Monday’s Friend: Janie Franz

Today I am pleased to welcome Janie Franz to the blog once more, talking about the issues involving keeping readers’ interest in a series. Good to have you back, Janie!

Sustaining a Series
By Janie Franz

Writing a series can offer an author success (modest or large) because the writer has a built-in following. Readers like something about the series that keeps them returning.

JanieFranzRomanceLivesForever (2)It can be the characters found in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot., Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael, or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and friends.

Some series are based on the kind of adventures that the author produces, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and his jungle Tarzan or his Barsoom (Mars) series. Then there is H. Rider Haggard and Allan Quartermain’s treks into unknown realms or all of the Star Trek and Star Wars novels that the TV series and movies stimulated.

Sometimes it’s a sustaining theme through a mystery such as Peter King’s Goodwyn Harper Mystery series about a chef in London (King is a Cordon Bleu chef himself.) or Roberta Isleib’s Cassie Burdette mysteries about a professional golfer who seems to always find herself in trouble. There are books about golfers, booksellers, psychologists, doctors, dancers, crime scene cleaners, journalists, veterinarians, etc.

Other authors have hooks that keep their readers returning. Sometimes it’s a location or something unique. An author colleague, writing under the name Dorien Grey, has a spooky mystery series about an architect who is aided by a ghost. Mary Stanton has a wonderful southern series called the Beaufort & Company Mysteries about angels or ghosts, depending upon your understanding of either.

Some writers plan on writing a series from the first inkling of an idea. Some of us don’t. That was the case when I wrote The Bowdancer, the first book in what became a six-book series. I also have a paranormal series in mind, the Bell Holler Witch books.

Motivation

So why do these authors write series?

I doubt many of these authors decided to write a series to guarantee them fame and fortune. I think many of them were like me. We wrote a book and liked something about it that made us write another. For Rowling, it was the eagerness with which her first beta reader (her daughter) received the first book and wanted more. For Doyle and Christie (and for myself as well), it was how compelling the characters were. I was captured by my own characters and wanted to live with them again in new adventures.

Motivation to write a series is passion about the first book, whether it is the author’s own or your readers’.

Identification

What do you do after you write that first book? Do you even know if you have a series?

A series by definition has to have more than one book. Usually, it is more than three or it’s a trilogy, but in some publishing circles two or more books become a series.

However after that first book, do you really have the seeds for more? In some books such as detective stories, ala Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, there is always that next case. That happens in police procedurals or other types of crime novels. The detective or the team deals with the next murder or new menace. In my Bell Holler Witch series, I know that my feisty Tennessee herb woman will do battle with yet another paranormal entity. This is also common with any series based on a location or a profession, regardless of genre.

But do you have a series if your book concept is character-driven? That can be tricky to determine.

thebowdancersagabundle (2)In The Bowdancer Saga, I had no clue after I wrote that keystone first book that there would ever be another. I knew who my character was but nothing had really been settled in that first encounter with her. I knew I wasn’t finished with her, but I had no clue what would happen next.

Somewhere in the many years before the second book was written, I decided that she would appear with her young precocious daughter and that there might be a third book about her and a son, but that book never materialized as I had initially conceived it. Years later, when I actually wrote the second book, The Wayfarer’s Road, something one of the characters said in it sparked the idea for the third book, Warrior Women. When that book was completed, I had the seed of an idea for The Lost Song Trilogy that followed. Those three books have generated ideas for at least three more books that are yet unwritten. The Bowdancer Saga, therefore, is based on the life of the bowdancer and her children—and all of the adventures they have and the curious people from different cultures they meet.

Character-based series are harder to conceptualize and produce. Rowling did it successfully with Harry Potter. The boy’s world revolved around Hogwarts, his sparring with Voldemort, and his own past. She used each year in Hogwarts as the next book in the series, with more revealed about the characters and the secrets that are never quite fully explained in each book—until the next one. Each book held even more secrets and levels. I think her success in the series (besides writing exquisitely crafted stories) was her ability to develop maturity in the content as each year passed as if her readers were also maturing as Harry did every year. It wasn’t so much more complex use of language but capturing a depth of life.

Whether a book is the beginning of a series can be determined after the first one is written or while it is being written. If it is a mystery series or deals with crime, involves exploration of outer space or inner worlds, battles among werefolk or fanciful creatures, or romances at the local inn or on Wall Street, there will always be other mysteries to solve, worlds to explore, battles to fight, and new hotties to fall for. You can write as many new stories with your characters or about your series location or profession as you like.

Character-based series may unfold organically as did The Bowdancer Saga and the Harry Potter series. Through the writing, the next book idea is revealed.

Consistency

If you think you’d like to try your hand at writing a series, you have to be consistent. You have to make sure that your characters, though they may learn and grow, are also the characters that you first drew with words. If there is time passing, make sure they age accordingly and maintain their physical and emotional characteristics (or give a reason why they’re now blonde when they were a redhead in another book). This is especially true of subordinate characters that might pop up in later books. When your readers encounter them again, it should be with the same passion as when you wrote them the first time.

Series books often encompass a lot of characters. The Lord of the Rings has a cast of thousands, and some of these characters move in and out of all three books. Make sure when your characters return, they are written as you wrote them previously. Keep a notebook or character sheets with notes about each of these characters (if you don’t do that already). It’s so much easier to look up a quick reference that’s handy than it is to try to remember or find a specific section in a previous book.

Aging a Series

Some authors like Meg Cabot are trying to age their series. Cabot is trying to move her YA Princess Diaries series into adult fiction as her characters age and grow. That makes perfect sense since many series might stagnant because there are limited lessons to learn or adventures to go through at a specific age. This allows the characters to experience richer lives and for readers to understand these well-loved characters in a different light. Also many YA readers outgrow authors just because the readers grow up.

J. K. Rowling did that with Harry Potter but she kept the entire series within the YA realm even though her readers were often parents of children who were also reading those books or college students who found the fascinating.

I aged my Bowdancer series because I was telling a linear tale of the Bowdancer’s life. I hadn’t intended that to happen when I wrote the first book. But it seemed to be the way of things as it progressed.

I did that also with the Ruins trilogy. The first two deal with the main character and her relationships and adventures in a sequence. The third book, which I’m currently writing, takes place ten years later and follows a natural progression in the main character’s life.

I think the real key to sustaining a series is having enough new material (mysteries, challenges, adventures, personal growth, new enemies, etc.) for writing new books. You may also need to age your characters and what they are dealing with in their lives. Ultimately, you have to enjoy your characters and their particular circumstances. If you have grown tired of them, then perhaps you should lay your series to rest.

Janie’s Bowdancer series is now available as a bundle from Amazon.

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1 comment so far

  1. J.Q. Rose on

    Interesting to discover you wrote Bowdancer with no idea it would be the first in a series. I just completed the first draft of a story and it is the first time I ever felt like I needed to continue their stories. All my other books have been stand alone, but after your great post here, I may revisit them because I do love my characters! Thanks for sharing. BTW Joe Konrath said he intentionally changes the year of the car his series main character, Jack Daniels, drives just to see if his readers pay attention. Hmmmm or did he actually goof it up and used that as an excuse??? LOL


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