by Winnie Griggs
As a reader I’ve always loved connected stories. I mean, what can be better than knowing that the characters and storyworld that you’ve just invested so much time and emotion into are going to reappear in more books to come. As an author, however, it never occurred to me to try to pen connected stories myself, until I wrote my 7th book, The Christmas Journey. Both the hero and heroine of that book had siblings who really tugged at me to tell their stories. I ended up writing 2 more novels and one novella in that particular storyworld.
Since then I’ve participated in a three book continuity with two other authors and completed another four book series that I developed myself.
Here are a few insights I picked up along the way.
TYPES OF CONNECTED STORIES
There are lots of different ways to tie together the stories in a series. You can connect them through:
• A single character who is a major player in each book throughout your series. Think of Sherlock Holmes, Stephanie Plum, Miss Marple
• A cast of characters connected by family, where each character is featured in their own book. Think of Karen Witemeyer’s Archer brothers, Mary Connealy’s Kincaid brothers, Tanya Hansen’s Heart’s Crossing series or my own Knotty Pine Series
• A cast of characters connected by occupation or vocation. Examples: The Texas K-9 Unit series from Love Inspired, Cynthia Hickey’s Harvey Girls series, Lenora Worth’s Secret Agent series
• A location or community. Think of Janet Tronstad’s Dry Creek Books, Renee Ryan’s Charity House series or my own Turnabout series
• Theme or trope. Think of Deborah Hale’s Glass Slipper Brides series or series that feature mail order brides or re-imagined fairytales
There are other ways to connect stories, but I think this covers the most common ones.
Now let’s discuss some pros and cons of writing connected series.
• Helps to build a following – readers love connected stories. If you do your job correctly in the first book, you’ll have readers eagerly awaiting the next book in the series
• Helps you write faster because of less worldbuilding – because much of the work of building your story world was taken care of in the first book of the series, subsequent books will merely build on this rather than forcing you to start over from scratch.
• Allows you to play with a larger story arc – with a series of connected books, you can expand themes and story arcs across multiple books rather than confining them to one.
• You get to revisit characters – those characters you’ve invested so much time and emotion in can now live beyond the pages of their own book by making appearances in future books as secondary characters.
• It’s a challenge to set everything up correctly. When you’re planning to do series it is crucial that you set up your story world and its inhabitants in the very first book in a manner that will support all the subsequent books. This can be especially tricky if you don’t have a firm idea of where you want the series to go.
• The challenge of including backstory from prior books – you want readers who pick up a book in the middle of the series to be comfortable in the world you’ve created and at the same time you want readers who have been with you from the beginning not to feel like you’re weighing down the current story with too much repetition of ‘what came before’. It’s a backstory balancing act that you’ll have to learn to deal with.
• It forces you to keep up with minor details from prior books. When you’re working on a series of connected books its important to come up with a good system to keep up with all the little details that may appear from book to book – what is the name of the school’s principle, what street is the library on, is the river east or west of town, what’s the name of that dog that showed up in book 1 – those sorts of things.
• There’s the danger of getting in a rut – writing about the same storyworld with the same cast of characters can sometimes lead to you as a writer getting tired of the whole thing before you reach the conclusion of your series.
• Trouble meeting reader expectations for your vision – readers will form their own expectations of what subsequent books in the series should focus on. They’ll form attachments to secondary characters that you may or may not plan to feature in the future. Or they will try to pair up characters that you have other things in mind for. As the author, you’ll need to be prepared to respond to this sort of feedback.
So, do the pros to writing a series outweigh the cons? That’s a personal question that will be answered differently for each author and each story. But there is no doubt that a series of connected stories, when executed well, are big hits with readers.
Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination. You can connect with Winnie on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author.
Wonderful post, Winnie! I’m trying my hand at a series for the first time and I think your words are right on the money. Thanks!
I experienced a huge learning curve with my Serendipity Texas books–all the things you mentioned above. The biggest surprise for me was the part about secondary characters. I’ve had many readers who want to see certain characters’ stories, and while I love the idea of fleshing out more characters, it’s simply not possible to cover them all.