As I mentioned last fall in my blog post on FF&P, 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. I talked in that post about ways to distinguish those first books in a linked series from each other – with worldbuilding, the revelation of the history of the world, the future of the world, overall characterization as well as the characterization of the hero and heroine.
I personally dislike books in a series in which the parameters of the world don’t change – I like the series to take place over time, and to reflect the resolution of a greater conflict. Around about book #6 in a linked series is time to shake it up, in my opinion. And that’s certainly what’s happening in DARKFIRE KISS, Dragonfire #6, released this month.
So, what did I do?
Well, let’s talk first about about the series itself for those of you who haven’t read it. Dragonfire features a group of dragon shape shifting heroes. The Pyr, as they call themselves, are the custodians of the earth and the guardians of the four elements. The Pyr are virtually all men – the gene is dominant in the male line – and there is only one female dragon shifter at any given time. Since the Middle Ages – when they were hunted nearly to extinction – the Pyr have lived secretly amidst human society. These books are paranormal romances, so each book features one dragon shape shifter hero. Their mating process is called a firestorm – quite literally, sparks fly between the dragon shifter hero and his human mate. They are both driven by the lust fueled by the firestorm to consummate their relationship and conceive a son. The firestorm is all about biology, but each Pyr tends to learn that it takes more than sex to make a relationship – these are romances after all! The firestorm’s heat can also be felt by all of the dragon shifters, good and bad, so the bad ones come to interfere. The most vulnerable link is the human mate, and the easiest way to ensure that there are no more good dragon shifters is to eliminate the heroine. This means that each hero needs to tell the heroine the truth, seduce her and defend her simultaneously from attack. (I have a lot of fun writing these books.)
One of the issues with DARKFIRE KISS is the characterization of the hero. Rafferty is a continuing character in this series. He’s wise. He’s positive. He’s idealistic and romantic. He always plays for the dragon shape shifter team, yet he always yearns to meet his own destined mate. Virtually every reader letter I get is about Rafferty and his firestorm – as in “when is he going to get his?!” – and when I sat down to write his book, I knew I had a problem.
It was completely implausible that any human woman, fictional or otherwise, would be able to resist Rafferty. They’d be crazy in love by page ten and the book would be over in twenty pages. I couldn’t believe that any woman could resist Rafferty any longer than that.
So, I needed somehow to make Rafferty think twice about securing the romantic relationship he’d always dreamed of having – one that would make him question everything he believes in.
I don’t want to fill this post with spoilers, but the solution was to create an interior conflict for Rafferty. We know that he is completely loyal to the Pyr. We also know that he is an utter romantic, who will do whatever is necessary to win the heart of his destined mate. How could I make that mate be the worst thing that ever happened to the Pyr?
Well, first off, I made Melissa a journalist, with a camera and a blog. Guess what she sees? Guess what she photographs? Guess what she posts on her blog? All of a sudden, the dragon shifters who have been hidden from humans for a thousand years are revealed – by Rafferty’s mate!
Worse, it turns out there’s a prophecy. (There’s always a prophecy in a Dragonfire novel.) That prophecy is about “darkfire”, a strange light sparked by a firestorm and one that is destined to turn everything upside down and inside out until it’s extinguished – and darkfire isn’t extinguished very easily. Rafferty can’t just walk away – he has to go back to Melissa and consummate the firestorm, even knowing that will create his son. And that he can’t envision a future with the mother of his son, which means his son will not grow up as Rafferty always envisioned.
In the course of this book, darkfire makes Rafferty question whether his mate is really the right woman for him. It makes him question what he believes about the role of the Pyr in human society. It makes him doubt the possibilities – and it makes him choose, between his kind and their history, and his mate and the future. I love this kind of interior conflict. A hero’s ability to resolve it really shows his stuff – and it’s no spoiler that we already know Rafferty has the right stuff.
This twist is a very powerful element for Rafferty’s story, but it also changes the rules for subsequent stories. It opens many many cans of worms, a number of which I intend to explore in subsequent books. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, let’s focus on only this one twist: the dragon shifters who have lived secretly amongst humans for a thousand years are finally revealed and documented – how will that change their role? How will they continue to fulfill their role as guardians of the elements and custodians of the earth? How will they live in human society? Will they all be known, or just some of them? There certainly will be dissent amongst the shifters – because you have to imagine that dragons have differing points of view, then express them eloquently and with heat – and that different individuals will make different choices.
The fact that the Pyr are revealed means that humans know about them. No longer will the hero of each book need to explain to the heroine what is going on and what he is. This will change the storytelling, allowing me to leap right into other conflicts. But more than that – there may be dragon stalkers, or fan girls, or women who really really want to be the mate of a dragon shape shifter. How fun is that complication?
There are lots of other twists that fall out of the darkfire and its prophecy, but you can probably already see how the twist refreshes the story line. I have a whole pocket full of new story ideas and conflicts, enough to take me through another six books at least. (And you can read DARKFIRE KISS to catch a glimpse of the other challenges to the world of Dragonfire.)
So, when you think the books in a series are becoming similar in conflict and tone, I urge you to think about mixing it up and changing the rules. Undermine the pins of your worldbuilding and see where that takes you. You might find some very interesting story ideas!
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 three websites (http://www.deborahcooke.com for Dragonfire, http://www.thedragondiaries.com for The Dragon Diaries YA series and http://www.delacroix.net for Claire Delacroix work) and posts regularly to her blog, Alive & Knitting at http://www.delacroix.net/blog Her current release is DARKFIRE KISS, book #6 in the Dragonfire series, and June will see the release of her first YA, FLYING BLIND.
Rafferty Powell has exchanged challenge coins with his arch-nemesis Magnus Montmorency, and their next battle will be their last. But Rafferty never expected to meet a woman whose desire for Magnus’ downfall matches his own—and whose presence sparks Rafferty’s long-awaited firestorm.
Since facing her own mortality, investigative reporter Melissa Smith has resolved to live without fear. She’s determined to make the seemingly untouchable Magnus pay for his role in ending her friend’s life – no matter the price to herself.
When her quest entwines with Rafferty’s, Melissa finds herself risking more than she ever thought possible. Because the heat between them unleashes the darkfire—an awesome force of Pyr legend, one that won’t be sated until everything they know has been tested and remade.