Dos and Don’ts of Writing Recurring Heroes (Part 2)

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After completing the Chaos Station series, I told myself I’d never write a series with recurring heroes again. It’s hard! There’s so much to balance as you try to move the characters and the story forward. But it’s so satisfying for both the writer and the reader when it’s done right. So when I had the idea for the Not Dead Yet series featuring Wes and Hudson, I couldn’t not write it.

Here are some more dos and don’ts to keep in mind if you’re tackling a series with recurring heroes.

DO make sure there is some romantic challenge in each book

This is one of the greatest difficulties in writing a romance series with recurring heroes. Once you’ve achieved “couple” status, how do you keep the romance engaging in each book?

Any romantic challenge should occur naturally. It should arise out of the traits and flaws of your characters. For example, in the Chaos Station series, our romantic challenges were:

  • LONELY SHORE by Kelly Jensen, Jenn BurkeBook 1—Zed and Felix reconnecting after nine years of believing they were both dead and/or unreachable
  • Book 2—Overcoming the aftereffects of the experiments Zed was a part of
  • Book 3—Felix dealing poorly with Zed’s “death” and not feeling like he’s good enough for Zed’s upper-class family
  • Book 4—Zed dealing with meeting and working with Felix’s ex
  • Book 5—Zed wanting to get married and Felix not understanding why they need to

All of these challenges arose naturally out of who the heroes were and their flaws (for example, Felix’s refusal to deal with the trauma of his past led to the conflict in book 3, and Zed’s privilege and inability to understand how marriage is very much a rich-person thing led to the conflict in book 5). If you’ve created layered and nuanced characters with their own thoughts and feelings, they’re going to disagree or have different views. Play on that.

DON’T drag out the “will they/won’t they” game too long

Romantic tension is an amazing thing. Will they get together? Won’t they? It can be incredibly delicious to savor that anticipation before the characters give in to their desire and admit they want each other.

But you need to give your readers some payoff. In a multibook series with the same heroes, it might be tempting to drag out the UST (unresolved sexual tension) for multiple books, but that might backfire on you. Readers will only allow so much UST without payoff before they give up.

You’re not selling the potential of a romantic relationship (or in the case of an aromantic character, a satisfyingly emotional relationship). Unlike TV shows such as Cheers, Moonlighting, X-Files and others where there was a longtime “will they/won’t they” between main characters that often remained unresolved on screen, as a romance novelist you have a social contract with your readers in your books that says, yes, there will be a satisfying connection and relationship here. You need to deliver.

DON’T introduce plot twists out of nowhere

As you get deeper into a series, it can be difficult to keep things fresh. This is why having an arc and a plan for your series is so important. As the writer, you might become a bit bored with your story or your characters (believe me, it happens!) and as a result, you might be tempted to throw in a plot twist. What if this character suddenly gets amnesia? What if a dark secret in his past comes to light? What if…

The biggest question you need to ask yourself about plot twists is: Does it make sense?

The answer needs to be unequivocally yes. Not “if I turn my head and squint, maybe.” (And yes, I’ve come across plot twists like this in some long-running series, unfortunately.)

After they run into it, readers will look for hints that this plot twist was going to happen. If it comes out of nowhere (i.e., if it doesn’t happen naturally), they’ll be disappointed.

That’s not to say that you can’t introduce plot twists when you’re inspired to, but ideally they should be planned from the beginning so you can layer in the hints and so they fit naturally into the plot as it already exists.

DO keep a series bible

This is a trick I’m trying to get better at myself! It’s an important step for any series, not just ones with a recurring main couple. This is where you’ll record characters (main, secondary, tertiary, etc.) and characteristics, major events, rules for your world, locations and so on. It’ll help to keep things consistent throughout the series.

As always, with any writing advice, your mileage may vary! I hope these dos and don’ts help you navigate some of the pitfalls that might be present in writing a series with recurring heroes, so you can discover how satisfying it can be!

Cheers and happy writing.

About Give Up the Ghost:

Give Up The Ghost by Jenn BurkeThe bigger they are, the harder they maul.

Immortal not-ghost Wes Cooper and his vampire partner, Hudson Rojas, have it all—rewarding private investigation work, great friends and, most important, a love that’s endured. But ever since Wes sent a demon screaming back to the beyond, his abilities have grown overpowering and overwhelming. He’s hiding the fact that he’s losing control the best he can, but it’s hard to keep anything a secret for long when your partner’s a former cop…and especially when your partner’s a former cop who wants to move in together.

When all hell literally breaks loose in Toronto and superstrength ghosts are unleashed on Wes and his friends, he and Hudson are thrown into a case unlike any they’ve seen before. To save the city, Wes needs to harness his new power…and find some answers. But when he gets them, the solution to fix it all could mean losing everything.

Harlequin | Amazon | Barnes & Noble Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books | Goodreads

Looking for part 1? Click here!

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