ve finished my Elan Intrigues prequel books I’m planning to write a long-ish series with the same protagonist (Alexis). At the moment I think it will be six books, set in various locations and with a hefty cast of supporting characters. If best practice would be to make the final book a kind of ‘greatest hits’ experience for the reader as well as saving the world and giving the H&H a happy ever after, I should try to get my head around that now. It might make a difference to the way I write the earlier books.

What do you think? Do you like to see all your favorite characters lend a hand at the end of a series, or do you, like me, just want the author to draw the story to an exciting and satisfying conclusion?

Jilly: Menu Gourmand

In romance there are basically two kinds of series. The first, which Nancy discussed last Monday, focuses on a community: a family, or schoolfriends, or regimental comrades. In this kind of series, each book tells the love story of a different member of the community. It works really well in historical romance.

The other kind of series follows the adventures of one couple over multiple books and is a natural fit with fantasy and urban fantasy. That’s what I’m busy writing.

At its best, this kind of series is like a tasting menu from a really, really good restaurant. Delicious, ambitious, and not to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

  • Choose your cuisine.
  • Decide how many dishes you plan to offer.
  • Each dish should stand alone as a tasty, balanced, harmonious whole.
  • Every course should be delightfully different, offering contrasting flavors and ingredients but in a cohesive style.
  • The menu should flow, offering a natural progression leading the diner from piquant to savory to a delightful sweet finish and possibly some perfect petits-fours.
  • The content of each dish should be perfectly judged, leaving the diner neither over-hungry, nor sated too soon, but wanting more until the final satisfying conclusion.
  • The sum of the whole should be greater than each of the parts.

To whet your appetite, click here for the Land and Sea tasting menu from one of my favorite restaurants, The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye.

In literary terms, this kind of story is exemplified by Dorothy Dunnett’s Scottish Historical Lymond Chronicles, or Karen-Marie Moning’s Celtic urban fantasy Fever series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books or more recently by Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy trilogy.

This is what I’m aiming for: something a little different, offering fine local ingredients combined with flair and executed with skill. If I get it right, hopefully my Menu Gourmand will be mouth-watering, memorable, and a treat worth saving up for 🙂 .

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 Continue reading

Jilly: Time Lock

time-lockDo you set yourself long-term goals? Do they inspire you?

In my personal and professional life, I’ve always been a pantser rather than a planner. I have a set of psychometric evaluation reports written about me more than 25 years ago that resulted in my setting a personal mission statement: to enjoy life and seek challenges. If I could track down the coach that helped me write that statement, I’d shake her hand. It’s as valid now as it was in 1990.

I don’t think I’ve ever set myself a concrete, specific long-term goal. I do think I’ve been good at recognizing—and grabbing—special opportunities when they’ve crossed my path. Continue reading

Jilly: Series Title Help

Fighting TalkDo you have a spare five minutes to help me try to find the perfect word or two for the titles of my romantic fantasy series?

I had a brilliant time at RWA in San Diego and I’ve returned to the UK inspired and raring to get back to work on Alexis. Pitching the book was really helpful as it made me pause, take a step back, and make sure I had a clear vision of what story I wanted to tell, in Book One and also for the whole series.

I’ve written linked stories before, but this is the first time I’ve attempted a series with the same main characters and an over-arching plot-line. I have the bare bones of how it’s all going to work, and a bucket full of ideas waiting to be fitted into that framework, but I think it would help me a lot if I had a clearer vision of the books themselves, especially their titles.

So if you’re in the mood for a little brainstorming, here’s the brief Continue reading

Michille: More About Series

Callahan Family Cover 1As I mentioned in my last post, I am taking a Margie Lawson (Lisa Wells) online class about writing a series. One of the lessons was about the series connection. Lisa had four choices of series connection: the really big book series, the linked sequential series, the linked stand-alone series, and the loosely connected stand-alone series. Lisa likened the really big book series to a family saga television miniseries. I can’t think of any series that I’ve read that have to be read in order, a component of the really big book series. The linked sequential also have to be read in order. Again, I can’t think of any like this that I’ve read. I concluded that most of the ones I’ve read are linked or loosely-connected stand-alones. Continue reading

Jilly: End of Series Anxiety

End of Series AnxietyDo you enjoy reading series? If so, do you suffer from End of Series Anxiety?

Sometimes when I’m reading a book by a new-to-me author, if the writing is stunningly good and the plot is ratcheting up nicely, in the middle of my enjoyment I’ll hear a voice at the back of my head warning me not to get too carried away, because however smart the author is, there’s always a risk that the way she chooses to resolve the story might not work for me.

Funny thing, but even after I’ve settled down to a harmonious relationship with an author and built up a level of trust that their story choices are likely to make me happy, I’ll still look at an upcoming release, close my eyes and hope it’s going to be all right. That’s most likely to happen in the final book of a series, because confidence in the author + emotional investment over multiple books + increasing story stakes + ever-higher expectations -> nose-bleed high risk. Continue reading

Nancy: Series Q&A with Maria V. Snyder

Today is the final post in my series on series. Last week, friend of the blog and fabulous author Mindy Klasky stopped by to talk about what it takes to write a series, and many different ways to approach it. This week, I asked Maria V. Snyder, author of the best-selling Study series, to talk to us about her experiences writing series and to give us a hint about what she has planned for future stories in her series world.

The original cover of Poison Study. With multiple reprintings and foreign language editions, there have been many gorgeous iterations!

The original cover of Poison Study. With multiple reprintings and foreign language editions, there have been many gorgeous iterations!

A meteorologist turned fantasy and science fiction novelist, Maria has published thirteen novels and seventeen short stories for both YA and adult readers. She’s been on the New York Times bestseller list, won a half-dozen awards, and earned her Masters degree from Seton Hill University where she’s been teaching and mentoring in their MFA program. Readers are welcome to check out her website for more information at http://www.MariaVSnyder.com or check out her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/mvsfans! Information about her books can also be found on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/maria_v_snyder. Meanwhile, feel free to ask Maria questions of your own, as she’ll be stopping by the comments section later today.

NH: You’ve recently released book 4 of the Study series, which began back in 2005 with Poison Study. Was this conceived as a stand-alone book or did you know that first book would lend itself to a series? Continue reading

Elizabeth: Celebrating Nancy Drew (and resilience)

The original cover for the first Nancy Drew mystery, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” published April 28, 1930.

The original cover for the first Nancy Drew mystery, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” published April 28, 1930.

Over the past few weeks, our own Nancy talked about series here and here. Her posts got me to thinking about the very first series I remember reading: The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. You’ve undoubtedly all read at least some of them and maybe you even have a few of the familiar yellow bound books around the house somewhere.

This year marks the 85th year that the books have been in print. At a time when books can often fade into oblivion as soon as they’ve been read, these stories have shown remarkable staying power. Recent statistics I saw show that 80 million of the books have been sold worldwide and they have been translated into over 40 languages. That’s quite a feat.

For many young girls Nancy Drew launched a life-time love of reading and she inspired countless others to try their hand at telling their own stories. Show of hands – who has a smudged, hand-written attempt at the bottom of a drawer or box? The Clue in the Dusty Garage anyone? Continue reading

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. Continue reading