You know what I love? I love a great series with characters I want more of.
You know what I hate? Series that flog me to death with characters that never develop, even if they were great in the first three, four, five, or six books. Not all long series are like this. I just binged on CJ Box’s Joe Pickett series and can’t wait for #17 to come out next year. But, to me, this is an exception rather than a rule, and has more to do with the protagonist taking a fairly minor role in the alternating points of view. It’s like the 3rd Joe Pickett book instead of the 17th, if you know what I mean. (If you want to check them out, I highly recommend it. Start with Open Season.)
So when it came time to write my own series, I wanted to leave my readers wanting more of each protagonist when I finished with her. I wanted to take a character and develop her over a three-book story arc. Each of her books would be a standalone mystery novel, but when combined with the other two books about that protagonist, they would tell a story about her with significant, interesting personal growth occurring from book-to-book, and a satisfying romantic storyline as well.
With Katie, that means we have Saving Grace where she’s trying to belatedly grow up, Leaving Annalise where she’s becoming less self-focused, and Finding Harmony where she learns she can’t expect perfection out of others any more than she can expect it from herself. When I wrote the ending of Finding Harmony, I liked where Katie was. Honestly, I didn’t want to mess up her world, and if I’d continued with her I’d have had to. The way I write, the protagonist must have skin in the game. She has to have all she cares about at stake in each mystery in order for her to care enough to put herself at risk by taking ownership of solving it. My gift to Katie is a long and happy life with her husband and kids 😉 My gift to you guys is that I don’t dilute her impact on you by going on and on and on. (You’re welcome!)
Yet I don’t want to start over with a new world after I finish three novels for a protagonist. So I chose to do a series, What Doesn’t Kill You, where I can stay within the same community of characters and spin off protagonists who we already know. Enter Michele (Going for Kona and the upcoming Fighting for Anna), Katie’s law school roommate, and Emily (Heaven to Betsy, Earth to Emily, and Hell to Pay), Katie’s former paralegal.
Then I did the same three-book character arc thing with them. For example—Heaven to Betsy: Emily discovers she wants a child, Betsy. Earth to Emily: Emily learns that she has a heart for the plight of endangered children. Hell to Pay: Emily realizes there’s nothing she won’t risk to help kids. We leave her in a happy place, and I think the mystery plots and romance turned out complex and satisfying as well. At least I hope they did. Readers are better judges of that.
I’m working on Michele’s three novels now. Going for Kona: Michele overcomes her own grief for the sake of her son and stepdaughter. Fighting for Anna: I’m not going to tell you yet. Book Three: I honestly have no idea, LOL. Ask me in a year.I let my protagonists make guest appearances in each other’s novels. Katie shows up in all the books so far. Emily in six of seven. Michele guested in Hell to Pay and Ava in Earth to Emily. And many others cross over as well (Collin isn’t a protagonist but appears in six novels so far; Rashidi is about to appear in his fourth; Nick shows up in four).
I have three more protagonists in development for their starring roles.: Ava, Maggie (who you’ll meet in Fighting for Anna), and Laura from the Emily novels. I’m in rewrites on a novella starring all six protagonists (Katie, Emily, Michele, Ava, Maggie, and Laura) that you’ll have in your hot hands sometime this fall, for FREE (assuming I can make myself finish it; I’m in denial right now and focusing on some other things while I regain my mojo), and I envision future ensemble novellas.
What I don’t plan to write is more novels starring protagonists who have already completed their three-novel runs. For better or worse, that’s my strategy, and it’s working for me. I’m sorry, though, because I know how hard it is to walk away from a character you love and not continue in-depth in his or her world. Bring on more Joe Pickett, haha. Thanks for sticking with me anyway!
p.s. Meanwhile, the Katie & Emily character arcs had a dang good week. Bestsellers, top-rated, staff picks, across the top sales platforms. I’m pretty dang excited for this dream come true. Check it out here, if you’re interested. And if you’ve bought, downloaded, checked out from the library, shared, gifted, recommended, referred, or reviewed, thank you. More than you’ll ever know.