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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Same But Different

Please welcome guest blogger Deborah Cooke

One of the challenges of writing an ongoing series is keeping each book distinctive, while still delivering to readers’ expectations of the series. Readers want a book that delivers the same balance of elements as previous books in the series, but want it to be fresh and different. The same but different. That’s all! My current release WHISPER KISS is book #5 in my Dragonfire series of paranormal romances (featuring dragon shape shifter heroes), but this isn’t the first linked series I’ve written. It is the first one that I’ve tried to plan the entire series in advance. Here are some of the considerations that I had in doing that planning.

1/ Worldbuilding

Core to the sustainability of a linked series is the quality of the worldbuilding. On one hand, you should be able to summarize the basic conflict of the world in one sentence or phrase. On the other hand, there has to be enough complexity in the world that you can explore different corners of it in each book.

For example, my Dragonfire series could be summarized as the final conflict between the Pyr (my good guy dragon shape shifters) and the Slayers (Pyr gone bad) for domination of the world. The complexity in that world and its development in the present of each book comes from two elements:

a/ The Past

The Pyr have their history, their family lines – the gene passes through the male line, from father to son – their mythology and their memories. Key to a credible world is the detail that indicates it has existed before the opening of the first book in the series. This makes it more dimensional and more real.

In this world, the Pyr have had their ups and downs with the human race over the course of that history: they are pledged to defend humans as one of the treasures of the earth, but there are those Pyr who remember humans hunting dragons for cures in the middle ages. (Care for a dragon skin poultice? If that poultice came from your uncle’s skin, you might not think so well of the apothecary.)

What I’ve particularly enjoyed about writing this series grew out of a deliberate choice on my part – I decided that the Pyr would have had a falling-out with each other, and have scattered. Part of the challenge to the leader of the Pyr is to muster the troops for this last critical. (If you think cats are tough to herd, try dragons.) The hero of the first book, Quinn, wanted nothing to do with the Pyr in general or with Erik – leader of the Pyr – in particular. His explanation of why to the heroine, Sara, introduced the reader to the Pyr’s world as she learned about it.

This scattering of the players also means that they’ve lost or forgotten lore, even about themselves. Dragons are more for shiny things than books and records, so many of their old stories have the gloss of rumour or urban myth. What’s true? Can they figure it out in time? In certain books, that provides a ticking clock to the plot.

b/ The Future

In the past, I’ve written linked series that developed organically, often out of the popularity of one book. In those instances, I wrote the first book without necessarily thinking there’d be continuing characters or more books in the same setting. (I did four linked series at Harlequin Historicals when I wrote as Claire Delacroix there, all of which developed this way.) I’ve also written linked series that had a looser link between them – the stories of three siblings, for example, branded together as a trilogy. (The Ravensmuir and Kinfairlie trilogies by Claire Delacroix would be examples of this style.) What is more typical in this market is a tightly interconnected series, in which each book builds on the story developed in previous titles. The first book is sold with the assumption that there will be others, and may even be sold in as a multiple book deal because of that assumption.

And what you need to make this work is a story arc for the entire series, even before you start out. This arc is similar to the arc within each book, in that it has little climactic points as it progresses (ideally, each book is one of those) gradually leading to one big climax for the series overall. Because my books are romances, each incremental book has an H.E.A. for the protagonists – the last book in the series will also have an H.E.A. for the entire series, in this case for the Pyr as a species. (Good guys vs. bad guys. Guess who wins? It’s an H.E.A., after all!) Each book then takes its incremental place on the arc of the series, moving the story and the reader closer to a final showdown.

For this series, I’ve sketched out a story arc that extends over 13 books. I know when those books are set, who the heroes are, and what they add to the series. This allows me to scatter breadcrumbs in earlier books - introducing new characters or new challenges, leaving questions unanswered – that build tension and will all ultimately weave together.

Sometimes it’s easier to think of a large arc in incremental structural bites – say as successive trilogies. WHISPER KISS, the current release, is the middle book in the second Dragonfire trilogy. This trilogy focuses on the destruction of the Dragon’s Blood Elixir, a nasty substance used by Slayers to create shadow dragons they can control. (Shadow dragons are essentially zombies.) In WINTER KISS, the first book of this trilogy, the hero Delaney destroyed the source of the Elixir. In WHISPER KISS, the hero Niall is hunting down and eliminating the surviving shadow dragons (one of which is his twin brother). And in DARKFIRE KISS, the hero Rafferty hunts the Slayer Magnus, who created the Elixir, to ensure that it can never be made again. The trilogy has an arc of its own, which fits into the overall arc of the series.

Please note that this is a leap of faith, to assume that one will have the chance to write 13 interconnected books in the current publishing climate. I believe, though, that a finite series is more emotionally compelling than an open-ended one. As Julia Cameron writes in the Artist’s Way: “jump and the net will appear”. (And yes, you could help by buying more Dragonfire. LOL!)

2/ Characterization

Once you’ve created the world, which continues to evolve and be explored through each book, you will probably have a basic conflict that occurs in each story. In Dragonfire, because they are romances, each book focuses upon the firestorm of one Pyr – this is a sign that he has met his destined mate, or the woman who can bear his son. Literally sparks fly between the dragon dude and the human woman of choice. Just to keep things entertaining, the heat of the firestorm can be felt by all of the Pyr and Slayers, so it attracts others (like moths to the flame). Slayers, of course, would prefer that there were no more Pyr born, and the easiest way to accomplish this is to kill the mate. This gives each Pyr the formidable challenge of persuading the lady in question that she’s not delusional – about him turning into a dragon or the sparks – that she should have his child, and at the same time, defend her from attack. And yes, I have a lot of fun with this.

But once you have the basic conflict, once you’ve explored it once, how do you deliver the same but different? Well, different people respond to situations differently – it makes sense to vary the characterizations of the protagonists first.

a/ The Hero

The obvious place to start with variation when the series is based on the heroes all being dragon shapeshifters is in the character of the hero. Quinn (KISS OF FIRE) was the self-sufficient loner; Donovan (KISS OF FURY) was the easygoing charmer; Erik (KISS OF FATE) was the conflicted leader who had already blown his firestorm; Delaney (WINTER KISS) was the scarred outcast, determined to die for the cause; Niall (WHISPER KISS) is my overworked conservative dragon on a mission; Rafferty (DARKFIRE KISS – May 2011) is the incurable romantic, who has been waiting centuries to have a firestorm. They’re all different from each other, they each have their own baggage and their own agenda, and that affects the tone of each book.

b/ The Heroine

Of course, if the hero is going to have different characterizations, it makes sense that a different kind of heroine would light the spark for each of them. Sara (KISS OF FIRE) was an accountant and a skeptic, making a new life for herself after the loss of her family; Alex (KISS OF FURY) was the driven scientist, attacked by Slayers and terrified of dragons; Eileen (KISS OF FATE) was an academic, a collector of urban myths thrown unexpectedly into an action plot; Ginger (WINTER KISS) was the spirited organic farmer, intent on making her own luck; Rox (WHISPER KISS) is an outspoken rebel of a tattoo artist, crazy for dragons and unafraid to tell Niall what she really thinks; Melissa (DARKFIRE KISS) is a journalist, trying to restart her life after a battle with cancer.

Each of these heroines not only challenge the hero, pushing him along his personal character arc, but each heroine brings something to the world of the Pyr. Key to the resolution of the romance in each book is the notion of partnership, of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. The heroes are all dragon shapeshifters, but how does the heroine change their world, pushing the Pyr closer to their collective H.E.A. For example, Rox, the heroine of WHISPER KISS, is very interested in social justice, so she challenges Niall and the Pyr to make more of a difference in the human world. Why just defend humans? Why not help them? This kind of engagement adds another dimension to the evolution of the fictional world.

When a series extends beyond six books, I think the author needs another way to mix it up to keep things fresh, even beyond following the map of the whole series. The overall arc has to include some surprises and setbacks for the continuing characters to increase the tension – we can talk about the mechanics of that in the spring, because DARKFIRE KISS (May 2011) is where those elements come into play in Dragonfire.

Deborah Cooke has always been fascinated with dragons, although she has never understood why they have to be the bad guys. She has an honours degree in history, with a focus on medieval studies. She is an avid reader of medieval vernacular literature, fairy tales and fantasy novels, and has written over forty romance novels and novellas. She has also been published under the name Claire Cross and continues to be published as Claire Delacroix. In October and November 2009, Deborah was the writer in residence for the Toronto Public Library, the first time that the library has hosted a residency focussed on the romance genre.

Deborah has two websites (http://www.deborahcooke.com and http://www.delacroix.net ) and posts regularly to her blog, Alive & Knitting at http://www.delacroix.net/blog Her current release is WHISPER KISS, book #5 in the Dragonfire series – read an excerpt here (http://www.deborahcooke.com/whisper.html ) and check for reviews here (http://www.delacroix.net/wordpress/?cat=10 ).

Whisper Kiss

One man's mission ignites one woman's fire...

Niall Talbot has volunteered to hunt down and destroy all the remaining shadow dragons - who were weakened by the destruction of the Dragon's Blood Elixir - before they can wreak more havoc. Among them is his dead twin brother, making Niall's mission not only dangerous but personal.

Tattoo artist Rox believes the world is a canvas to be made more beautiful. An unconventional spirit who isn't afraid of anything, she doesn't even flinch when a shape-shifting dragon warrior suddenly appears on her doorstep. And as a woman who follows her heart in matters of passion, she makes the perfect mate for a firestorm with Niall...


The Reading Frenzy said...

Well, I don't know how you do what you do, I'm just glad that you do it. I'm off to buy Whisper Kiss after work on my way home. Oh and about the RWA, on Christina Dodd's FB page she mentioned an arrest, must have been hot in more ways than one. ;-)

Your fan

Anonymous said...

Pay somebody back in his own coin...................................................................