Series are a popular way for indie fiction authors to engage and retain readers. In self-publishing, a successful series will create a story arc that keeps readers coming back for more. As a Christian author, you can develop complex relationships, plotlines, and characters over several different stories. Your readers become more deeply invested in the world you’ve created. The familiarity of your series makes marketing easier because readers are watching for the next book in your series. However, there are some ups and downs to watch out for as you develop your series.
A Few of the Ups
Worldbuilding is easier with a series. In my writing, I create character profiles, a map of the small town about which I’m writing, and a floor plan of the appropriate building. It’s hard work. In a series, you can do a majority of this work once and update it as needed. Unfortunately, for standalone books, you must start from scratch for each book.
During the worldbuilding phase of my plotting, I follow Susan May Warren’s advice to create relatable characters. My character profiles detail physical traits as well as secrets, flaws, fears, life goals, and obstacles to achieving their goals. Interviewing the POV characters helps me create the darkest moment in that person’s life, which compels them in everyday living, though the character may never mention it during the story. I also ask the characters about their happiest moment and, since my current series is romantic suspense, the one love of their life who got away. Doing my character sketches like an interview helps me dig deeper into the character’s psyche. Emotions and the character’s reaction are important to their psyche. They provide information about the character’s mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Diving into your character’s past also provides opportunities to trigger bad or good behavior.
These details add a unique flavor to the series and make each story more believable and immersive.
You can create a comprehensive character arc in a series. If you plot out the basics of the entire series prior to writing the first book, you can pre-plan the character arc over the long-term. Rather than taking a character from one psychological or spiritual place to another in one novel, you can expand their arc over several books, providing opportunities to create more complex characters. Readers enjoy watching the characters grow and develop over time. It gives them a sense of cohesion and satisfaction at the end of each book and at the end of the series.
Let’s take the TV show “Castle” as an example. At the beginning of the series, Kate didn’t want Richard around, but she tolerated him. During the series, their relationship ebbed and flowed, but there was always the tension of their physical attraction and how well they worked together. We wanted to know if they’d ever get together. At the end of the series eight years later, Kate and Richard were married. The last two and a half minutes of the last episode showed them enjoying their children—their happily ever after. The complete character arc took eight years.
Your characters’ behavior becomes intuitive in a series. It’s like getting to know your spouse. After a while, you understand them so well you anticipate how they’ll react to any situation, whether negatively or positively. You know what they’ll say and how they’ll say it. You might be able to mimic their voice or their signature. The same thing occurs with your characters in a series. You’re as acquainted with them as with your spouse.
Some of the Downs
Familiarity can breed laziness. Christian authors need to constantly infuse creativity into their self-publishing writing. As in a long-term marriage, it’s possible to take characters in a series for granted. You risk failing to put out the creative effort to give your protagonist new skills to conquer or a different kind of obstacle to hurdle. If they always react the same way to every situation, subsequent books in the series can become stale. I’ve read series by famous authors where I know what’s coming next by looking at what percentage of the book I’ve read. It makes me less likely to finish a series.
Authors can get too attached to their characters. I write mystery and suspense books. To keep a series like that interesting, each book must put the protagonist through traumatic events. In real life, any of these events could impose a long-term negative influence on the person’s emotions. For me, it made me regret putting my protagonist through these things, but they are the kinds of conflict that are necessary in good mystery and suspense storytelling. In my first three series, I realized that I could only make my protagonist suffer for three books before I felt too guilty to continue the series. I almost stopped writing because of it, but I’ve solved the problem in my Peach Blossom Romantic Suspense series. I’ve made the fictional town of Peach Blossom the cohesive element, not the same protagonist in each novel.
The books have the same core cast of characters, but the co-protagonists are different in each book. The trope of second chance love remains the same. At this time, two books in the series are published, one is in progress, and the idea for the fourth is forming. I have no guilt for hitting one character with more heartaches than a real person could deal with.
To make the series work, the protagonists of one book become minor characters in the next book, giving them an opportunity to recover from the ordeal I put them through. The strengths that the character gained by what they went through can help the protagonists in the next book. For example, the female co-protagonist in book 1, Into the Fog, trained with the Army Rangers and served in Afghanistan. Naturally, she used her fighting skills in her ordeal. In the second book, From Chaos, she has trained other women in her small farming community how to use those same skills. The female protagonist in From Chaos uses the fighting skills she learned to overcome her ordeal.
I’ve discovered that the strength of creativity in my approach with my current series has bred another common problem with series: restrictions.
The restrictions of the series can hamper creativity. Series contain restrictions in time, character arc, and setting. This can leave less room for spontaneity in the creative process. My books in the Peach Blossom Romantic Suspense series must take place in a small farming community named Peach Blossom, with quick trips away.
Like most indie authors, I’m sure I’ll find a way to overcome the limitations I set for myself.
About the Author
Karen Randau is a multi-published, award-winning, and chart-topping author of four fast-paced mystery and suspense series. The most recent eight of her thirteen books are self-published. She lives in the majestic mountains of Arizona and enjoys baking, hiking, and hanging out with her grandson. The first book in her Peach Blossom Romantic Suspense Series, Into the Fog, is a finalist in 2023 Selah Christian book awards in the romantic suspense category.