Everyone LOVES a good series. Characters you can root for or loathe. Plotlines that twist and turn. Emotions that run the gamut from sizzling to seething. And, best of all, the promise that there’s more to follow.
I LOVE reading a series. And I LOVE writing a series. I’ve completed several of them: the “Bass family of Texas” and “Dakota” historicals writing as Dana Ransom and “Men of Pride County” post-Civil War series as Rosalyn West, and under my own name, the contemporary romantic suspense “Warrior” series and paranormal vampire series “Touched by Midnight”. And, I’ve just concluded my 15-book “By Moonlight” shapeshifter series with its final book, RISE BY MOONLIGHT.
A great series depends upon several vital points:
- Reader expectation
- Larger than Life characters
- A strong underlying plot thread tying the books together
- Investment in the emotions and struggles of the Heroes and Villains
- Fresh situations and surprises
- Stand-alone plotlines
- Satisfying conclusions along the way
- A BIG emotional payoff
Reader expectation determines audience. Some books/series cross genre lines, increasing that readership, but one fact holds true: Readers like to know what they’re getting when they invest for the long haul. Twist and turns and surprises are expected, but no faithful reader wants to put time and money into a series that loses its way. They’ll follow a path that forks in unexpected directions as long as it doesn’t endlessly wander (or fall off a cliff). And, they want that journey to have a satisfying ending. NOTHING is worse than enjoying the ride without ever reaching the destination. Sometimes, that isn’t the author’s fault if writing for a publisher.
A series can follow a main character or couple, can branch off to include family, generations, friends or even a place or event. Linking those elements to bring the reader smoothly and with anticipation from one to the next is the trick. The first book is the anchor that sets up the world, the players, and the stakes. Strong, intriguing characters are the heart that drives a series. If a reader is devoted in their seemingly impossible struggles, roots for their success, palpates at the hope of them getting together and staying together, and ferociously demands evil be conquered to preserve that happiness, they’ll be in it for the long haul. BIG is the key word. Heroic protagonists that aren’t without flaws, villains who both charm and repulse, obstacles so huge they can’t be conquered in one book. And a storyline that neatly knits all these elements together in an ever growing, ever tightening fabric.
Books in a series are an unapologetic tease, baiting the readers, taunting their hopes, dashing their dreams but never, ever letting go of that promise begun in book one – that good will triumph, that the investment of time and money will be rewarded, and even when the final page is finished . . . after the satisfied sigh, there’s that wish that there would be just one more book . . .
That final book is the payoff, the reward. The reader expects every tease, every hope, every loose end to mesh from main characters to the most minute thread because that one loose thread ravels the whole fabric. When writing that big, overarching series, an author must control and manipulate the storyline, keep track of each unanswered question, resolve every dangling cliffhanger or subtle threat. My “By Moonlight” series was unique in that many of the books featured the same main couple/couples. Ten years ago, the four books following Max and Charlotte’s developing relationship was unheard of in paranormal romance (though popular in urban fantasy). Selling it as a packaged deal cost me my first very lucrative contract offer because the publisher only wanted to invest in the first book before continuing with the rest. But I was selling a World, and found a home where it could come to life the way I envisioned it with a former editor who was eager to help me see it through. The first eight books were released by Pocket Books NY, then like many of my contemporaries, I went the self-pub route for the remaining seven. A decade and 15 books, a history of relationships, dreams and fears all coming together for the last time.
My biggest regret (other than leaving these characters behind!) was not creating a series “Bible” early on to keep track of plots and characters in my ever-expanding world. My earliest books were written on a program my computer no longer supports! So, when the time came to conclude the series, I had to do my homework, searching the pages of twelve paperbacks and two e-only books for those dangling threads, lurking threats, unresolved arguments, and unrealized dreams. I had to make sure blue eyes weren’t suddenly brown and that my timeline didn’t trip over itself. Oh, if only I wasn’t scared witless of Scrivener! A solid character chart was a must when trying to track down your hero’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate! Once I started building, I had a city before I knew it! Hero/Heroine, villains, family members, ages, hair and eye color, what book they were introduced in, and what their major damage was. Plotline threads and issues to be resolved. Was every female in the series pregnant? Had all the bad guys gotten what they had coming? And was the HEA one that would leave the reader with a satisfied sigh?
Two major things held my series together at the end: a solid Character Chart and my loyal cluster of Beta readers who’d been with me since book one. The first was my reference and the second, my extra sets of eyes scanning the pages to make sure all i’s were dotted and every issue was satisfactorily resolved (fingers crossed!). So, when I got that notice that RISE BY MOONLIGHT was loaded, up for Pre-Order, and ready for release on August 3, 2020, I could sit back and say, “It was a hell of a good ride. Thanks for taking it with me!”
(As an extra “Thank You”, follow this link to the Character Chart for the “By Moonlight” series to help you enjoy reading RISE BY MOONLIGHT and the rest of the “By Moonlight” series! https://bit.ly/3fnHuMU)
Nancy Gideon is the award-winning bestseller of over 70 romances ranging from historical, Regency, and series contemporary suspense to dark paranormal and horror, with a couple of produced screenplays and non-fiction writing books tossed into the mix. Newly retired from 20 years as a legal assistant, she feeds a Netflix addiction along with all things fur, fin, and fowl, and dotes on her grandguy. She’s also written under the pseudonyms Dana Ransom, Rosalyn West, and Lauren Giddings.