Monday, November 11, 2013

A Series of Super Heroes

I don’t know about you guys, but every time I sit down to write a book it turns into a series. For the writing world, this is a good thing. It means that readers can continue to live in the imaginary world you created for a little while longer. They can enjoy watching old relationships develop as they discover new ones.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan (or fall into) a series.
Few books (stories) can handle an Avenger-like cast of characters and survive to a part two. The only way it worked was some BIG-time build-up and most of the characters had their own stories first.
Four of the biggest elements of building a series are: Characters, World, Big-view and small-view conflicts, and Organization

Characters really are the driving force for the Avengers. And it’s the element we’re going to talk about today in series development.

First things first: do you have an idea? Julie Lessman’s Boston’s Daughters series revolves around one family as their lives intertwine with others through the turbulent early 1900s. A few of the main themes are things like Godly passions versus worldly ones, honesty versus deception, and the immeasurable value of redemption.

To get to these themes, she has to have characters. And BOY does she!! From book one, all the way through SIX books, she intermingles the main voices of the current book with the lives and stories of the previous books, all the while ‘hinting’ at new stories in the future.

Mary Connealy sets up great series, though very different than the drama in Julie's books. Mary's a filled with adventure, humor, and hilarious male-female banter. And she's great at giving us 'hints' through her secondary characters about which romance might come next.

So how do secondary characters help build a series?
1.       Three-dimensional secondary characters – Most stories involve more than two people, but in most cases, the characters closest to your hero or heroine need to be a lot more than background design. They need to be involved in the story. They can be antagonists, certainly, or the mentor, or the best friend – but they need to be memorable.

Just as you do with your main characters, your most important secondary characters need their own backstories, strengths and weaknesses, voices, and goals (though these will be minor until their own story comes along). With a strong cast of secondary characters, it will be much easier to take one and create the next novel in your series.
2.       Keep the CURRENT story in your sites – In the middle of all the fun with secondary characters, it’s important to maintain your focus on the current story. If your secondary characters start ‘stealing the show’, you might need to reexamine how much you are delving into their story…OR if you’ve picked the right hero/heroine in your current story.

3.       Build anticipation through clues – I love planting clues in my secondary characters lives that hints toward a future novel of their own. For example, in one of my novels I have two secondary characters meet and hints of romantic sparks fire off between them. It’s a great way to build anticipation for their story later on. In another book one of my secondary characters leads another secondary character to Christ – in that moment there is a hint to special connection built between them. Another hint to their story.
4.       Nurture community among the characters – Just like in the Avengers, where relationships are created and grown to support the full story, your cast of characters are there for a REASON. Each one.

First they do exactly as their label implies. As ‘supporting’ characters, they support the main characters and the main story. Secondly, they help build a sense of community for which to grow your series. You learn about your main characters through their interactions with these secondary characters  - the people to trust, thoughts and feelings of the main characters, all couched within the community you’ve built from your full cast of characters.

So – have you decided to write a series? How have you set up your cast of characters to build a sense of community for the long-haul?


Julia M. Reffner said...


I have not written a series. I think I need to grow more as a writer first. But I so agree with what you say makes a series great. I LOVE great secondary characters, especially quirky ones. For some reason the first person that popped to mind is Mary Connealy for creating great quirky secondary characters. A recent favorite is Candace Calvert's work where she includes minor characters (one of whom made me cry) who don't steal the story but have a special storyline of their own.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I think this is a GREAT post. It if fun when secondary characters take on a bigger role than we thought they would. That happened to me in my book and I still mull over ideas for him....because I fell in love with him!

Angie Dicken said...

I have not written a series, but have proposed two series! It is so fun to bring to life more stories in a story world, and what you said here is invaluable in doing this!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Love the advice here, Pepper! I am a series writer. Though, not with the same main characters since I like to have a firm resolution at the end of each story... not that there aren't little threads that tie up in the next books. I love turned my secondary characters into main ones, and discovering who they really are, digging up their stories! Oh, the fun! In one of my to-be-written books, I'm actually going to take one of the female antagonist characters and turn her into a heroine. So excited to see her come into her own and find some redemption. She's got a great story... and like so many of us, we are so much more than what we see on the surface.

Great tips! Especially with layering in clues. I love doing that!

Pepper said...

I really need to read one of Candace's books. I haven't yet. Mary Connealy however...I LOVE! And she does have some fantastic secondary heroes which find their own stories later :-)

Pepper said...

Aren't secondary characters so much fun!! I have an entire family of secondary characters who are waiting for me to write their own stories.
(and your historical is so sigh-worthy)

Pepper said...

Thanks Ang!
Love how your walking by faith in those proposed series :-)

Pepper said...

Your secondary characters are rather dreamy too (aka bug-man).
And those are the kinds of series I write. A 'new' story within a bunch of wonderfully familiar characters