Friday, March 03, 2006

Character Arc in a Series--Part 3

Happy Friday! At least for y’all, I hope. With two weeks to go until deadline, no off days for me until Coral Moon is done.

Yesterday I got the coolest gift in the mail from my agent, Don Pape (Alive Communications). This guy’s got definite class. A box arrived on my door, labeled “My M&Ms.” Inside, a large white thermo-Styrofoam-whatza to keep the chocolate from melting. And in the box? Four bags of light and dark violet-colored M&Ms. With the words “Violet Dawn” on some and “Kanner Lake” on the others.

Is this a sweet gift, or what? My agent rocks.

You can check out sending your pals personalized M&Ms on

Okay. On to the topic. Before I continue, I want to respond to some comments from yesterday.

Lynette: Is this a personal choice of yours, or do you find this is an industry practice, or do you think for some readers it won't matter? (it reminds me of how soaps 'magically' grow children from the age of 12 to 18 overnight LOL) But it's something I never thought of when reading a series. As long as the author keeps the time line straight, it doesn't matter to me.

I have to admit this is a personal obsession for me. Again, because I deal in so many tiny details in my suspenses. I’ve not had conversations with other pubbed authors about this. Those of you out there who’ve written series, what say you?

Domino: How closely related do stand alone novels have to be for them to be considered a series? I have a three book series that has three different heroines. It is generally the same group of people, but not all are family members . . .

Definitely a series. You don’t have to have the same protagonist in a series. I did this with my Bradleyville women’s fiction series—three generations of women, with a different main character each time, starting in the 1960’s and coming up to present day. The continuity was the fictional town and extended cast of characters, who appear from book to book. I am now doing this with my Kanner Lake series (although all stories are present day).

Domino: I've already researched date and weather details on the internet calendars , noting when the moon is full or new and setting my Sundays and Saturdays on the correct day of the month.

I use two Web sites consistently for these issues. will give you the correct weekday for a date in any year. Holidays too. For moon phases, plus sunrise and sunset times in specific locations, see:

The moon phase and sunset times were very important in writing Violet Dawn, as the main character is racing the dawn. Just a few days ago I looked up the sunset time in northern Idaho on the day Coral Moon takes place. When night falls is important. Of course, I couldn’t look this up if I didn’t know the exact day the story begins, so—heck, we're back to that date thing again.

Becky: Do all suspense writers for Christian publishers have to do 2 books a year? I know writers in other genres who write one book a year . . . It just seems hard to develop a real buzz if a book is a has-been so quickly.

Well, first, authors have to write as they can write. Some can do one book a year, some four or even more. I’m in the middle. Having said that, it also depends on the genre. As my editor puts it, in the suspense genre, you need to “feed the beast.” There’s a momentum that gets going among the kind of readership that loves the fast-paced stories. Sheesh, my readers make me tired. I just get a book on the shelves, and they’re already wanting the next one. So for my genre’s sake, and because two books a year is all I can handle—that’s what I do.

Becky: Some of us never start a series because by the time we hear of it we are already behind by a book or two.

Yeah. I see this as the pro-con argument for series. The pro is, you get a reader hooked, you’ll sell that reader future books in the series. Con is, reader sees book #2 in the store and won’t buy it because he’s missed book 1. For this reason, Zondervan has stopped putting book numbers on series books. That seemed to be a CBA thing, and the ABA stores didn’t like it. (ABA authors tend not to have numbers on their series books.)

Also, this goes to show that when you are writing a series, you need to continue promoting the backlist, focusing on book #1 in the series. Even if that was 4 books ago, if you keep selling book 1, you’ll keep selling the rest.

C.J.: I always try to write my books in a timeless sort of way. I attempt to keep from dating the stories at all, except for naming the month or season. I find myself less likely to re-read a novel that took place in say, 2001, because there's less immediacy.

I have to agree with that last thought. Which is why, when I’ve named days and dates in my suspense novels, I’ve not put the year on there, even though I’m very aware of what year it is. Which leads me to Bonnie’s question:
Do a lot of people obsess with novel timelines to that miniscule degree (figuring out what year goes with the date?) Tell you the truth, I don’t think most readers do. But somebody out there’s gonna do it. So if you have a day and date mentioned, or even a holiday falling on a certain day of the week, you’d better get it right. If you don’t, you’ll hear about it from your obsessive readers.

We’ll pick this up on Monday. Think of me as I write this weekend—and eat my Kanner Lake Violet Dawn M&Ms.

Read Part 4


Sally Bradley said...

This has been very helpful, Brandilyn. I do use a calendar as I write and keep track of what's happening on what day, but that's always been for my own referrence and sanity. I don't put any dates in my book.

After reading this, though, I wonder how far we should go as writers. For example, if my story takes place in 2002 in Chicago suburbs, should I be researching the weather and daily events, too? Seems like this could become a huge obsession!

C.J. Darlington said...

Ah, I wondered why your Hidden Faces books (I believe starting with Dead of Night) didn't have the series # on it like the others. Now I know. Interesting.

Thanks again for sharing all this great info with us, Brandilyn.

Becky said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions, Brandilyn.

Personalized M&Ms! What will they think of next? (That was way cool of your agent!)


Vennessa said...

---Bonnie’s question: Do a lot of people obsess with novel timelines to that miniscule degree (figuring out what year goes with the date?)---

Um, for me, yeah. :-) It is the most common mistake I pick up in mss and novels.

I read a novel last year that had the date mentioned at the beginning of each chapter. I noticed one of the days mentioned didn't line up with the number of days that had passed according to the dates. I then went back and found the timeline a complete mess.

Picking up that mistake actually landed me a job of checking the following book for timeline errors before publication. That was a mess too, and worse, the dates didn't follow through to the next year as they should have.

Even if you don't intend to mention what year it is, make sure any dates you mention line up with the right day throughout the mss. For example: Mar 2 is a Wednesday in Chapter 1, but March 10 is a Sunday in Chapter 2. It's just not going to fly.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Now, I do agree with Vennessa on the day of the week and date. I actually lay out the time line of my MS to make sure that part matches.

I was just wondering about the year thing! Especially if you don't want to name the year, and thus date the book as old!

Dineen A. Miller said...

Hi Brandilyn! Hope those M&M's keep you going. I'm praying for you as you work to meet your deadling. You can do it!!!!

Katie Hart said...

I'm not obsessive about it, but I do try to figure out the year when the dates and days of the week are prominent in the book. Melody Carlson's Diary of a Teenage Girl for instance - it seemed to be published ahead of its time. Made it more current, but it wasn't able to address things like 9/11 (and that day passed like any other in the book).