We welcome back Larissa Reinhart to the RU campus. Larissa gives us pointers on writing a series and shares great tips on organizing character names and traits, and all of those tiny but important details for maintaining consistency and continuity in your story.
Wonderful to have you back, Larissa!
It’s finally time to launch yourself into the publishing world. Your manuscript is complete, your conference carefully chosen. You walk into a room full of editors and agents prepared to wow them with your pitch. You’ve even managed to shake their hand, maintain eye contact, smile, and deliver the pitch without stumbling. You’re on a roll! Then they ask you, “What else have you got?”
Cheese and crackers, you think. What I’ve got is a great story.
The editor thinks so, too, except she wants at least two more great stories.
Publishers want series, particularly from debut authors. One book is a huge investment for a press and readers like series. Our voice and our characters become their friends and they want return visits.
But, my heroine and hero got their HEA. Awesome! Do they have a sister/brother/cousin/friends? They defeated the villain? Excellent. You’re going to need another one. And fast. Because once you are signed, you need to set yourself on monkey-on-crack speed to hit those deadlines.
You know these people and their world. The majority of your backstory and world building is done. I promise you, you’ll write faster because of it. And as your write each book, there’s still new things to learn about your characters, just like in friendship. When you retain the same characters, the character arc is longer and slower than in a standalone. Your heroine is not going to change as much from book to book. But she still needs to grow and learn something new about herself in each book. Don’t keep all plot lines dangling, you need some resolution. If you’re writing pure romance, you’ll probably have a new hero and heroine, but your setting is likely the same. You also get the fun of name dropping your previous couple in your new story (if it makes sense). The reader loves knowing their old friends are still alive and kicking. And having babies. We love babies.
I write a humorous mystery series, so I have the same heroine and the same handful of sidekicks and smexy men in each book. I love my character because she’s full of flaws and will do outrageous stunts that I would never attempt. She can sass somebody on cue, whereas I generally think of that great comeback ten years later. But I spend a lot of time with Cherry Tucker. A lot. And just like in friendship, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Particularly when you’re writing one book, editing another, and taking notes for her next story.
You need more than one friend so you don’t get sick of each other. This is less of a problem in traditional romance when you get to change up your main characters. My solution? Write more than one series at a time. You don’t have to change your voice or genre, but a different setting and personalities are refreshing. And absence makes the heart grow fonder. When I’m writing something else, I miss Cherry.
No time to work on another series? Allow your secondary characters to develop more fully and let them take a greater presence in the story. Give them a book. Your lead can share.
Consistency is the key in series. You can not change anything from book to book or the world falls apart for the readers. If your shape shifter only changes at the full moon in book one, they don’t get to change at will in book four. If your heroine gets shot in book two, she better have that scar in book five. If the neighboring estate had a rose garden where the heroine met the hero in book one and now that duke is looking for a duchess, he better still have that rose garden.
And if you don’t have a photographic memory, you better keep good records. So here’s my list of helpful hints.
1. Books as PDFs
Keep pdf’s of your manuscripts on your desktop. Don’t remember the shade of blue painted on the walls of your hero’s bedroom? Open the pdf of your last book and type in blue or bedroom under find. All references to blue bedrooms will pop up in a list on the side of your document. Where you’ll see, oh crap, no blue bedroom mentioned. His bedroom was actually mustard yellow.
I like working on spreadsheets as much as I do a root canal, but taking the time to enter all the names from your latest book is a huge lifesaver. Every name. Even that garbage man mentioned in one sentence in book two. Because his name is going to float around in your head and when you need to name your next antagonist, guess what great name you will think of? Yep.
Put all the names in the spreadsheet, one column for a first name, second column for the family name. You can do a physical description column, vehicle column, job column, etc. I also like to do a column for relationships between people. For example, my heroine is an artist and when listing her artist friends, I type art in the relationship column. So when Cherry’s going to have a piece in a show, I can search that art column and easily find the name of Shelia who works at a gallery in Virginia Highlands. I also have columns for towns since my series takes place in a county. Now I can remember that Shawna’s mother, Delia, lives in Line Creek, although the other Bransons live in Halo.
3. The Alternative to the Spreadsheet
I got this idea from a writer’s workshop where a series writer used an address book to keep track of her names and places. Great idea, except I hunted Target for an address book and couldn’t find one. Shows you how snail mail is viewed these days. But you could use an address book app on your computer. However, the spreadsheet is nice, too, because you can quickly alphabetize or order lists by column. That’s how I discovered three guys named Joe in three different books. No more Joes for me. I guess I’m still trying to sell you on the spreadsheet…
4. Binder or Accordion Files
I now have a binder (instead of a pile on my desk) for all the crime articles I cut from my local newspaper. I also keep some sales ads for local shops, because I want my Forks County people to dress like Southerners who reside in the country. They don’t frequent Lord & Taylors or even Macy’s. We have our own department store for Sunday dresses and family owned shops where you can get your Bass Pro t-shirts and Carhartt jeans. I also keep copies of my worldbuilding maps and timelines in the binder (see below).
A great bulletin board for all that research you bookmark. Caveat, use the search key and a timer or you’ll end up pinning thirty recipes for chicken while searching for your heroine’s perfect hair color. I have research boards for every manuscript I start, plus boards I use as a scrapbook for reviews and blog posts for each book. Then about fifty other boards for recipes and funny quotes because I can’t help myself.
There are several software programs for writers. I happen to use Scrivener and haven’t tried other programs, so I’m using Scrivener as my example. It has wonderful organizational tools, including files for your internet research (the website will show up in the file when you click on it). You can also save pictures, which is very handy to have on the screen while you’re writing. You can import your maps, create character sheets, and whatever else you use, then import that information to your next manuscript. I like the Keyword function, where I keep track of all the names in my story.
7. World Building
Make or keep physical maps of your town, estate, country, planet, etc. Even if you don’t map them, also keep a list of locations like stores or restaurants that get mentioned in your stories. Also keep diagrams and descriptions of rooms.
Keeping timelines and family trees are crucial. When you’re writing a series with different family members, you have to juggle a variety of ages, making sure they match up in your story. If the hero and heroine met when she was five and he was ten, when she’s twenty, he can’t have returned to their hometown after spending ten years in the army. When you have people leaving and returning to your setting, you not only need to account for their time gone, you need to make sure they don’t accidentally show up in someone else’s backstory.
If you write paranormal, magic realism, or urban fantasy, use that spreadsheet to keep a log of abilities, supernatural traits, spells, etc. Make your own grimoire that your heroine or villain can pull from. List out the details of your creation myth. Your supernatural circumstances have to remain consistent for them to be logical. In my Japanese paranormal detective series, I’m balancing western and eastern mythological creatures. Ghosts and shapeshifters in Japan have different characteristics and abilities than their western counterparts.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the good, bad, and ugly of series writing. Do you have a special record keeping device or helpful hints on tracking your regency family’s history? How do you keep your series fresh and that character arc progressing without completing resolving the arc? How did you change your standalone into a series?
Author Adrienne Giordano joins us on Friday, September 20th.
Cherry Tucker’s love life has shifted into neutral. And her siblings, Grandpa, and sort-of-ex-husband have flipped her personal life to greasy side up. But life in Halo, Georgia, isn’t all bad for the sassy, Southern artist. Her career has pushed into full throttle. A classical series sold. A portrait commissioned. Then Uncle Will, Forks County Sheriff, calls in a favor to have Cherry draw a composite sketch of a hijacker.
Suddenly, life takes a hairpin when the composite leads to a related murder, her local card sharking buddy Max Avtaikin becomes bear bait, and her Amazonian nemesis labels the classical series “pervert art,” causing Cherry to be shunned by the town.
Cherry’s jamming gears between trailer parks, Atlanta mansions, and trucker bars searching for the hijacker who left a widow and orphan destitute and Max Avtaikin in legal jeopardy. While she seeks to help the misfortunate and save her local reputation, Cherry’s hammer down attitude has her facing the headlights of an oncoming killer, ready to grind her gears for good.
Want more Cherry? Click on this link to read an excerpt from Hijack in Abstract.
Bio: Growing up in a small town, Larissa Reinhart couldn’t wait to move to an exotic city far from corn fields. After moving around the US and Japan, now she loves to write about rough hewn characters that live near corn fields, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble.
HIJACK IN ABSTRACT is the third in the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series from Henery Press, following STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW (May 2013) and PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist. QUICK SKETCH, a Cherry Tucker prequel to PORTRAIT, is in the mystery anthology THE HEARTACHE MOTEL (December 2013). She lives near Atlanta with her minions and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit. Visit her website or find her chatting with the Little Read Hens on Facebook.
- How to Create Characters That Leap Off the Page with Terri L. Austin
- Series Business – Three Types of Series by Misty Evans
- Excerpt: Hijack in Abstract by Larissa Reinhart
- For the Love of a Small Press with Larissa Reinhart
- Writing a New Series After a Successful Debut Series by Christy Reece