Writing a Romance Series
Book series are really popular in most genres. Mystery stories, thrillers and even romance novels are often written in serial form. If we love our series characters, they’re fun to write and they sell well, too. That’s enough to give it a try!
The same is true for readers. Memorable primary characters stick in the readers’ minds and they want to read more about them beyond just the first book. Of course, not all romances lend themselves to a series but many do.
In a series, especially in mysteries, the main character is featured in each novel. However, every book can stand alone. Very often, the plot and the romance (if there is one) develop from book to book so it’s clearer if you start reading from the beginning of the series. The author tries to weave in some backstory so the reader understands what’s happened before. This can be a little awkward and might seem like an information dump if we’re not careful.
In a series that may encompass several years, we can see the characters change as they get on with their lives. This draws us in, hooks us and leaves us wanting more stories. One just isn’t enough.
Some readers want to go back and read the first books in the series and that’s great but others would rather read the newer stories. They shouldn’t have to read every book in the series to catch up.
The author must make each book really stand alone so the reader enjoys the story without feeling she needs to read all the previous books in the series in order to make sense of the present story.
This can be tricky and challenging for the writer.
In the romance thread of a mystery, the main characters get to know each other better as they grow closer emotionally and romantically. They often work together or sometimes against each other. The amateur sleuth tends to annoy the professional police detective, although they eventually come to appreciate one another’s abilities and common goals.
Sometimes their romance progresses slowly through book after book which can frustrate the reader. We’re anxious for the hero and heroine to marry and live happily ever after!
In some serials the hero and heroine actually do marry (Molly Murphy and Daniel Sullivan in Rhys Bowen’s series called A Molly Murphy Mystery) and the series continues. However, the conflicts between them don’t stop at the altar.
A little history
Serials became popular during the Victorian era with writers such as Dickens and Dumas. They were published in newspapers and magazines as installments.
Sometimes the writers had finished the stories before they were published but often the author wrote one installment at a time just ahead of publication. These stories were structured like our modern day TV episodes. Each installment or episode has a completed story although the characters and story world are connected. A larger story arc carries through the book, similar to a TV season.
Downton Abbey is a good example. It has romance plots, conflict among the classes, war, conflict among the family and among the servants etc. But the overarching arc is the changing world of the early twentieth century and how people coped with it.
Advantages to writing serials
Every episode can veer off in a new direction. You can write the same events from different viewpoints and you can change character arcs.
As an author you know your world already and you don’t have to change it in every book. The same goes for the leading characters. If you want to alter their character arc you can but you don’t have to. You can develop them slowly or quickly. It’s up to you. You can keep them fresh and interesting by changing their circumstances, physically or emotionally. Or both. There’s a lot of flexibility for the author.
Disadvantages to writing serials
The pressure to write an amazing opening is enormous. You have to create unforgettable characters and a fascinating setting right from the start. It needs to be so memorable the reader automatically picks up the next book in the series.
You must write tight and make sure the hook comes early in the story.
Deadlines come rapidly so you need to write fast.
You resolve the current problem in a series but you leave something unresolved so the reader will look forward to the next story. Obviously, you can’t make her wait too long or she’ll move onto to another series.
When you’re developing a series, plan ahead.
Don’t write by the seat of your pants. Be organized and write down everything you’ll need to remember — the story arc, the character arcs, story world details etc. Create good biographies because you’ll need to refer to them again and again.
Know where your series begins, how it progresses and how you’ll tie up loose ends when it finally concludes. A series may go on and on for several books or you or your readers or your editor may decide it’s time to move to something else.
In a romance series the love story between the hero and heroine normally concludes in a happily ever after ending but it can continue to a new book. A word of caution — keep the release of the novels close together.
Sometimes authors write two books before they publish the first one. Then they’re scrambling to write the second one while readers wait impatiently. It’s a very good idea if you’re a slow writer like me.
If the romance is concluded in book one, then bring forward secondary characters from the first story and make them the new hero and heroine. Readers love to see what’s going to happen to the characters they met at the beginning of the series.
Maybe the best friends of the hero and heroine get together in book two and the former hero and heroine become the new secondary characters and sounding boards. At least give the important characters cameo appearances in subsequent books.
Or maybe each son or daughter in a story about a particular family finds a love interest. Make them active, interesting people and readers will think they all deserve books of their own.
To make a series cohesive, know your theme.
The same theme throughout each story will help you develop your plots and tie each book together. From the first book onward, you make a promise to your readers. In a romance, it’s a central love story that ends with happily ever after.
Even if a romance continues into the second book, the first story should broadly hint that in the end the hero and heroine will come together and marry.
Stick to the genre you begin with. Don’t stray from romance to thriller to fantasy or you’ll confuse and disappoint your readers.
Romance novels have emotionally satisfying endings which reinforces the idea that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished.
Popular romance themes (in addition to the love theme) include adventure, forbidden love, betrayal, faith, forgiveness, family, temptation, good and evil, pursuit and rescue.
Along with the romance, start with one overarching main theme and allow less important subthemes to develop in each book. If you start to go astray, return to your main theme and it’ll help you to get back on track.
What are your favorite romance series and authors? We’re always ready for new books.
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