Growing A Family Tree: How Authors Write Families for a Romance Miniseries
Harlequin readers are no strangers to miniseries featuring extended families: whether it be the Coltons, the Mavericks or the Westmorelands, romance fans love it when every sibling and cousin find their happily-ever-afters. We asked some of your favorite authors how they create (and keep track of!) these extended families.
Don’t forget to share your favorite miniseries family in the comments below!
Brenda Jackson, author of Claimed by a Steele
I love writing series and connected books. Currently, I have fifteen active series. The Westmorelands lead the pack with thirty-seven novels, and the Madaris series follows close behind with twenty-three. My series books are a collection of families to me, and I make sure they are a collection of families to my readers. It’s important that I introduce as many family members as I can in the very first book.
There are times when the series will take on a life of its own and I will introduce family members in stages. When I began the Westmorelands, I knew there would be Delaney and her five brothers. I also knew what their names would be. I knew their occupations and their personalities by the first book and made sure my readers knew most of that as well. By the time I had written Thorn’s book, I knew it was time to expand the family with more cousins and to explore more family dynamics. I also knew I didn’t want to concentrate on Atlanta, but wanted to spread them out across the United States.
Keeping track of who is who, who is married to whom, who is expecting a baby, etc., is done with a spread sheet. I refer to this sheet whenever it’s time to add another book. I also include family trees in my books for my readers, especially as some readers might start the series in the middle or at the end.
I love when my families interact. I had a friend in my Westmoreland series marry a member from my Steele series. I’ve also had a friend from my Madaris family series connect with a family friend of the Westmoreland series. Then there are times when I don’t plan to write about a particular family member, but the readers plead with me to do so. Such was the case with a Westmoreland uncle, Corey Westmoreland.
When writing series books the key thing to remember is to create likable and interesting characters that readers want to get to know individually and collectively.
Jo Ann Brown, author of An Amish Easter Wish
All my books for Love Inspired have focused on families. Some miniseries deal with biological families. Others are built on the families we create through friendship and common experience. Probably it’s because both types of families are important to me.
The process of building that family community begins with the initial synopsis I send to my editor when I’m proposing a new miniseries. That allows us to know the core of the connection between heroes and heroines of the miniseries.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I love lists. I have computer file folders consisting solely of lists. For my Amish books, I’ve got lists of names from communities throughout the US and Canada. Those are my go-to lists for character names. I also have a list of names I’ve used in my books. They’re listed alphabetically by first name and annotated by a 2-3 word description as well as an abbreviation that denotes in which book the name was used. The names for heroes and heroines are in bold so I won’t use that name again. I also have a list with physical descriptions of the major characters as well as important recurring characters for each series. That’s because I don’t want to waste time searching for what color the heroine’s eyes are if I’ve forgotten.
I usually map out which members of the family will be the heroes and/or heroines of the books. However, that doesn’t always work out when I begin to plot the stories. Sometimes events in an earlier book will preclude me from having the character take the helm as planned. Other times, another character will come forward with a story I really want to tell. Each time that’s happened so far I’ve used the character who didn’t get his/her book in the series to be the transitional character to the next series. That way, I get to take a little bit of familiarity with me when I embark on the new miniseries.
It’s always hard to say good-bye to one group of people I’ve spent a year or more with as I’ve written their stories. That’s why I often use the final book of one miniseries to be a link to the new series. I love writing connected miniseries because it allows me—and readers—to see what happens to favorite characters after their happy ever ending.
Terri Reed, author of Mission to Protect (Hearts of Courage)
When I first started out writing, I didn’t have the forethought to keep track of the characters within a family or a town. That oversight came back to haunt me when I wrote the McClains’ series. I wasn’t sure the first book in the series, Double Deception, would sell, so I didn’t anticipate needing to keep track of the hero’s three siblings. A big mistake that required me to research my own book for all the ways I mentioned the siblings. It worked out well in the end and the four McClain books are very dear to my heart.
Now, fast forward nearly twenty years, I keep track of the multiple characters for each of the series I write. I have a grid chart of the alphabet that I plug in the names of the characters, the book they appear in and any bulleted information for quick and handy reference. For each book I write a character statement for the main characters, which includes their backstory, their personality, and physical traits, as well as adding their relationships to the other main characters and minor characters in the story. Sometimes doing these character statements will help me decide which character will be the next to have their own story told.
Sometimes it’s easy to know which character deserves to have their own book. I’m in the brainstorming stages of deciding whose story will be told in the fourth book of this series. I have three characters all raising their hands, wanting to be next. It’s not a bad problem to have. And now that I’ve learned to keep track of the characters, it’s much easier to dive into a story with all the information at my fingertips.
Jill Lynn, author of Her Hidden Hope
I just finished writing a six books series, and one of the ways I kept track of characters was to keep the books close together in time. The whole series only spans over a few years. That helped me know who was doing what and who was having babies and who needed to have a few hints dropped because their story was coming next. I’m not like some authors who keep spreadsheets with details (though I wish I was!). I’m a bit more free (also known as disorganized) in my writing style, so I often check the details as I’m going through edits to make sure things are correct. I also flag issues while writing so that I can come back to confirm them later. Thankfully, I have a beta reader who verifies details for me, so that is a big help.
As for which character or family members deserve a book of their own, I go with my gut. As a reader, who would I want a full story about? While reading the second to the last book in the Colorado Grooms series, my beta reader suggested a story for a side character who I wasn’t planning to write about. The last book was already set for the hero and the heroine, so I took her suggestion/expectation and ran with it. I created a secondary romance for the character she mentioned and included it in the last book. I really enjoyed fleshing out her story a little more.
I wish there was a way to never make a mistake as an author and keep every detail perfect in a series, but that feels impossible. Before listening to my book for the last time, I actually pray that I’ll catch anything that needs to be caught—and there have been numerous times when I have found mistakes on details on a final run through! They might be small, but they matter to me, so I’m ever so thankful to be able to correct them.
Do you have a favorite Harlequin family? Let us know in the comments section below!