The Art of Writing Continuities

Charlotte Carter joins us today with some inside tips for writing continuity series.  I was thinking there would be spreadsheets and teeth-gnashing, but she makes it sound almost easy.  Almost.

Anyway, for those of you who have an interest along this line (no pun intended) she’s got some valuable tips for you to consider.  And as usual, she makes it seem like a fun thing to do.

Hi, all. Charlotte Carter here.

The key to writing a continuity series is communication and keeping close track of the details.

In the course of my 20 years of writing fiction, I’ve authored several author-created continuities and connected books. They’re fun to write and readers enjoy revisiting characters they’ve come to love. Keeping track of the details is almost easy; only occasionally does a character change eye color from one book to another. Oops!

In the past few years – in addition to writing for Love Inspired – I’ve been writing continuity series for Guideposts Books, most of them cozy mysteries.

These continuities are BIG. Some run as long as 30 individual, related books.

The recent Hope Haven Hospital series had a guide (or bible – note lower case) 55-pages long. The guide includes information about the characters – height, eye color, occupation, what kind of car they drive, etc. This series has a cast, almost literally, of thousands, all of whom have spouses, children and relatives a’plenty. Worse, for each book three months pass. They’re getting older, retiring, marrying, having babies. (Envision author with crossed eyes.)

To add to the complexity, Guideposts series have multiple authors, typically six, and more if the series continues for several years. This is where COMMUNICATION comes in. Nowadays, that’s usually via a Yahoo group.

If I’m writing book #3 in the series, the author of book #1 has just completed her book. I need to know if that author has described Jane’s house or the church Jane attends. While she can and often does share that information with me and the other authors, the editor hasn’t yet approved the descriptions or maybe Jane’s odd habit of chewing gum. That tidbit of information has not yet been added to the guide.

YIKES!

I write merrily on my way, a wad of gum in Jane’s mouth. By the time my book is in the editor’s hands, she tells me in rewrites that Jane no longer chews gum.

SAY WHAT? I’ve used Jane’s gum to stick an important clue to the bottom of Jane’s shoe. Now I have to go through the entire manuscript ridding Jane of her favorite mint-flavored gum plus find a clever way for Jane to discover the critical clue that used to be stuck to her shoe. (Ah, the next door neighbor kid chews gum, drops a piece in a critical spot and voilá! Jane finds the clue. Whew….)

So, you may ask, what are the Pros and Cons of writing a continuity of this sort?

First, the flat rate paid is comparable to the earn out for most category romances. Once you’re on the team, the work is steady as long as the series continues. It’s also a creative challenge to take someone else’s characters, locale and storyline and make it your own. Unlike stand-alone books, the publisher does all the promotion, which allows the author to concentrate on what she does best – write. I really like that. I also enjoy getting to know talented authors.

The most obvious con is that many authors want to write THEIR story, not someone else’s.  Deadlines are tight. If an author doesn’t write fast or procrastinates, she’ll be in trouble down the line.

I should also mention, in the case of Guideposts Books, the publisher invites experienced authors to participate in a series and there is often an audition chapter required.

In my case, I get the best of both worlds – the steady and interesting challenge of writing books in a complicated series and the fun of writing my own stories for Love Inspired, sometimes even connected books such as Big Sky Reunion (4/2011) and Big Sky Family (11/2011).

What is it about reading a series or connected books that appeals to you?

Happy reading…
Char
Charlotte Carter
www.CharlotteCarter.com

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6 Responses to The Art of Writing Continuities

  1. Jenny Hansen says:

    Oh my God, Char! It makes my eyes want to cross just to read about that “Bible.” Eek!

  2. Ditto what Jenny said! During edits on my NON series WIP, I discovered the protag “called out” the wrong name at a most inconvenient time. EEK! It takes more patience and discipline than I possess to keep all those people, places & things straigh. Love to read them, so KUDOS to you for your talent.

  3. Great post! I love the idea of writing a series. I’ll definitely be making a story bible to keep track of details across books.

    • Sonia, readers do seem to love connected books. If you get a chance at your own series, go for it. But I do encourage you to keep careful notes on character descriptions, etc. Even in your own series, it’s easy to forget details or get confused. Good luck!

      ~ Char……

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