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Thinking Ahead

There are times when I pitch a series of connected books to one of my editors. I know going in the plot arc for each book, the characters who will be the hero and heroine in each, and the overriding issues that will be left open from book to book and tied up in that last book in the series.

too far goneThen there are those times I write a book or think about a book or two with connected characters but the series idea comes later. Like, after I’m already writing and when I have not really thought it all through. I call this “how I usually end up doing this writing-a-series thing” and you should learn from my mistakes.

For example, I have a book coming out in series called the Hanover Brothers. I pitched the series with an idea that went something like this: The Hanover brothers inherited some bad behavior from their con artist father. Now three strong women will make honest men out of them.

My upcoming release, TOO FAR GONE, is book #4 in this series. Do you see what happened there? Three sons…four books. Yeah, somewhere around writing page 40 of book #1 in this series I decided an older unknown brother lurked out there.

This situation isn’t unusual for me. A lot of times I’m writing along and a best friend or a cousin or a brother will pop onto the page. I’m not the only one to do this right?

If this sort of thing sounds familiar, you might want to start thinking about these handy tips as you start a book:

  1. If there is a best friend, brother/sister, cousin, missing heir or just some dude who’s lingering around in your head and on the page for no real reason, you have the potential for a follow-up book. And what does a follow-up book mean? You have the potential for a series of connected books. So, think about potential backstories, secrets, love interests and ways to move these people into the story (and possibly into their own stories in the future) and DO IT NOW. If you wait you’ll have a mess, so start the planning as soon as these folks appear. If they are in your head and playing a role, they mean something to you.
  2. Name these characters wisely. That best friend you name Waldo today could be a hero tomorrow and, really, your heroine will hate you if she has to whisper sweet nothings to Waldo Schlemeck. Trust me. [Note: I apologize to anyone out there named Waldo Schlemeck for using your name as an example]
  3. Just because you think a character is an awful villain does not mean he can’t be redeemed and made into hero material. I guarantee you. Readers are amazing and they can get attached to people – even seemingly bad people – and being open to that character for the future is not a bad idea.
  4. The exception to #3 above – sometimes a character is actually dead. I once had an exchange with a lovely reader about the villain in one of my Harlequin Intrigues. The conversation went like this:

Reader: I think he would be a great hero in a future book.

Me: But he was the villain.

Reader: I know but there was something compelling about him.

Me: But he died in that book.

Reader: I know it looked that way, but are you sure?

My character really was dead, but the reader had a point. The possibilities are endless. As a reader, I love connected books. There is something comforting about loving a character and his or her friends and relatives, and then thinking about those secondary characters finding a happy ending as well.

So, think ahead, plan smart and name those characters with an eye toward seeing them again in another book.

helenkayHelenKay Dimon is a former divorce attorney turned full-time romance author. Odd transition, right? She has sold over thirty novels, novellas and shorts to numerous publishers, including Kensington, Harlequin and Penguin, Samhain, Carina Press, and HarperCollins.

Her nationally bestselling and award-winning books have been showcased in numerous venues and her books have twice been named “Red-Hot Reads” and excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine. But the best part of the job is never having to wear pantyhose.

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