The Write Way Café welcomes Skye Taylor, author of Healing a Hero, book 4 in the Camerons of Tide's Way series. She shares her thoughts on writing a series.
Since my publisher just released book #4 in The Camerons of Tide’s Way series, I was asked to talk about how to write a series. I admit right up front here, I kind of fell into it, and I’ve been learning as I go. My first published book was a mainstream novel set against the backdrop of a presidential campaign and, as were all my other stories, had been written as a stand alone book. Like many new authors, I was trying to find my feet, so to speak, in an industry that was even then, on the brink of big changes. I tried my hand at historical, time travel, contemporary romance, and women’s fiction, too. The Candidate has elicited queries about whether I’m going to write a sequel, but so far, that isn’t even on the horizon. Partly because of what happened when I sold my second book.
Traditional publishers invest a lot in their authors, and they like some assurance that a new author won’t turn out to be a one-book-wonder. So they often look for a series for a couple reasons. One: if that first book is wildly successful, they will be able to fulfill readers’ desire for more right away. And two: with the advent of books sold on line in any format, the more titles accredited to an author, the more easily they will get noticed. My new editor specifically suggested submitting my contemporary romance manuscript as one of a series when I queried her. I’d written the book with no thought about it being a series, but eager to please, I sat back and considered how I might make that happen.
Some of my favorite series involve recurring characters. Their writers have created a hero or heroine that appears in all the books, grows throughout and never fails to keep the readers engaged. These characters need to be complex with identifiable goals, believable strengths and flaws, with lives and careers that the reader can keep coming back to, always ready to cheer the hero or heroine on once again. I love heroes like Mitch Rapp and Jack Reacher. Very different men, with very different backgrounds and agendas. Both are smart, interesting and capable of violence in defense against evil men and bad intentions. And there always seems to be some new facet of their character or history to be found in each new book. Then there are characters like Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter with a messed up personal life in a series that captivates with humor and mystery. My latest love is C. Hope Clark’s Edisto series featuring Callie Jean Morgan a woman with a past when she comes to Edisto to heal and each new story reveals new facets of this woman along with a spine-tingling mystery and a personal life you can relate to and enjoy.
But writing a romance series is different. Romance readers want to get drawn into a new love story in every book and they want the happy-ever-after ending when all the conflicts keeping the heroine and hero apart have been resolved. So, while the main characters in one book might appear in later books in the series, each book needs its own hero and heroine and a new set of conflicts to overcome, and it’s something else that ties these stories together. That something else can be a small town setting, a large and connected family, a way of life, a specific time and place in history, settings that showcase our native America heritage or life in the military. It can even be a fantasy world the author creates. But there is always a thread that holds them together. Very often the setting becomes a character in itself and it is important to develop that setting character just as much as the hero and heroine and their various side-kicks.
In that contemporary romance I had pitched, the hero just happened to be one of a large family that lived and thrived in a small, fictional, coastal town in North Carolina between the Marine base, Camp Lejeune and the bustling little river city of Wilmington. Since my editor had asked for a series . . . my answer was to make the town of Tide’s Way one of my characters, and the boisterous Cameron family presented me with quite a few heroes and heroines to write about. Also tying this series together is the overarching theme of patriotism and service to others that was so much a part of the Cameron family ethos.
In writing my series, one thing I found absolutely a must is what some of my fellow writers call the Series Bible. Mine is about ten pages long kept in a slim folder in plastic sleeves that can be updated as needed. My main characters are listed along with secondary characters in each book, their relationships to one another, physical descriptions, friends, jobs, mannerisms, family information and hobbies. Then, because Tide’s Way is the setting throughout (except for some scenes necessarily set at Camp Lejeune) I needed my town to be consistent. Where were the local hangouts? Who is the sheriff, and the librarian, the mayor and the car mechanic, the lady who owns the antique store and the bartender at the beach? It wouldn’t do for my mayor, for instance, to appear in one book with silver at his temples and be the youngest mayor in the town’s history in the next. Then there is the town itself. I actually drew a map of my fictional town with street names, churches, shops, landmarks and homes, the beach and the roads to Wilmington and Lejeune. My editor unknowingly gave me another landmark when she created a logo for the series that featured an anchor. I immediately incorporated the anchor into my stories and I gave it a place and a history.
Because all my books, this series as well as single titles, are character driven, I have always created a detailed backstory for all my main characters before I start writing the book itself. As this series unfolded, I’ve been surprised on occasion to learn something new about a character I thought I knew very well, but for the most part my comprehensive backstory that ties everyone together helps to keep the series consistent. Knowing your characters inside and out is important when writing any book, but it’s especially important when you’re writing a series and the characters are going to appear and interact with others in more than just one book. If you have a crabby cook of few words and the waitress is a friendly chatterbox that is going to set a tone for life in the local diner throughout the series just as much as a deputy with a big ego who likes to throw his weight around will impact run-ins with local law enforcement. And having characters like this make the setting come alive. The reader will feel like they know this place, as if they might have been there before. Or else they would love to come for a visit. This adds color and depth to the series. The scent of the sea and the sound of the waves on the beach are as defining in Clark’s Edisto series as the clandestine world of espionage and violence in Mitch Rapp’s life as created by Vince Flynn. The conventional wisdom is to write what you know, and that intimate knowledge can help an author to develop the detailed background that makes a series feel and sound authentic to the reader. It creates a place where readers will be eager to return, whether it is to reconnect with favorite characters and the world they inhabit, or a to a town where all the citizens come to life so much you feel like you’ve been invited in for a cup of coffee.
The one thing that a successful series is not, at least in my opinion, is a soap opera. Those addicted to tuning in every day at the same time to watch the endless drama unfold for the characters they’ve come to know, love or hate, don’t expect to have the story resolved. Sure, folks get married, have babies, cheat on their spouses, get in trouble financially, get sick and even die, but the saga is ongoing. A book series is different because each book needs to have an ending. The reader needs to sigh with satisfaction when they turn the last page. Mitch Rapp or Jack Reacher or Stephanie Plum will return again, and they will face a whole new set of problems, but at the end of each book, the reader wants Plum to find the bad guy and bring him in. They want Mitch Rapp to thwart the evil plans of our country’s enemies and Reacher needs to put his toothbrush back in his pocket and get on a bus to somewhere new. In a series of westerns, or romance, or sci-fi or fantasy, the current personal conflicts need to be satisfied. The hero needs to saddle up and ride off into the sunset. The Space Ship needs to be saved from destruction. And a romance needs a happy-ever-after. Once upon a time, a TV series concluded every episode with a satisfying result, but in recent years, they’ve added ongoing drama to make sure viewers tune in again next week. But a well-written book, even one in a series doesn’t need to leave the reader hanging. If a reader has a great experience, they’ll come back. Again and again.
I’ve got a lot of ideas for books that aren’t in my current series, but it’s been fun spending time with the Camerons in their seaside town of Tide’s Way. There are two free short stories set in Tide’s Way available on Amazon and B&N (Loving Ben and Mike’s Wager) and another short story you can read by visiting my website: www.Skye-writer.com (Saving Just One.) And you just never know who else from Tide’s Way will end up in a book of their own some day.
HEALING A HERO, book 4 in the series was just released and is available at:
Amazon Barnes & Noble
The first three books of the series are all on sale until the end of August on all platforms: FALLING FOR ZOE (99 cents) LOVING MEG ($2.99) and TRUSTING WILL ($3.99)
Skye Taylor lives in the oldest city in America where she soaks up the history, takes daily walks along one of the prettiest beaches in St Augustine, posts a weekly blog, volunteers with the USO and writes novels. She is currently working on a paranormal partially set during WWI. She's a member of Romance Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Florida Writers Association, and Ancient City Romance Authors. Her list of published novels include: The Candidate, Falling for Zoe, Loving Meg, Trusting Will and Healing a Hero.