03-23-19 – Paty Jager – All Feelings Are Universal

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Writing a Series: Beyond Plotting

by Madelle Morgan

I'm starting to write Hollywood Hero, the third book in the Hollywood in Muskoka contemporary romance series.

Okay, I've been "starting" for a while. Over six months, to be exact.

If I were a pantser, I'd simply dive right in and start typing. While creating the story, I'd discover the story. Then I'd go into the second draft in a shaping & refining mode, like a sculptor carves a blob of clay into something that resembles art.

Since I'm a plotter, as I did for the first two in the series, I just need to create character profiles, internal and external goal, motivation and conflict (GMC) charts for each character, and scene structure (scene by scene POV, plot beats and goals), then start writing. Straightforward!

Or so I believed...

On the cusp of writing my seventh novel (three published), I expected plot development to be a breeze. I've read the craft books and distilled my own process for short contemporary romance. I even wrote posts about it. Click here and scroll down to Tips for Writing a Novel.

But I've Been Thinking

Two books in, I've belatedly realized that writing a series requires pinning down several abstract but critical elements before the easy and fun (to me) plotter's process of creating characters and drafting beat sheets.

In addition, readers have expectations that each story will give them a similar experience. That "similar experience" is the series "hook."  If you don't fulfill those expectations, readers lose interest in the series.

Expectations...what does that mean, exactly?

I've discovered that I need to spend time on (maybe I'm overthinking) these foundation elements.

Series Universal Theme

Each romance in the Hollywood in Muskoka series explores the universal theme of Identity. Each heroine struggles with these questions: What kind of person am I? Who do I want to be? Where do I belong? What should I do with my life?

Story Theme

Each story explores a different aspect of identity. Below are the story themes that reflect the heroine's internal conflict and journey to becoming her best self. Each novel's black moment emerges from the story theme, which is why (as a plotter) it is important to nail down the story theme before creating the scene structure and beats.

Caught on Camera: Deception leads to heartbreak.
Seduced by the Screenwriter: To heal, you must face your fear.
Hollywood Hero: To thine own self be true (draft).

Romance Trope

In the novel blurb, the trope has to be immediately evident to the prospective romance reader. It's vital to her "yes, I want to read this" or "no, I'll pass" decision.

Caught on Camera: Romantic Comedy
Seduced by the Screenwriter: Wounded Hero/Heroine
Hollywood Hero: Unrequited Love/In Love with the Boss


Caught on CameraHumorous, light
Seduced by the Screenwriter: Dramedy, dark elements
Hollywood HeroHumorous, light

Heat Level

Series: steamy

The Cast

When writing a series, several characters are continuing or will star in their own books. Therefore when crafting each story, secondary characters have to be introduced to set up the future novel and novella romances.

Caught on Camera, #1
Rachel and Mickey (hero and heroine). Introduces core series characters: the wedding party (Halden, Candy, Garth, Wade, Asta, Tiffany), Catrina, Marie-Eve, and Wendy. A character mentions Tiffany's director ex-husband who will be the hero in Book 4.

Seduced by the Screenwriter, #2
Catrina and Chett (hero and heroine). Introduces Brigit and Brad (Muskoka), and Jenna and Henrik (Hollywood).

Hollywood Hero, #3
Halden and Wendy (hero and heroine). Introduces Bella (Hollywood), Skylar (Muskoka) and maybe others TBD.

The Director's Dilemma, #4
Tiffany's ex and Asta (hero and heroine). 

Getting the Greenlight, #5
Wade and Skylar (hero and heroine).

The Producer's Passion, #6
Garth and Tiffany (hero and heroine).

You can see that I have planted the seeds for Brigit, Henrik, Jenna, Brad, Bella, and Marie-Eve to have their own romances, should I decide to continue the series or write novellas within the timeline of the series. Then there are all the "extras"; that is, the local Muskoka community and Hollywood film industry characters who have walk-on parts, are villains, or get killed off.

That's quite a few inter-connected characters to juggle before starting to create the GMCs, beat sheets, scene structure, character arcs, etc. in the Muskoka "world." Yikes.

Series Bible & Timeline

The series takes place over a two to three year period. I have to keep notes on locations and characters (including dogs), and what each character is doing in the time frame of the individual novels. For example, Halden's film production company has several movies at various stages of development or in production over that time period. Several characters have various roles to play in the creation of these films. Their private relationships intersect their working relationships.

"We'll Fix it in Editing."

I'm a big picture thinker and a planner, so it's not overwhelming for me to think about six books at once. However, it takes time. There's the danger of getting mired in the details. Minor issues can be fixed in the second or third draft, but before I personally can start writing, the underlying structure needs to be pretty solid.

I plan to start writing Hollywood Hero next month.

I've been promising myself that for three months....

What I need is a deadline to get my you-know-what in the chair at the computer. Any ideas to share on what motivates you?

Enjoy the summer!


Caught on Camera is a Hollywood wedding romantic comedy set in Muskoka, Canada—summer playground of the rich and famous. It's Book 1 of the Hollywood in Muskoka series.

5 stars! "Caught on Camera" is a super fun read! Full of funny drama and lighthearted banter, it lifts the spirits. A witty, passionate romance, "Caught on Camera" is a great break from reality. Laura Dinsdale, InD’tale magazine review, October 2017.

Seduced by the Screenwriter, Book 2, is a steamy romantic dramedy.

Cat and Chett’s characters are well developed, drawing the reader into their individual plights, while their campy banter keeps the story light and downright fun. Ms. Morgan keeps the plot moving with humorous situations and dialogue interspersed with exciting and poignant drama. A good read for a snowy afternoon. —Marc Joseph, InD’Tale magazine review, March 2018.

Madelle's romantic thriller DiamondHunter is a free read in Kindle Unlimited.

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Diana McCollum said...

Wow, Madelle, you have to juggle a lot of characters! I see why you throughly plot out your works. Interesting blog post. I'm in a slow phase of writing right now. I'm rereading my work in progress as I've had family and other issues and haven't opened it since, early May. Hope to be done reading today and start writing tomorrow. When I'm done with the first draft, I will reward myself with one of many writing classes I'm interested in.

Maggie Lynch said...

You've definitely shared the complexity of writing a series. I admire your love of plotting and getting all those details down. It is something I've often said I would do, but then give up after the big things: GMC, theme, character arcs.

I'm an inveterate pantser. I tried to be a plotter early in my career, because all the books told me I should be. But I could never do it--too much work before the writing. I do have a general idea in my head things like GMC, themes, character arcs when I start. But the plot works itself out as I write. AND you are absolutely right that the pantser method tends to require more editing. I often end up having to rewrite the first three or four chapters extensively because I didn't figure out the ending until ...well...the end. :)

You are also REALLY smart to be putting together a series bible. I didn't do that until book 4 when I realized I may be accidentally changing minor character's names, eye color, ages, and in one case even gender. I ended up paying one of my superfans to do a series bible for me and it was well worth it. But a hard lesson to learn and one that will be used (I say with the confidence of a titmouse) with future series.

Your stories sound fun. Hope to see your third book out this year.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thanks for the tip about the series bible, Madelle. I need to get mine done for the Psychic Agents Series. I'm working on Book 2 now.