Posted On December 16, 2011 by Print This Post

5 Easy Steps to Keeping it Fresh, by Jennifer Probst

Happy Friday, RU! I’m excited to welcome back our good friend Jennifer Probst. Jennifer’s going to give us the inside scoop on how to keep our writing fresh.

Welcome, Jen!

Writers usually have two goals with their writing career: get published, and write better books. But when writing a series with a common theme, or launching several novels in a small amount of time, freshness is key. Follow these simple steps to make sure your writing doesn’t become stale.

Writing a series is exciting and challenging. Usually a series has one common theme, either a setting like a small town,  or a family/group where each character has his or her own story. Series are successful for many reasons with readers and one of the most important is familiarity.

People like to go back to places they are comfortable.  (Insert the old Cheers television song, Where Everybody Knows Your Name).  Picture the same cafe to grab your morning coffee;  or the job where you know all your co-workers. Readers enjoy catching a glimpse of the same characters from a previous book, or landing in the local bar or ice cream shop they’ve visited before. The human condition is soothed by repetition, and this is where a writer can shine. Make a reader care about the characters or setting in a book, and you’ve set the stage for a long, committed relationship.

But, at the same time, people don’t want to get bored. If they go to the same cafe every morning and there is never any new desserts or new flavors of coffee, they may try the shop down the corner.  The threat of an affair is dangerous and exciting, especially to a reader. If all three of the books combine the same setting, same situations, and similar characters, a reader is going to wander.

The challenge for a writer  in a series is to keep your readers satisfied by giving them what is familiar, along with something fresh. Combine these two factors and you will gain a reader for life.

How? I’m so glad you asked. Here are five easy ways to keep a reader happy.

1. Vary your characters – In a series, it’s key to vary the character’s personality. Half of the fun is watching different types of people interact, which can set the stage for the future. Picture the group of sisters in a small town like Jill Shalvis’ Simply Irresistible series. Each sister exhibits special qualities – the plain Jane, the southern belle, and the reckless wild child. As a reader, I’ll anticipate each story to be unique because each sister is so different.

I just completed writing a series for Decadent involving three brothers in Vegas. The Steele Brothers trilogy needed to have certain differences, or readers would feel like they were reading the same book. The first two older brothers exhibited dominant personalities, so I made the third brother a secret submissive. I also varied all three heroines to reflect different pasts and images, which changed each of the conflicts. This kept the series fresh for the reader, and for me.

2Introduce different conflict  A series must have different set ups for the conflict. Writers usually have a favorite theme they incorporate, whether it be secret babies, marriage of convenience, fallen angels or reputable vampires. Make sure you have different situations set up for each book, or the stories can too easily overlap.

Example: Let’s say your first book has a hero with commitment problems, and the heroine wants to get married.  If you repeat the inner conflict in your next books,  your reader will feel as if she is reading the same story. With the second book, flip the characters around and surprise the reader. Pump up the outer conflict for the second story. Maybe the heroine’s job is getting in the way – or these characters have a past they need to overcome – or they both are competitors who want to score the same deal. Flip it around so the reader doesn’t know what to expect.

3.  Add a new secondary character – Keeping the same secondary characters in a series is fun, and the reader likes to go back to them, but adding something extra can bump up the payoff. Introduce a snotty teenager to your child-phobic hero. Bring in the nasty, bad tempered senior who challenges the heroine’s patience and good humor. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is brilliant at this – and her secondary characters flavor her writing with a fresh spark that consistently intrigues.

4. Give your writing a facelift – We all need to think outside the proverbial box now and then. Clichés sometimes pepper into my writing, or if I find a great description or phrase, my editor is the first one to gently remind me I used it too many times.

A great source for settings, colors, and using the senses is Angela Ackerman’s blog site, The Bookshelf Muse . When I’m tired of using the color black, I bring it up and see what other perspectives on color I can use.

Reading outside your genre is very important because you bring in a fresh perspective. Stephen King and Dean Koontz are two favorite authors of mine who allow my writing to get a mini face lift. Also reading your favorite hot authors will help you admire and study their ability to turn a phrase. Instead of jealousy, I usually sigh in longing at their talent, and push myself beyond my boundaries.

5. Bring in some quirks – Do something different with a character. Quirks are strong ways to tone down lengthy description and allow a reader to still know a character. Go beyond the usual nervous habits such as chewing nails, combing back hair and stretch yourself. Study people in your environment and how they behave when they think no one is looking.

Give your character have a hobby. With my upcoming novella Sex, Lies and Contracts, my heroine is an English professor who adores poetry. She has a habit of quoting her favorite poets in certain situations, and poetry plays a big part in the turning part of the story. Studying poetry was also a great way for me to sharpen my writing and bring in some new turns of phrase.

In, Nobody’s Baby But Mine, the heroine Jane is consistently scribbling down physic equations and muttering to herself. This quirk nailed her character perfectly. With Nora Roberts Bride series, Kate was well known for being completely attached to her Blackberry, and right away I knew she was a diehard career woman.

Readers love characters who are real and jump off the page.

By using these five easy steps, a writer can make sure a series is the perfect balance of familiarity and freshness. This will keep readers coming back for more!


Love sexy contemporaries with an alpha male hero? Win a copy of Heart of Steel now available in e-format for Kindle or Nook! Read an excerpt below.

Leave me a comment here today or over at my new website, and I’ll pick one lucky winner to receive a free copy of Heart of Steel!


RU Crew, how do you keep your writing fresh? Have you used any of Jen’s techniques above?

On Monday, author CJ Lyons presents Part 1 of 2–Indie pubbing and the New York Times bestseller list.



Jennifer Probst is a multi-published author in contemporary romance fiction – both sexy and erotic. Her first book, Heart of Steel, was re-issued in e-format. She has written novellas for Red Sage including “Masquerade” Secrets Volume 11, The Tantric Principle, and her February 1, 2012 release, Sex, Lies and Contracts. Her first children’s book, Buffy and the Carrot, was co-written with her 12 year old niece. Her erotic series, The Steele Brothers, will be issued by Decadent for 1NS. Her sexy contemporary series with Entangled will begin with The Marriage Bargain coming March 1, 2012. She is also a popular mommy blogger. Please visit her at

Excerpt from Heart of Steel

“Did you ever stop to think I need you in my world?” Logan asked. “Have you ever saved a man from himself? I live in darkness, where deception and lies are at every turn. I learned to protect myself by being cold and hard, the only way I know to survive.” Her

body visibly shook as her gaze locked on his. “You’re like the sunlight. You radiate heat and truth and all the good things in the world.” He paused. “Save me, Chandler.”

Her lower lip trembled. “I can’t,” she whispered.


Her voice broke. “I think I’m too late.”

He saw the fear and knew she wasn’t ready. He clamped down hard on the swirl of emotions rising inside him and took a deep breath. When he finally re-focused, there remained only a ruthless determination to claim her. Something told him she could save him. Something told him she may be the one. “I want you. I’ll drag out every damn secret you have. I’ll stalk every hiding place, haunt your dreams at night, and make your body burn for mine. When you finally surrender, I’ll make you feel more pleasure than you’ve ever known.” He released her hand from his. “Be warned, sweetheart. Cards are on the table. Ante up.”

The clock ticked. Slowly, she regained her composure, and watched him from under heavily lidded eyes. She realized she’d unwillingly issued a challenge, and he’d do whatever necessary to make her surrender. The sudden flash of vulnerability in his eyes couldn’t be real. And she already knew she wasn’t enough of a woman to save Logan Grant.


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29 Responses to “5 Easy Steps to Keeping it Fresh, by Jennifer Probst”

  1. Hi Jen,

    So nice to have you join us at RU again! Thanks for the great tips and the link to The Bookshelf Muse. What a wonderful site.

    I have a great time with my secondary characters. They are the comic relief in my dark stories. My editor liked my heroine’s lady’s maid so much that she asked me to layer her in more.

    Thanks again,

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | December 16, 2011, 5:09 am
  2. Hi Jennifer,

    I like series about family members. Siblings are so different, yet have much in common. Playing off both makes for interesting stories.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 16, 2011, 7:36 am
  3. HI Tracey and Mary Jo! I am thrilled to be back at one of my all time favorite sites to guest post! Yes, I love family members and those secondary characters. I am always surprised to find siblings completely different. My brother is a scientist and I am a writer – two opposite ends of the spectrum from the same parents!

    Posted by Jennifer Probst | December 16, 2011, 7:39 am
  4. Great post, Jen!
    Giving your character a quirk is a great idea. In my second book, the heroine tore napkins into strips then folded them into accordian pleats whenever she was upset.

    Keeping your writing fresh from book to book is more difficult than people think. I’m constantly writing a line then thinking – I said that in book one or the hero reacted that way in book 2.

    Your book blurb is very intense. (I love a good alpha male hero!) Thanks for letting me know Heart of Steel is available for Kindle! I’m addiding it to my Must Read as soon as I Meet My Deadline list!

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | December 16, 2011, 8:15 am
  5. Morning Jen!

    I love secondary characters. I agree with you, SEP is fabulous with those! Ok, she’s fabulous with everything….lol.

    I like your quirks notation. I think a quirk can totally make a character and held define who they are.

    Do you have any suggestions for writing great secondary characters that DON’T want to take over the book? Mine need a whip and chair! =)

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 16, 2011, 8:21 am
  6. Thanks for a great blog, Jennifer! Personally, I’m fond of #5 – I’m all about the quirks!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | December 16, 2011, 8:33 am
  7. Shoot, forgot to add that I love books that are connected. I enjoy catching up with characters from earlier stories to see how they’re doing. Susan Mallery and Robyn Carr and Jill Shalvis and Victoria Dahl….heck…there are a lot of great authors who do a wonderful job at it!

    Posted by Wendy S. Marcus | December 16, 2011, 8:58 am
  8. Hi, Jennifer –

    Thanks so much for being at RU today.

    You talk about several contemporary romance writers. What are your thoughts/ideas on bringing enough conflict into a contemporary when the story might not include a true “bad guy?”

    Thanks a ton!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | December 16, 2011, 9:18 am
  9. Great post, Jen! Your Steele brothers trilogy sounds great! 🙂

    Posted by Shoshanna Evers | December 16, 2011, 10:00 am
  10. Hi Wendy! I really love the napkin quirk you gave your character – I think we forget sometimes how very basic stress is to a character and need to find creative quirks that fit them. Really glad you liked the blurb!

    Hi Carrie! Perfect question. In my series Marriage to a Millionaire, the first book The Marriage Bargain contains my character’s best friend. She completely took over the story and kept elbowing her way into the book. I let her be pushy in the first draft. Then I promised her her own story later, and deleted almost everything about her. On the third draft, I slowly brought her back into the book but in a limited manner. Enough to show her personality, give the reader a few laughs, then sidelined her. She is the one I am working on now, but usually you need them to come to the forefront in creative mode, then strip them down in editing mode! Their time will come!

    Posted by Jennifer Probst | December 16, 2011, 10:08 am
  11. Jennifer – Thanks for being with us today!

    I love the idea of writing a series and I’m going to keep your post and refer back to it often!

    Posted by Robin Covington | December 16, 2011, 10:13 am
  12. Hi Kelsey! I rarely have villains in my contemporaries, so I really enjoyed the experience of bringing in a super evil villain for Sex, Lies and Contracts. I find the best way to use conflict is the character’s past. Upbringing, exes, parents, bad experiences, they all are realistic enough to be used and cause enough conflict for the story. Then there is always the career path. For example, in The Tantric Principle, my hero has a die hard rule of not becoming involved with the students due to a traumatic event. Enter my heroine who’s his student and see what happens when they break the rule. Fantastic question!!

    Posted by Jennifer Probst | December 16, 2011, 10:20 am
  13. you sound like a very talented writer! good luck with all your upcoming releases.
    I had a villain (a female one) in a book that got rejected by pretty much every single “major” epublisher because of her, but I was not about to re-write the whole thing and change that.
    Cost me contracts I guess. But there’s always self publishing.

    Posted by Liz Crowe | December 16, 2011, 10:31 am
  14. Great advice, Jennifer! Bookmarked! 🙂

    Posted by Jessica Subject | December 16, 2011, 12:04 pm
  15. I forgot everything you said about writing after reading that excerpt! Holy smoley, woman! LOL I’ve got to read this book!

    Oh yeah, I solved the keeping it fresh problem by using a cruise ship as the setting – a whole new crop of passengers every seven days! LOL

    Posted by Roz Lee | December 16, 2011, 1:23 pm
    • LOL – I am SO glad you liked the teaser…it’s been fun to see my very first book back out and looking forward to sharing a free copy with everyone! And kudos for the Lothario idea – a cruise ship is pretty brilliant for a series!

      Posted by Jennifer Probst | December 16, 2011, 2:40 pm
  16. Hi Jennifer. Welcome back and thank you for a great post. I love a good secondary character also. They’re so much fun. It is hard sometimes to not let them take over though! LOL.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | December 16, 2011, 1:35 pm
  17. Great advice and love the excerpt, Jennifer.

    Posted by Becca Dale | December 16, 2011, 2:23 pm
  18. Jen, thanks for hanging out with us today!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | December 16, 2011, 8:29 pm
  19. Well done, Jen. Great tips.

    (As for me, I genre hop!)

    Posted by Taryn Kincaid | December 16, 2011, 10:22 pm
  20. Wonderful advice, Jennifer. I’m writing a series now and everything you pointed out will help. You don’t know this, but often I make copies of your words to the author and use them for guidance. Thanks and Happy Holidays with Love from Charmaine

    Posted by charmaine gordon | December 18, 2011, 3:56 pm

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