Leanna Renee Hieber is the author of the bestselling Strangely Beautiful series, which starts with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and continues with The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. Strangely Beautiful won two Prism Awards in 2010, one for Best Fantasy and the other for Best First Book. Today, her novella, A Christmas Carroll–which is part of the Strangely Beautiful story–released as part of A Midwinter Fantasy, a collection where she appears alongside L. J. Mcdonald and Helen Scott Taylor.
Leanna is also very humble and friendly, so don’t be shy. She will be joining us later this afternoon!
The Care and Feeding of Series Characters
I’m thrilled to be here on Writer Wednesday talking about one of my favourite topics; series books. I get the chance to expand on a topic I first broached on the Futuristic / Fantasy / Paranormal RWA blog. Here I’ll expand my thoughts a bit and also speak about a few core differences between writing for adult and YA markets, as I write both; the Strangely Beautiful series and the upcoming Magic Most Foul series, both sagas are Victorian Gothic Fantasy with Paranormal, Horror and Romance elements.
Fantasy authors are no strangers to series books. It’s the core of what most of us do. Readers thrill at the tying up of loose ends. Still, it can be daunting to write the next book in a series, especially if it’s your second book, you’re still getting the hang of writing books, selling them, marketing them, organizing your life as a new author, and suddenly you’ve got reader expectations on you and the series. And especially, if you’re like me; a certifiable non-linear mess of a haphazard process and a “pantser” through and through, you need to check yourself. There seem to be a few core tenets that, when observed, generally keep an author in the clear:
– Give them something new: So your characters may not be new, but their situations will be, and for those picking up the second book without having read the first, character information through action will fill everyone in. The beautiful thing about a series is that you present world-building as you go, revealing it layer by layer like the opening petals of a flower. Both your world-building and your characters should experience this type of enrichment and a slew of ‘new goodies’ offered to the reader. This doesn’t mean re-inventing your own wheel, often it means just staying true to this following tenet:
– No, really, tie up your loose ends: If there’s something that was alluded to or foreshadowed, make good on it. Think about this on an emotional level with your characters in addition to all aspects of your world-building. A lot of times loose ends may involve your secondary characters, try not to leave them hanging. (For example, people were freaking out to me about my secondary characters Headmistress Thompson and Vicar Carroll. I fully intended to address them in the second book and did, and Dorchester has given me the opportunity to present their own novella in A Midwinter Fantasy, releasing October.) Even if its something small, honour all the many seeds you have planted, water them and make them grow. Re-read your own work as many times (and take notes) as you have to in order to make sure you’re following through on your promises. It’s the small loose ends that often get forgotten in favour of the larger loose ends but as a reader yourself, you likely don’t like any kind of loose ends either.
– Stay true to your characters. Make sure your characters read like the same people, only different for having gone through their respective journeys. Character development is one of the most important parts of our work, because in the end, if someone doesn’t like our world-building, they’ll often forgive it if they care about the characters. Characters are the vehicle in which we experience the book. Staying true to your characters may mean making a hard choice. I took a risk in making my hero at times very difficult to deal with in the sequel, and some people let me know they loved it, some that they didn’t, but I maintain that choice is true to his character, and we’ll see that change too as the series progresses. Stay true to your creations, and let them grow and change in the ways that’s right and justified for them to do so.
– Don’t break your conventions. This is a cardinal rule. Conventions are a covenant you have with the reader. If your magic works a certain way, if a character’s powers have certain strengths and weaknesses, make sure you stay true to the properties as they have been established. Sometimes in a sequel you’ll be revisiting something you’re a little “rusty” on, so just make sure it remains clear and consistent and if it needs to change, that’s fine, but offer a satisfactory reason why it changes if it does so.
– Clever revisiting. You’ll need to remind the reader where they are in the series and possibly introduce new readers mid-way through your series. Find fresh ways to re-introduce your world-building. Whether this is through a new character’s point of view, or addressing a change to the ‘status quo’ of your world, shy away from info-dumping but do offer readers a touchstone to your characters, their past and the world in which they operate. Information through action is the best way to discover new or revisit old information.
– Have fun. Because it makes your writing better. If you’re not having fun, no one is.
Having finished drafting The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, (Strangely Beautiful #3) earlier this year, which is a prequel, I can assure you all of these things are even more important if you’re writing one of those!
A few differences between adult and YA series characters:
The obvious: age and life experience of the characters. You don’t have to populate your YA world only with teens, but the reason my Strangely Beautiful series ended up as adult rather than YA is that Miss Percy was the only real YA character in a world of very adult situations, so it skewed adult, while it’s still rated PG-13. In order to keep a book/series YA, there does have to be a teen/Young Adult peer group for it to sell to a YA market.
To keep in mind: age range of your readers and how long will you have them? Young readers ‘graduate’ with books, so keep in mind if your characters are high-schoolers, will you have those readers when they, the readers, go to college? Can you sustain that readership going with you? Provided the characters grow and remain compelling, perhaps. We have evidence of this in series books, but the series cannot grow up indefinitely (We don’t watch Harry grow up past his teen years – save for that Deathly Hallows epilogue). Also remember, avid readers skew younger, i.e. a book targeted for 16 year old will be read by likely 12 to 13 and up. But this does not mean talk down to your readers. Just be aware.
Harness the power of the coming of age story. It’s one of the most important aspects of why YA fiction is read by young adults and adults alike; the very relatable journey that is ‘coming of age’. There is a breadth of change and conflict in ‘coming of age’. Change and conflict being the key driving forces of good drama and storytelling in all mediums, tap into this beautifully precarious point of raw power for all your characters, don’t shy away from it. We learn the most about each of our characters as how they each, differently, approach this journey. And we, the readers, always learn something of ourselves too.
I hope you’ll check out the latest in the Strangely Beautiful series, freshly released! “A Christmas Carroll” featured in A Midwinter Fantasy! Please stay tuned for my upcoming MAGIC MOST FOUL series, a Gaslight Gothic Fantasy series set in 1880 New York City with a heroine who suffers from Selective Mutism and a hero trapped in a painting. Supernatural mayhem ensues. (November 2011 from Sourcebooks Fire) You can keep abreast at:
- Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/lrhfbfan
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/leannarenee
- Blog: http://www.leannareneebooks.blogspot.com
- And online at http://www.leannareneehieber.com
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