Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Writing a series: the good and the bad by Cynthia Reese

I'm saying goodbye to the Georgia Monroes. 

When I first dreamed of writing for publication, my inspiration came from authors who wrote a series: a recurring character and her adventures, a series of novels about a family. As a reader, I loved stories like that. 

Wouldn't a series, I thought, be easier than coming up with a new set of characters each and every book? I wouldn't have to create a new town or new back stories ... It would be marvelous!

And then after five books in, I finally sold a series idea, the Georgia Monroes, a rowdy family of firefighters. 

I was pumped! This was going to be easy!

Ha. 

The first thing I realized was that I had more people to keep straight. In absolute frustration one day early on, I had to sit down and draw up a complicated family tree of who was related to whom, which sister was older, which kids belonged with which Monroe. 

I'd always pooh-pooed those family trees at the beginning of those 1980s family sagas. Couldn't the author keep it straight?

Ahem. THIS author couldn't. 

And then, when I thought that was smooth sailing, I realized, shoot, I've got to figure out the layout of the town. My characters in one book couldn't be visiting a different downtown than they would in the next book. The courthouse had to look the same. The fire stations had to be the same. 

After that, though, I thought I was surely finished with all my notes. Until ...

Until I realized that Ma, the gentle and wise matriarch of the Monroes, had a different kitchen in book 1 and book 3. 

Gasp!

I've never re-read my prior manuscripts as closely as I did for this series. 

I hope I got it right. And I admit I have a lot more sympathy now for, say, Rex Stout of the Nero Wolfe detective story fame. Stout inadvertently moved the famous brownstone his fictional detectives lived in at least once, just by changing the house number. 

The worst part about writing a series? I still have it to face. I have to say goodbye. 

I've grown to love this family I created. I thought by now, three books in and one to go, I'd be sick of them. After all, the only way Agatha Christie could keep writing Hercule Poirot stories is that she wrote one where she killed off the famous detective. 

But I'm not at that point -- this family has gotten under my skin, and I love spending time with them -- especially wise Ma, who always has a warm, home-cooked meal at the ready, with a side of sage advice. Oh, yeah, as my sister, one of my beta readers, says, everybody needs a Ma. 

I think writing this last book in the Georgia Monroes series will be hard because it will be bittersweet. After all, it's going to be one long goodbye for me. 

10 comments:

  1. Keeping track of our character’s characteristics, plus the relationships as well as the town can be daunting. I have an excel program for each book where I keep all my data. While working on my present book, it crashed! So now I need to reread everything I wrote on this book and reestablish my characters, their friends and the town. I feel for you ending a series. We really do get involved with our characters.

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  2. I so hear you Cynthia. Most of my books have been single, stand alone, or on occasion I had a secondary character who deserved a book. Now I'm doing 3 books in the same small town. And I'm experiencing those names and places you talk about. I like Marion's idea of a spreadsheet. It beats my sticky notes that get buried on my desk. Looking forward to another of your firefighters. Readers will be sorry to say goodbye, too.

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  3. Good morning, Cynthia. I think the trouble with series is that YOU become a part of the family you create - think about how strong and resilient you've made them (just like a mother forms her children) so they'll be fine without you. Because they'll still exist out there. The hardest part of writing series for me is the having to figure out how to describe them - physically and with all their associations - in every book. Editor is always on me about my "info dumps." If Kindle could just send me out with every book to sit over a reader's shoulder an explain - (frankly, it wouldn't be that many trips!)

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  4. Cynthia, I agree with Muriel, you probably became a part of the Georgia Monroes pouring your heart into them. In sure wiring the last book is bittersweet but know they will remain with readers for years to come.

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  5. I love reading books that are part of a series. When I was a teenager, I had all the Americana books by Janet Dailey. I remember reading about a hero and thinking...wait, he seems really familiar. Then I would look back and discover that he'd been a secondary character in another book (usually the guy that lost the girl to the hero). I loved reading how he finally got his happily ever after. While Janet's books technically weren't part of a series, I still loved finding the connections between characters. That's why I LOVE that there are so many series out there now. Congrats on your series. I can't wait to get to know the Georgia Monroe's. Rowdy firefighting family? I'm sold!

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  6. I admire writers who tackle series. Keeping all of those facts straight that were mentioned in Book 1 and now are revisited in Book 5...yikes! I would need a room full of storyboards. Maybe one day, I'll give it a try.
    I would imagine, it's very difficult to say goodbye..but you'll always have the printed books. :)

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  7. It is hard to say goodbye to characters you've spent so much time with! The first book of my K-9 trilogy releases on October 1st. I I'm fortunate that the three books will release in relatively quick succession (October, January and June), thus it was almost like writing one very long book. Having the edits interspersed with the writing of the next manuscript gave me the opportunity to check for consistency.

    On a related topic, I used to know someone who worked in the film industry, checking continuity. She was responsible for catching even the smallest details that didn't match up between takes (holding a glass of wine with the wrong hand; having more wine in the glass rather than less with no opportunity to have topped it up). I always thought that would be a fun job!

    Best wishes with your release, Cynthia.

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  8. Wow, I guess I never considered all the information you writers have to keep straight in order to continue the stories we love so well. Thanks for giving me more to be grateful for in that my favorite authors do an awesome job of the series they create.

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  9. I wouldn't want to leave the Georgia Monroes either! I've never written a series before though I kind of backed into it with my Irish brothers, the Walshs when I just kept going back to more brothers as heroes without an out an out plan. I haven't ever written a location-based series and I learned a lot from your terrific post :)

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  10. I loved your post. It gave us some valuable lessons and a couple of snickers, too. :-)

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