by Barbara Kyle
Readers love book series. No
wonder. We get to know the continuing characters so well, we’re eager to find
out what happens to them in the next book. For the author, though, the terrain
of a series can be a minefield.
My Thornleigh Saga is a series of
seven historical novels that follow three generations of an English family over
sixty-five years (1517 to 1582), so in writing them I would sometimes
forget things that happened to characters in the previous books set years before.
example, in Book One the hero, Richard Thornleigh, loses an eye, but in writing
the next book I would start to write things like, “Richard’s eyes were drawn to
. . .” Yikes.
The solution? I created a series “bible”
that recorded important facts like characters’ ages, marriages, children, and
physical details like color of hair and eyes – and missing body parts!
Here are three more things I
learned in writing a series.
1 Every Book Must Stand Alone
An author can’t assume that
readers have read the previous books in the series. So each book must give
some backstory about what’s happened to the main characters in the preceding
books, but not so much that it bores readers who have read them all.
Getting the balance right is tricky.
TV writers are lucky. An episode will often start with a helpful recap: “Previously on The Crown
…” I wish a
plummy-voiced British announcer could give a recap at the beginning of my Thornleigh books!
2 Let Characters Age
It’s hard for readers to believe that a hero fights off bad guys like a young stud if, over the decades-long
timeline of the series, he’s become a senior citizen. Author J. K. Rowling was
smart. She let Harry Potter and his friends grow up.
I enjoyed letting my characters age slowly throughout the Thornleigh Saga series. The seven books take the main
character, Honor Larke, from precocious seven-year-old child in Book One, The Queen’s Lady, to
astute seventy-year-old grande dame as Lady Thornleigh in Book Seven.
Likewise, her stepson Adam Thornleigh
is a young seafaring adventurer in Book 3 but by Book 6 he’s a mature man, a
loyal champion of his friend Queen Elizabeth I. He’s been through a loveless
marriage, adores his two children, and falls hard for the latter book’s appealing
main character, Scottish ship salvager Fenella Doorn. (Pic: Christian Bale, my fantasy casting as Adam!)
3 Embrace Cliff-Hanger Endings
Each book in a series must be a
stand-alone story, with an inciting incident, escalating conflict, turning
points, and a satisfying climax.
But if, after the climax, the author can end
each book by opening up a new, burning question for the characters, it sets up
the conflict that will be tackled in the next book. Readers then eagerly look
forward to that next story.
For any author, writing a series can
be a joy, forging an enduring relationship with readers – just as long as, when
creating one-eyed heroes, that “bible” is kept handy!
Do you have a favorite book series?
Barbara Kyle is the author of the bestselling
Thornleigh Saga series of historical novels and of
acclaimed thrillers. Her latest novel of suspense is The Man from Spirit Creek. Over half a million
copies of her books have been sold. Barbara has taught
hundreds of writers in her online Masterclasses and many have become
award-winning authors. Visit Barbara at https://www.barbarakyle.com/