Writing a Series
Writing a series presents special challenges. It helps if you know you’re doing a series going into it. If a publisher contracts a series, they usually ask for at least a short synopsis of three books. This can be hard to do so far in advance, but it will pay dividends later. Planning the broad overview of the series will help the author see where she’s headed and how the character arc needs to develop as it spans the entire set of books. Sometimes a series is only loosely connected, and the main characters of the first book don’t appear in later books, or are minor characters. Other times, the main characters stay in the spotlight through several books. Either way, the author needs to develop a way to keep track of details. You don’t want to realize too late that you gave one character two different names (yes, it’s happened before), or have your protagonist’s patch covering the wrong eye in one scene (James Fennimore Cooper had that happen).
I found myself in a series “glitch” and was thankful I caught it in time to change it. I was writing the third book in my
That was an easy fix. But if your hero in Book 1 has a sister offstage, and her name is mentioned in passing, and then the sister shows up in Book 3 with a totally different name, and if you don’t catch it and you get a different copy editor who didn’t do the first book and doesn’t check it, you’re sunk. Be sure some sharp-eyed reader will catch it later.
So, how do I keep track of details? Some people use Excel spreadsheets. I’m low-tech. I use index cards. I’ve tried other methods—notebooks, a computer file—but I keep coming back to the index cards. I keep the box on my desk and have the cards for the current series in it. What goes on these cards?
Character’s name, age, relatives, car (or horse in a historical), pets, address, type of home, occupation, and sometimes much more. Here’s a card from my Ladies’ Shooting Club series:
Adams, Elizabeth “Libby”
35 in Book 1; 36—almost 37—in book 3
Owns Paragon Emporium
Husband Isaac died 1-1/2 years ago (p. 6)
Colt Peacemaker pistol was Isaac’s; .44 cartridges
Blue eyes, blond hair, white teeth
Isaac was 15 yrs older and would be 50 if alive
She came and married Isaac in 1873
Married for 10 yrs before he died 1883
This stash of information about Libby has saved me from many mistakes. She’s a major player in Book 1 of the series, the heroine of Book 2, and again prominent in Book 3. I didn’t write all the details down at once, but as they came up in the story and I worked them out. The guns and ammunition of the various members of the Ladies’ Shooting Club are important to the stories, and I have to make sure each woman is carrying the right weapon. Her backstory and her husband’s age and the years of their marriage also come up more than once, so it’s right here on the card. I don’t have to search the text to find those things. I just open my little wooden treasure box of file cards and reach into the “A” slot for
I also find it helpful to keep one card with a list of all the stagecoach drivers’ names on it and another with the “shotgun messengers.” Then if I need a driver for a stagecoach in a new scene, I can glance down the list and see if one of the drivers I’ve already created can fit that scene.
As I said above, it helps to know you’re writing a series when you start. When I was first published, I had no idea that my very first book, Protecting Amy, would become the first book of a series. My hero, Tom, had friends and family that obliged me by making return appearances in Books 2 and 3.
The same thing happened a couple of years later with
The editor just loathed that. She wanted George to stay in the Navy. She wanted me to build a military suspense series. So I did. Maybe I can use the “mysterious ranch” idea somewhere else, but George had to stay in uniform for two more books. And I hadn’t made cards for
Now I’m in a new situation. I’m writing Book 6 of a series for Guideposts, and Books 1 through 5 have all been written by different authors. That’s right. They contracted six authors to alternate writing books in the same series. Now, that’s a challenge! How do we keep the details straight when we’re writing about recurring characters? Our wonderful editor, Beth Adams, that’s how. She continually updates a series guide online for our group. We also share information directly with each other. I can ask a question like, “Does Jason have any pets?” and I’m only an email away from getting the answer.
I am giving away a copy of my book Always Ready, first in my
Caddie Lyle struggles to live up to the motto of the Coast Guard—and her father’s legacy—as she carries out rescue missions in Alaskan waters. But when she discovers other career opportunities and meets Guardsman Aven Holland, her heart begins to pull her in different directions.
Aven is drawn to Caddie, too, but their duties allow them little time together, and he wonders if a relationship is possible for them. Meanwhile, a commercial fisherman with a grudge against Aven heads for trouble, drawing Aven and Caddie into his web as they try to expose his crime.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than thirty novels, mostly in the historical romance and romantic suspense genres. A