Monday, December 7, 2009

The Joys and Pitfalls of Writing a Series

As many of you have discovered, my current novel, Elvis and the Grateful Dead, is book two of my Southern Cousins Mystery Series. I’ve already written book four; I’m plotting books five, and I have the story bible for books six through umpteen. In other words, I’ll be writing this series as long as I can prop myself in front of the computer and still remember how to spell Evlis. Excuse me. Elvis.

One of the greatest joys in writing a series is getting to revisit characters I love. The Valentine gang and my basset hound who thinks he’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll reincarnated never cease to surprise and delight me. Elvis is always wise, always sassy. Mama and Lovie have more ways to get Callie’s goat than Elvis has fleas. And Fayrene’s pornographic memory and penchant for calling the highway control keep me in stitches.

I love being able to go into a new story with a sense of familiarity, a sense of coming home. Readers have told me they feel the same way about the Southern Cousins Mysteries. Another plus for series.
Then there’s the added attraction for both reader and writer of being able to follow characters as they break up, make up, marry, have kids, move out, move in, move on. A series gives me time and space to show my characters growing and changing through the years.

So what can possibly be the pitfalls? Remember the story bible I mentioned? It’s a spiral bound little black book that lists every character in my series followed by a long list of descriptive adjectives, favorite phrases, likes and dislikes. The little black book describes my characters’ cars, their houses, their jobs, their communities, their friends, their enemies. It even has their shoe size. Furthermore, it maps out the future for every character. Even the dog. Especially the dog. (Elvis made me add that.)

When I write an Elvis mystery, I keep the little black book open on my desk. Still, I don’t like to stop the flow of story to consult a story bible. I forge forward and cross my fingers that I won’t accidentally change brown eyes to blue, call a pink house yellow, have Callie leave home in her maroon Dodge pickup truck and drive home in her black Ford.
Even worse, I panic that I’ll make the same mistake I made years ago in my Donovan series. It was never meant to be a series. Tanner Donovan simply came to me two years after Paul Donovan had taken my heart by storm. I quickly researched Paul’s book, told myself, yep, he has brothers, then proceeded to write a whole slew of books about the feisty, lovable southern family.

There was one little hitch. In Paul’s book, Mr. and Mrs. Donovan were dead. In subsequent books, they were alive. When Bantam reprinted the popular series, my editor asked me to please write a letter to the reader explaining the “resurrection.”

I’d love to chat with readers about the joys as well as the pitfalls of series. Join me. I’ll be online all day.

Visit Peggy Webb at


Gwen Hernandez said...

Definite food for thought, Peggy. I'm trying to turn my current WIP into a series. We'll see how that goes. ;-)

Debra Webb said...

Well said, Peggy! A series can be so rewarding! The characters become like family to both you and the reader!

Nishant said...

. We'll see how that goes. ;-

Work from home India

Anonymous said...

Good luck, Gwen. I failed to mention that one of the perks of writing a series is having wonderful characters already in place. Since characters are the the backbone of any good story, that saves a ton of time.

Peggy Webb said...

Lawsy me. I see that my comment got published as anonymous. There are days I'd like to be, but mostly not.

Anyhow, thanks, Deb. I hope my Southern Cousins Mysteries run as long as your Colby Series! Nearly forty books and counting.... Wow!

Callie James said...

I love writing series and never having to say goodbye to characters. I'm almost done with my second book in the current trilogy and just started my own bible with all those details you mentioned (I finally figured it out after diving back through the first book twenty-plus times).

Peggy Webb said...

Callie, the story bible is a work in progress. Every time I write a new Southern Cousins Mystery, I find myself adding small details about my major characters. Additionally, I keep adding new characters who are so lovable they become a permanent part of the cast.

Here's a writing tip. When you're young, it's much easier to remember what you wrote in the last six books. But keep that story bible for the day your memory becomes a steel sieve.

Anonymous said...

Love the Elvis Series. OOppps! I mean The Southern Cousins Mystery Series! haha! Either way they are a hoot. Love the characters and look forward to learning EVERYTHING about Jack and Champ. It is hard to wait for inforation like that! I snicker every time I say Elvis and the Memphis Mambo Murders or think about Fayrene's "pronographic memory"! Loved the first two and I know the third will be a scream. Awaiting IMPATIENTLY its arrival in book stores...keep up the wonderful work. We love it.

Peggy Webb said...

Ahh, Anonymous, you're giving me the bighead. I'm so glad you love Elvis and the gang. I love it when I can make people laugh!

Never fear. Jack will be unmasked in Elvis and the Memphis Mambo Murders. I have big plans for Jack Jones and Luke Champion. Patience, dear reader. The third Elvis escapade is in the hopper and more are on the way.

Naima Simone said...

Hi, Peggy!
I love series just for the reasons you named. I enjoy watching the characters grow and see how their lives turn out after their books. It's rewarding to me as I become attached to the characters. Your series is WONDERFUL and funny! And, I have to admit, I hope it doesn't end for a loooong time! LOL! Is that incredibly selfish of me??

Great post! Merry Christmas!!