Posted On September 18, 2013 by Print This Post

Series Writing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with Larissa Reinhart

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 Larissa Reinhartand 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.


The Good

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.

The Bad

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.

The Ugly

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.

2. Spreadsheets

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.

Heartache MotelPut 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).

5. Pinterest

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.

6. Scrivener

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. 


Hijack in AbstractThe world needs more Cherry! Here’s a peek at Larissa’s latest book, HIJACK IN ABSTRACT,  the third book of  her Cherry Tucker mystery series which releases in December 2013.

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.

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42 Responses to “Series Writing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with Larissa Reinhart”

  1. As a reader, I find this glimpse into the complications of series writing very interesting. I have always wondered how authors keep facts straight in series, especially long running ones, and I always appreciate that they do because there is nothing worse than reading a series that suffers from inconsistency. Cherry sounds like an interesting character, will have to add the series to my tbr list!

    Posted by Emily Wheeler | September 18, 2013, 12:58 am
    • Hey Emily,
      Thanks for your comment. I think inconsistency kills series. And some details can come back to bite you in the butt. I would think most authors keep some kind of lists, or go back and look through their old books. but we do keep a lot in out heads. It’s amazing how much content you accumulate book by book. I don’t like record keeping, but it’s become a necessity the farther I get into the series.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 6:42 am
  2. Hey Romance University! Thanks so much for having me on today, with a special thank you to Jennifer!

    Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 7:44 am
  3. Morning Larissa!

    I’ve always wondered how Nora keeps track of Eve and Rourke….or Janet Evanovich her Stephanie Plum characters – I bet they have some tricks like yours to keep track of everything over 20+ books!

    I’ve not written a series, although I do have several in mind…..someday. =)

    When reading, it’s always the secondary characters who really pop and I want to know what happened to them. Whether they get their own book or continue on as secondary characters in another book, I still enjoy getting a glimpse of “old friends”.

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 18, 2013, 8:20 am
  4. Hey Carrie!
    I love the secondary characters, too. I’m a big fan of historical romance where the secondary characters help (or hinder) the h/h and then they pop up in the next book. That’s so much fun to read. And then you get that little mention of the original h/h and how happy they are married after all the trouble they had getting together.

    I think Chick Lit does a great job of this as well. Emily Giffin & Marian Keyes jump to mind immediately, but there’s lots of good examples.

    Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 8:28 am
  5. Hi, Larissa!

    Really terrific post!

    I do the pdf/ebook word search thing ALL the time. It’s extremely useful.

    I’m spreadsheet challenged, but I wish I’d set them up for my longer-running series! Any suggestions for actual logistics of setting up a spread sheet late in the game, like, oh, say, 17 books in? 🙂

    And hey, as an FYI, I read a great article (I think it was in the RWR, maybe last year…?) by Jo Beverly where she talks about keeping a series straight via Wiki pages — and letting readers who love the series take part in gathering facts! (Kinda cool idea!)

    Again, a great, informative blog!


    Posted by Suz Brockmann | September 18, 2013, 9:12 am
  6. Hey Suz! I did read that article by Jo Beverly and forgot about it. Great idea. I think some of the big names have assistants who keep their wiki pages up for them.

    So, Suz, first you need an assistant. LOL

    After 17 books, how do you keep track of all your names besides a PDF search? Or when you’re naming someone new, do you just search that name in all your PDFs?

    You could slowly build a spreadsheet file. Put in all the names from memory and add as you recheck your PDFs. Better than nothing! Or hire some teenager to go through your PDFs and type names and info in the spreadsheets. They’re cheap & always need money. Win-win!

    Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 9:33 am
    • Ah, yes, the assistant! 🙂

      I actually remember names quite well. Or I do the doc search thing that you described. (What IS the name of Martell’s sister? Did I name her? Does Martell even HAVE a sister?) It kinda all starts with knowing that Martell only appears in FORCE OF NATURE — so I knew before I wrote DO OR DIE (in which Martell reappears) that I only had to search one book.

      In this case, since it had been awhile, I searched FON for “Martell” and read every single scene in which he appeared. I like doing that because it also helps me get back into the rhythm of his voice, etc.

      A few years back (for book 10), I created a hardcopy (and PDF) Reader’s Guide that listed characters and included info about which books they’d appeared, so that’s always a useful tool, and come to think of it, a good starting place. Yeah, I’m halfway there. But it doesn’t include things like where people live! When in doubt, move ’em into a new house or apartment! 🙂

      One of my biggest challenges is keeping track of military rank and ratings. Even if characters have been off-screen (off-page) for 2, 3, 4 books, they have been moving forward with their lives. And in the Navy you are on a continuous upward path. So even if I remember that Sam, say, was a LT JG in the last book, I have to know that with the passage of XX months/years, he’s now a full LT. And then keep in mind that people move up in rank more quickly during wartime, so that factors in. Yeeks!

      Posted by Suz Brockmann | September 18, 2013, 9:48 am
      • Suz, that PDF Reader’s Guide is a great idea. Can’t you c/p it into a spreadsheet? Not that I’m trying to sell you on spreadsheets, but I would think putting the character’s rank for each book would be really helpful to keep track of their movement.

        I wish I had a good memory for names. And I’m a horrible speller. Which is why I have to keep records. 🙂

        Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 10:14 am
      • Thanks for stopping in today, Suz! I am in awe. Your characters are so fully formed they are real to your readers. I think your attention to details like movement through the ranks is one reason why.

        Do you get tired of bringing back characters that are reader favorites when you’re ready to move on to someone else’s story? Or are you sad to move on once you’ve completed a book?

        Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 18, 2013, 1:19 pm
  7. I’ve never really thought about writing a series before. It sounds like a quite a challenge! I’m working on a book now that has a large number of main characters, and I literally had to make a list of their names and keep it on my desk for a while just so I’d remember all of them. Then there’s the inevitable oh, I haven’t mentioned so-and-so in a while; he’d better do something.

    This was a very helpful discussion. I like the way you’ve designed and utilized tools to help you keep track of your people and places. That’s invaluable advice for any book, and for a series, undoubtedly necessary.

    Posted by Lori Schafer | September 18, 2013, 10:12 am
  8. Fantastic advice, Larissa! I love all the ideas you have for keeping things straight. I have to hunt through previous books to find names and locations. You’ve inspired me to get organized!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | September 18, 2013, 10:15 am
  9. Thanks Lori!
    That’s one of the reasons why I love Scrivener. It has a Keywords tool, you can really use for anything, but I keep names in it. It color codes them and you can link the names to scenes with the color code function. That way when it’s in bulletin board mode, I can see all the colors on the scene cards to see which characters have the most play for balance. (I do this for major characters, not minor).

    Good idea to keep that list of names in front of you! Good luck!

    Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 10:17 am
  10. I’m in the midst of writing a long fantasy/sci fi series, one that takes the same characters and runs them through time. (Not in a TARDIS; time just passes as the books progress.)

    Thus when I recently took an “everything you need to know about Scrivener” course (and here I thought I had it down pat!), I was ecstatic when I realized I could set up a separate series file/binder in which I could load every last bit of info about characters, worlds, technology, sayings, etc.

    After I get this current volume done, I’m going back to copy all pertinent info/photos/maps/whatev into this file, which will be kept in my Dropbox and thus available wherever I happen to be writing.

    The authors in my local RWA group show off their massive binder collections that hold the info for their various series, but with Scrivener you can keep all that info digitally AND not take up any shelf space.

    Posted by Carol A. Strickland | September 18, 2013, 11:18 am
    • You go, girl! I love Scrivener, too. I recommend everyone take the Scrivener class because it has SO MANY capabilities. It’s great for plotters or pantsers. I originally got it just to have the black out screen and not have to scroll through a Word file.

      Good luck with your series!

      Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 11:41 am
  11. “Write more than one series at a time,” she says.

    *bangs head on desk*

    This is great advice! Sadly, I haven’t managed to write one series yet, but I do have future books mapped out in connection with one completed story. So I don’t feel like I completely struck out, even if I’m nowhere near ready to rock.

    I find myself looking for the stars of future books when I read now, so I think publishers and authors have trained their readers well. The drawback is, I feel really sad when my favorite series books wind up.

    It’s daunting to realize that as hard as we work to complete one saleable book, if we succeed that’s only the beginning. Writing is not for wimps, that’s for sure!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 18, 2013, 12:45 pm
  12. Larissa – I’ve been hearing great things about Scrivener for years. I remember it was initially available for Macs. I’m a PC person (much to my husband’s disdain!).

    I think Scrivener has a PC version out now but I haven’t heard if it works as well as the other one. One of these days I’ll break down and get it, if it lives up to the reviews.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 18, 2013, 1:22 pm
  13. Thanks, Larissa – I’ll check it out!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 18, 2013, 1:31 pm
  14. I’m working on a story now with the largest cast I’ve done. (zombie apocalypse) So, I took a cardboard plotting board and taped index cards with names on it. I have name, some physical characteristics, and relationships to H/h or secondary characters. For the series that is next I started a series bible because there will be many crossovers.

    Posted by Jill James | September 18, 2013, 2:06 pm
    • I’m SUCH a Walking Dead fan. Yay for zombie apocalypse! Lots of dead people to track.

      Very cool idea with the cardboard plotting board. I have a friend who does something similar with a magnetic board.

      Good luck with your bible!

      Posted by Larissa Reinhart | September 18, 2013, 2:10 pm
    • I put up a large foam board for a single-book plot as I was trying to figure out the cast. I discovered that I could picture everyone better if I traced and then cut, using a gingerbread man cookie cutter, different colors of construction paper. Then I put a little velcro tape on the board and the back of the gingerbread men. I had room to write info on each “man,” plus it helped me visualize relationships better than index cards did. I could merge characters, eliminate them, or add to the bunch as needed. Mm, gingerbread…

      Posted by Carol A. Strickland | September 18, 2013, 2:13 pm
  15. Fabulous post, Larissa! You inspired me to use Pinterest to plan outfits for Nichelle. 🙂

    I also have a spreadsheet, and ADORE my Scrivener. But my spreadsheet needs more detail. And I want a binder. 🙂

    Posted by LynDee Walker | September 18, 2013, 3:24 pm
  16. Hi Larissa!

    Your post prompted me to re-learn Excel the other night. I have a master character spreadsheet and one for each of my manuscripts. The funny thing is that I discovered more about my characters as I filled in the boxes. I was surprised to see that there were so many characters in each book.

    Also, the spreadsheet serves as a reminder that every character must contribute to the story, so I find myself re-examining their roles.

    I’m trying to figure out an easy way to keep a timeline. Any suggestions?

    Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 18, 2013, 6:00 pm
  17. Larissa, this is mind-boggling! You are SO organized!! Of course this is why your books are so brilliant. (Makes me embarrassed to have all those post-it notes all over my computer – and scribbled notes all over my wrists 🙂 I am going to pass this post along to all my writer friends. Thanks for the tips. Write On!

    Posted by Heather Ashby | September 18, 2013, 7:12 pm
  18. Love Scrivener! I have a small cast in my book, but I’m going to write a three book series, so I need to start a file on each character. Hair & eye color, occupation, hobbies, etc. etc.

    I thought “I’ll remember everything,” but I can’t!

    Posted by Laurie Evans | September 18, 2013, 7:55 pm
  19. I see the character templates, but I need to make my own templates that are more detailed.

    Posted by Laurie Evans | September 19, 2013, 2:40 pm
  20. There are lots of (free!) templates out there already. lists a few. I’m going to look through some and see what I can find!

    Posted by Carol A. Strickland | September 19, 2013, 2:43 pm


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