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!

Dos and Don’ts of Writing Recurring Heroes (Part 1)

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The books found in Layla Reyne’s Agents Irish and Whiskey series, Charlie Cochet’s THIRDS series, Josh Lanyon’s All’s Fair series or the Chaos Station series I cowrote with Kelly Jensen have one thing in common: a recurring main couple. They’re a little different than your typical romance series, which tend to feature a new couple in each book.

On the plus side, readers get extra time with characters they’ve grown to love and cherish over the course of a series. On the downside, the writer has to figure out how to make each book work!

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

DO understand that some subgenres are better for recurring heroes than others

If you’re writing a contemporary romance where the main plot is the relationship development, that’s probably not going to translate well over multiple books.

Subgenres that lend themselves well to multiple books with the same heroes are romantic suspense, science fiction, paranormal, fantasy, mystery, etc. Basically anything where there’s a bigger picture plot that helps drive the story and the characters from the outside, while the romance drives the characters from the inside. (more…)

5 Fantastic Female/Female Books You Need to Read

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I was so excited to be invited to write a blog post on five of my favorite female/female romances. Talking about books, and sharing ones I’ve enjoyed, is right up my alley. The hardest part was narrowing it down to five. As any reader would know, this was not an easy task, but here they are: five female/female romances that I love.

Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler

This was the first female/female book I read before I came out. Before taking that step I needed to read about two women meant to be together getting their happily-ever-after, and boy did this book deliver. The sexual tension between the two heroines is intense, but there are also many tender moments between them—total catnip for me. Add in a bookworm and pansexual representation and it was an instant favorite.

Far from Home by Lorelie Brown

This RITA-nominated book is so touching. It deals with some tough subjects, but it does so beautifully. There is humor and family and discovering oneself. The heroines fall in love while planning their wedding and all the madness that comes with it.

(more…)

A Place Among the Stars: Why Sci-Fi Welcomes Everyone

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“One of the things I particularly liked about the book is that it’s set in a future where people are people and the rest is their own business. We’re told that Lindana had a friends-with-benefits relationship with a fellow – female – officer, and that Gabriel has used his good-looks and charm to seduce both men and women; Lindana  and her brother are of Kenyan extraction, Lieutenant Jiang Chen is Chinese, Security Chief Ryder Kalani is Maori and so on. This isn’t just gratuitous tokenism, though; this is a world in which the colour of one’s skin or what one does in bed isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, and I appreciated that a lot.” —All About Romance review of Relaunch Mission

Like many geeks, Star Trek was my introduction to sci-fi. I loved watching reruns of classic Trek episodes with my dad, who also introduced me to my other great sci-fi loves, Star Wars and Aliens. With heroines like Lieutenant Uhura, Princess Leia and Ellen Ripley saving the galaxy, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be welcome in sci-fi fandom—until a boy in high school assured me that girls don’t like sci-fi. Oh, girls could like fantasy, he said. (Because…unicorns, I guess?) But not sci-fi. Sci-fi belonged to boys—particularly straight white boys.

Not in my galaxy.

When I started my first sci-fi romance series I was on a mission to write menages with bisexual characters—because I’m bi, and representation matters—and the first two books feature F/F/M romances. It honestly didn’t occur to me that this might be a hard sell, until I pitched them to a reader at a conference book signing and she promptly replied with, “Girls? Eww!”

Again, not in my galaxy. And that’s where the characters of the Galactic Cold War trilogy were born. Because I was on a mission again. A mission to explore inclusive romance, to seek out diverse characters who do their thing without worry, and who boldly kick butt and fall in love. It’s definitely a mission in progres, and not always an easy one. It’s important to me as an author to write stories where no one is going to tell Lindana that she can’t captain a spaceship because she’s a woman, or kick Maria out of her engine room because it’s supposed to be a man’s domain. And where no one is going to bat an eyelash if either character kissed a girl and they liked it.

So if you’re looking for some sci-fi romance, give the Galactic Cold War trilogy a try. Everyone is welcome in this galaxy.

About End Transmission:

END TRANSMISSION by Robyn BacharFirefly meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended… 

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

Carina Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Kobo | Apple Books| Goodreads

First Page Critique: Humorous Small-Town Holiday Romance

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Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 800 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically to be critiqued on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions for this purpose. We’re not going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it, so no need to worry about that!

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open soon, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press freelance editor, John Jacobson.

The First Page

Author A described this manuscript as, “A sweet, small-town, holiday contemporary romance featuring forced proximity, fake marriage and enemies to lovers.”

Nessa twisted in an earring. “What do you think?”

Teddy returned her notecards. “Are you sure you want to lead with, ‘Harbinger of the Kraken’? Seems pretty strong for opening remarks.”

“Yet not expressive enough. I should’ve gone with, ‘The Apocalypse,’ since that’s the truth.  Millicent Daniels is a miserable, old buzzard who thinks her money entitles her to treat people like servants and I’m supposed to, what? Congratulate her at this awards dinner thingee? Please.”

“Awards …?”

“Besides, I was talking about the stockings.” Nessa pirouetted to the violin’s tones then stopped at the taped floor marking where she had to stand off-stage and behind heavy curtains. “Too much?”

“Good news? You don’t need a siren, because all of this,” he waved a hand to include her fresh out-of-the box stilettos, “screams fire engine.”

“Outstanding. It’s supposed to be crimson, so that the heat of my revenge sizzles without words, but I’m not mad.” Nessa tilted the fine veil of her fascinator a second time. “The invitation said to wear black.“

“And you decided on red….so much red.”

 “We’re speaking after the violin concerto, right? And again, sorry about being late. I forgot how many people go to the Tree Lighting ceremony. Guess people couldn’t find parking, since the church lot was completely packed. So many news vans, out-of-town and diplomatic license plates. All for a tree and a few twinkling Christmas lights? And what’s with all the security?”

She twirled again, a bit too quickly, with a flourish of her arms. “Ooo!”  Terry caught her with two firm hands around her waist. “I forgot how slippery the floors are in here.”

Nessa sidled away. “Thirty years and I’m back to where it all began. Right there,” she pointed to the stage curtains, “is where I decided to become a world renown ballerina. Two feet further in is where I stood with stage fright for eight painful minutes. Terrified. In a cold sweat. Just magical.”

Shivering off the memory, she continued. “Anyway, I’m not saying that Millicent is the reason why babies cry when they’re first born, but only because it’s that time of year when I’m full of Christmas joy-“

“Are you really?”

“-and I think we all know that the reminders in her daybook of, ‘Lunch With T.D.’ stand for ‘Lunch With The Devil.’ True story.”

“Is it though?”

“Talk to me after a decade in the wake of The Great Millicent Daniels. How long’s it been for you?”

“Word is you left rather…abruptly.” He leaned against a door frame. “Since then, I guess.”

 “And let’s not bring up the sticky notes. On my drafts, proposals, memos…my coat. ‘Terrible.’ ‘Awful.’ ‘YCDB.’ ‘WDIHY?’”

When Terry frowned, she added. “You can do better. Why did I hire you? Just magical. Anyway, glad this will be an intimate gathering. We’ll have, like, twelve people in the audience and two online. It’s the only way I’m even here.”

Terry groaned under his breath.

A green light flashed above the door.

“We’re on!” She rapped the notecards against her palm.  “Good luck out there.”

With ramrod straight perfect posture and a brilliant smile, it was three confident strides onto the stage before Nessa’s knees locked. 

There she stood, from head to toe, in blinding red before a church full of four hundred somber attendees dressed in black attire. And a casket draped in the American flag beside a photo of Millicent Daniels.

An eternity passed before firm hands, Terry’s, pushed behind her mid-waist, allowing her slippery, fresh out-of-the box soles to slide her forward on the marble floor, more effective and quicker than a ballet partner or a well-oiled dolly.

Terry stepped up to the podium and hesitated.  In a thick voice he addressed the crowd. “Madame President, Ambassador, Princess, Prince and cherished friends. What to say about my mother? I’d prepared a speech, but,” he cleared his throat. “I think I’ll leave it to someone who may have adored her even more. Her truest and most loyal friend.” Turning towards the nearest network camera with moistened eyes, he sighed deeply and stepped down.

Leaning close, he whispered behind a tight smile the audience couldn’t see, “Theodore Daniels, at your service.”

“T.D. in the flesh.” She groaned. “You big faker.”

“Mother left notes and sent her regards.”

Then he turned, leaving her alone, before sitting in the first pew where the President of the United States tapped his hand in consolation.

Nessa stepped up to the podium and noticed Millicent’s refined penmanship on a stack of papers, the first of which read, ‘To Nessa.’  And the second, ‘Lie.’  Next was, ‘Terrible.’ Then came, ‘YCDB.’”

Glaring at Millicent’s photo, Nessa closed the leather folder over her worst enemy’s final mandates and admonishments.

“How to describe Millicent Daniels?  She was a harbinger. Just magical.”

The Critique

What stood out to me about this initially was the writing voice. The usage of dialogue and humor within it is done well. We see a strong section of the heroine’s personality. She’s a little self-focused and doesn’t know what’s going on because she’s consumed by her emotions, and the result is a humorous situation that makes her uncomfortable but doesn’t embarrass her. It made the scene engaging even when I didn’t fully understand what was occurring.

What I struggled with is that this scene is hard to read out of context – I found myself wanting more external perspective to get an idea of what was running through the heroine’s mind, to get into her mindset even though I could sense the mishap coming. The presence of important people at the event also made me confused as to the lack of preparation and the misunderstanding at the end – it allows for the dramatics of the comedy to play out, but as a reader I find it harder to believe that our main character would be so unprepared when speaking to royalty and the president of the country.

If you write this scene a little deeper from the heroine’s perspective, readers will understand exactly why she’s not picking up the signal that it’s a funeral and it will make the situation more emotionally impactful and humorous. I would recommend that you make sure that the setup of the heroine being unprepared is solid. It needs to be believable enough for readers to enjoy the comedy of the moment. Note that contemporary settings don’t need to be hyper realistic – just ensure that whatever contemporary world-building you do leading up to this scene allows the reader to accept this situation as plausible for the world of the story. 

Would I keep reading? 

I would keep reading.

Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email generalinquiries@carinapress.com.

Authors entering their work for critique can choose to have the blog post comments open or closed. Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.

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