How to Write a Romance Book Series
Penning a first novel can be both a joyous and a painful experience. But for some writers, writing one book isn’t enough. They have plans, great, glorious plans! They want to write a series… but where and how do you begin?
My name is Beth Linton. I’m a romance author, and I have seven novels published in my series so far. In this article, I’ve broken down the creative steps that helped me create The Guardians' Trust series in the hope that my experience might smooth the way for you as you try to get your series started. Below, I run through seven steps that enabled me to organize my ideas and keep myself motivated while writing my series.
Step One: Embrace Your Creativity
I recently wrote an article about how to boost your creativity where I discussed John Cleese’s recent book, Creativity, and how he argues that to be truly creative, you need to give yourself permission to play with ideas without self-criticism or self-doubt.
For those of you unfamiliar with John Cleese, he is a comedy legend in the UK best known for Monty Python, Faulty Towers and A Fish Called Wander. The man is nothing if not a creative genius, so I take his advice seriously.
My first tip? Write every idea down without worrying if it is any good or not. Your analytical, critical brain can wait until the editing process. Be free and have fun as you explore ideas for your series.
Step Two: Planning Your Series
Plotting one book can be challenging, but the intricacy of weaving ideas together through a series can be positively daunting!
A way forward is to work out what kind of thinker you are and go with your strengths.
Kinesthetic thinkers are tactile learners; they are practical. They think best when their hands are occupied and they are moving.
Visual learners need to see ideas before them to fully engage with them. They are spatial in approach and like charts, images, color and so on.
Auditory thinkers work best when ideas are reinforced by sound. Researching via audiobooks and videoclips might appeal. Music to set the mood might also help.
In truth, many of us favor a combination of styles. I’m largely a visual thinker but I also enjoy kinesthetic approaches.
So, what does this look like in practice?
As a visual thinker, rather than just imagine my characters, I Googled model headshots to collect images. Seeing different faces made me imagine different character traits and personalities and my first hero and heroine leaped off the screen at me. While these images are only for my planning and reference, seeing my characters made them three-dimensional to me. There were also two unexpected bonuses from working in this way: firstly, it also gave me a visual way of identifying hair and eye color so I was consistent throughout the series, and secondly, I could send the pictures to my cover artist so they had a clear idea what my characters looked like.
(Collecting images of people and places is a good way of seeking inspiration but it can also be part of the ‘snowball’ technique to creativity. The images collected might not all be employed but you can keep them for another project – that’s how I came up with The Guardians’ Trust series. I was collecting images for another project, and I stumbled across a picture of a waterfall over a circular stone opening. This image sparked the idea for my series – a gateway leading to another realm. I put the idea aside while I worked on my original project but then returned to it.)
Because I also have a little kinesthetic in me, once I had my characters, I then progressed to making charts. I got out the colored pens, scissors, glue, and a pile of A3 paper and made planning sheets.
Good old-fashioned cut and stick might sound pointless given the age of computers we live in but I found this process incredibly useful. Remember John Cleese’s suggestion to play? Creating a physical chart allowed me to handle the collected images of locations and characters and physically place them in a representation of my story. I made an A3 sheet for locations, another for a character overview of the series where I drew connecting lines (like a family tree) onto the chart with notes and key character traits. I also made one for each novel that would form my series.
These charts evolved over time, and I eventually replaced them with a power point version so I could take them with me and alter them easily, but at the start, going through the process of creating physical paper charts allowed my creative brain to play with the half-formed ideas of my series. It was unself-conscious and fun! As creativity should be.
Once created, these charts went on the wall of my creative space. Creative space? To be creative a writer needs to allow themselves two precious things: a space in which to be creative and the time in which to be creative.
Life is busy. Life gets in the way. Set aside a space, no matter how small, and give yourself the time to enter it and ‘play’.
The charts on the wall helped me in three ways. Firstly, they keep me focused and made me smile! I love my characters and my story, and seeing the charts outlining their lives motivated me to write. Secondly, they allowed me to keep track of plot and character developments; the charts are constantly changing over time. Thirdly, they not only allow me to track my central plot and character development but essential character minutia.
You might like to read Character Name Inspiration For Writers | Beth Linton
Step Three: Know Your Ending
This is a big one! If you are writing a series, you need an outline of the whole series. You need the essential ingredients list for your plan, so you know what you are baking. You can tweak the recipe along the way, but the end product must be identified from the start.
For example, I mention above an character A3 sheet above for the characters across the series. On the sheet I identified which characters would be in which book. I identified their relationships, their families, and who’d marry who and in which order. I know how the plot for each novel will end to make it a complete story, and I know what the end of the series will be.
I’m not saying you have to know every twist and every turn, these can, and will, develop as you write, but you must know your ending before you even contemplate publishing.
Step Four: World Building
Once you have your characters and plot, you need to spend some time thinking about the world in which they live. If this is the contemporary place you live in then your world building will largely be automatic, and hopefully accurate. A child character at school in 2022 will have a mobile phone, for example, but a student in 1980 would not.
If you are writing a fantasy, paranormal, science-fiction or historical series, your world building will require much more thought. Rules of the world need to be consistent, as does dress, speech, and a whole host of other areas.
If you’d like to read more about world building, read Paranormal Romance Books: World Building | Beth Linton
Step Five: Writing Without Distraction
After following the stages above, you have your series plot and ending. You have your characters, your world, and you have a loose overview of how each book will drive the story forward to reach the end point.
You’ve been collecting notes, ideas, writing bits of stories as you went – collecting them like a magpie. Now, it’s time to truly dive in.
Put down the phone. Stop seeking distraction. Go to your writing space and write. As Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
You have to put in the graft. Your series isn’t going to write itself!
If you can’t get going, read this article about overcoming writer’s block.
Step Six: Don’t Limit Yourself to Linear Writing
I’m a firm believer in writing what I want, when I want. The first part of The Guardians’ Trust series I wrote was the end of book one. In a series of seventeen, seven are published, one more is signed for, but all of the remaining books are started and lie in various stages of completion. Indeed, I wrote book eight, before I’d finished book seven!
I imagine my non-linear approach will fill many authors, or would be authors, with horror. Surely, you write one book at a time? Surely, you finish writing a book before you go onto the next one? But here’s the problem: when writing a series, your books are interconnected. A plot development in book three might directly affect the character in book eight – so why not write that part of book eight as it occurs to you? You’ll certainly be glad of those draft scenes when it becomes the turn of that book to be written, I promise you.
This divergence of thought is precious. Whatever your imagination wants you to get down, write it. If you put it off, when you turn your attention back to it, you will find that it’s gone - and likely forever!
Step Seven: Don’t Rush to Publication
I’m a traditionally published romance author, but in the #writingcommunity I’ve connected with many #indieauthors as well as those who have taken the traditional route to publication. As with any profession, you get writers with very different approaches and personalities. Some are perfectionists, some are more slap-dash… all want their book published.
Whichever route you plan to pursue, if you are writing a series, don’t rush to publication. In the planning section of this article, I ran through how plot lines in a series are interconnected. As such, once a book is written and published, your plot line is set and you are stuck with it – no revisions, no undoes. That’s it. Therefore, you need to be extremely confident that you have woven in all of your clues, key characters, and the foundations for future twists from book one. Not sure what I mean? Imagine if J. K. Rowling had written Harry Potter without knowing the end and had published book one and two without weaving in key points needed to make the ending work… we’d get to book six and there’d be a ‘by the way, Harry can speak to snakes’ plot chuck-in because she’d realized she’d forgotten to add this key plot point earlier on.
I had the first three books of my series finished before I approached a publisher, and I had the outline for the rest of the series. I felt this was important for two reasons: Firstly, it meant if my series was accepted, I knew my story and how it would progress, and secondly, it showed my publisher that I meant business and they should take a chance on me.
There are some amazing indie authors out there, but there are also many who post about receiving bad reviews because their book had plot holes, or even worse, they realize post publication and post sales that they need to go back and edit the published book because of a mistake. Nobody wants to be that author. Ensure your ideas are polished before you proceed. Readers come back to authors they enjoy, but they are unforgiving of writers who have let them down – and they likely spread the word.
And this final point takes us back to the point of this article. You want to write a series and now you have the tools to do so. There’s one final area I might be able to help you with and that’s How to Get Your Romance Book Published | Beth Linton. When you’re ready, have a look at what I’ve learned on my publishing journey.
Here are a few links to posts that might help you hone your craft: