by Mindy Obenhaus
I just turned in the proposal for book four in my current series, Hope Crossing, and let me tell you, there were a lot of things I had to keep track of. The hero, the heroine, a K-9 companion, two grandmas, previous/secondary characters, and a partridge in a pear tree. Okay, maybe not that last one, but it is a Christmas book, so you never know.
Yes, there are a lot of moving parts to every story. Those details you need to keep track of so that your heroine doesn’t start out with blond hair and blue eyes and then have brown hair and brown eyes by the end of the story. But when you’re doing a series, it’s not just about those characters. You have to consider all the ones who came before them. And, if the current characters have been in other books prior, you need to stay consistent with not only their physical appearance, but what the reader already knows about them.
Here are a few things you need to mindful of when writing a series –
Backstory – It goes without saying that you need to know the backstory of the person/persons your story is about, but what about secondary characters, particularly those who might have been in a previous book? How are secondary characters connected to the main characters? What’s happened to them since the last time the reader saw them in another book? Have they married or had a baby? None of these need to be lengthy, just snippets so the reader understands the relationship to the main characters and either satisfy the reader’s curiosity if they’ve read the previous books (readers want to know what's happened with those characters they've connected with) or make them curious enough that they want to go back and read about the other characters.
Timing – How much time has passed between the ending of the previous story and the opening of the current story? Not between release dates, but the stories themselves. Does the current book pick up where the last one left off or is it months later? This also plays into the ages of the characters, as well as seasons and changes in the lives of previous characters.
People – Whether they are main characters or secondary characters, keep the physical appearance consistent, unless there’s a specific reason for a change. What role do they play in the main character’s life? What’s their connection? Or, if they’re a secondary character who’s going to have their own story later, what can you hint at? The heroine in the proposal I just sent off has a cameo in my upcoming Christmas book. I was able to create a connection between her and the heroine in my upcoming release that I was then able to use in my current WIP.
Setting –Are there any landmarks, businesses or other places people frequent? Make sure your descriptions of them are consistent, though they can be tweaked based on a character’s perception. How does the landscape change with the seasons? If there’s a flood in one story, don’t have a drought in the next unless there’s been a reasonable passage of time.
Book series are a great way to build readership. If they like one, they’re apt to pick up the next. If they read one out of order, they may decide to start at the beginning so they can fit all the pieces together. However, there are a lot of moving parts that the author has to keep track of. Some use spreadsheets while others use a document or even a notebook. And then there are those who find themselves pulling up previous manuscripts to check their facts (raising hand but contemplating a spreadsheet 😉). Whatever works for best you.
Readers, have you ever read a series that had inconsistencies? Writers, how do you keep facts straight on your stories? Leave a comment for an opportunity to win a signed copy of my latest release, The Cowgirl’s Redemption OR a copy of Her Holiday Lawman a 2-in-1 rerelease with Ruthy’s The Lawman’s Yuletide Baby and my The Deputy’s Holiday Family. US mailing addresses only, please.