One of my favorite things about writing a series is the fact that characters can come and go throughout, even as I have the opportunity to create new people. I begin each book with an idea of the story I want to tell, and from there the characters either introduce themselves or step forward out of the past, or both. Sometimes I know that I want to continue to tell a certain heroine’s story, other times the story involves someone entirely new. And yet I always like to connect them, in some way, to the world I’ve already created. They might be the friend or family member of an existing character, and often cross paths with people from other stories.
While I’m writing these people, they’re real to me, and it’s my job to make sure that what I put down is accurate according to who they are. Even years later, after I forget exactly what happened in one of my plots, when I think of any of the characters I know what matters to them, what drives them, what they believe in, why they made the choices they did. The hardest criticism to hear isn’t “I didn’t like the heroine” or “I was bored,” but “I didn’t buy that they’d do that.”
In my latest book, the 12th in the series, I realized after I’d started the first chapter that the woman I was writing about was going to be Mindy Faraday, Molly’s younger sister. Molly was the heroine of Death on the Menu (book 5), and first appeared in Danger in Academia (book 2). I had to go back and find what details I’d already invented about Mindy and her family, and make that work with the woman who was already forming in my mind and on the page.
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
Developing the series the way I did, with multiple main characters and no set method for deciding who plays lead, gives me the satisfaction of continuing a heroine’s arc through more than one book, or finishing it and starting fresh. The stories are chronological, and they all take place in the same world, so that characters can come and go, villains reappear and dramas continue in the background. Though it wasn’t intentional, In a House of Strangers, book 12, is the first one in which the Hofflins, Nancy and Hugo, aren’t present or mentioned, after featuring heavily in my previous story Saints and Enemies. This is also the first book in which my original heroine and hero, Lainey Parker and Aiden Kinnear, the central figures of books 1-4, aren’t involved in any way. I wondered at one point if either of them might show up, but the story evolved without them.
As a reader, there are few more gratifying experiences than finding an author you like and seeing a whole role of titles waiting to be devoured, binged one after the other or saved for those times when you need a reliable go-to. Readers of Strangers on This Road can anticipate that even though the heroines may change, people they’ve come to know will continue to play starring or supporting roles, creating a sense of consistency and community. I really appreciate that someone will relate more closely to one lead over another, finding their own personal favorite.
“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
I always give myself the option of beginning a new series, or even writing in a different genre. But somehow when I sit down and begin to write, even if I’m not consciously following a pattern, I’ve found the most fulfillment and inspiration in continuing Strangers on This Road series. When I wrote Strangers on This Road eight years ago, I had no idea it would turn into what it did, but as the series has unfolded, it’s become the most satisfying, exciting and humbling project I could ever imagine.
Even as I get ready to release the newest title, the question of “what’s next?” is out there. Another novel of suspense, or something else entirely? A heroine I’ve already written about, or someone new? I have no idea, but I love the possibilities.
“You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.”
― Joss Whedon