Adventures in Series Writing

I just turned in my third Underbelly Chronicles manuscript, TEMPT ME, which some Ruby readers might remember us referring to in Comments late last year as “the religious woman and the sex demon.” Reformed hacker Bailey Brown is one of two humans alive who knows that “first contact“ already happened, that humanity has secretly shared its home with extra-planetary species for millennia. Though this knowledge still serves up the rough existential moment here and there, her own spiritual foundation was rocked long ago, when, after her arrest, her preacher father disowned her, denouncing her as a sinner. Already carrying enough baggage to fill a cargo hold, Bailey doesn’t know what to do with her unwavering attraction to her boss’s brother, sculptor Rafe Sebastiani—a real-life, honest-to-goodness sex demon.

My editor is reading the manuscript right now, so I figured it might be a good time for me to do some writerly housekeeping—to think about and flesh out the series arc, to update my Master Character List, to refine my world-building materials, to reacquaint myself with the characters I’ve left on chessboard plot-wise.  With a shudder, I sucked it up and re-read TASTE ME and CHASE ME, with an eye toward documenting physical descriptions and such. Which “facts” had I committed to on the printed, published page?

Holy Continuity Errors, Batman! In TASTE ME, I stated that Rafe’s given name is Rafael, not Raphael as my Master Character List says. (Easy but essential fix.) Hmm, apparently Bailey was incarcerated for a short period of time, not merely sentenced to parole. (Oops.) Bondmate or bond mate? Minicomp or mini-comp? How many floors does Sebastiani Security have again? (Four, not five. Whoops.)  Crackhouse Coffee, or Crack House Coffee?

The things you forget if you don’t write them down! Like *GULP* your first hero’s eye color! Lukas, I’m so, so sorry.

I knew if I didn’t invest some time updating my series and world-building materials now, I’d make more mistakes later on, so I’ve temporarily set aside research on my fourth book to update the following:

Master Character List:  I come at my stories from character, so this list was the very first document I created when building the series’ world starting back in 2007. Every character mentioned in every book, no matter how minor, appears on this list. For each character, I track name, age, species, occupation, some key information about their back story, their GMC if they have them, and every specific physical trait I committed to on the page. I’ve expanded this document to include which cars they drive, where the characters live, and which Underbelly Chronicles books they’re seen or mentioned in.

Series Arc: The Underbelly Chronicles is plotted as a nine-book series, with each book following a hero and heroine as they solve a mystery or battle a villain, with each book building up to a final battle with the series’ Big Bad in Book Nine. The series arc hasn’t changed significantly from the original proposal, but now that I’m three books into the series, I have a deeper and richer view of how certain characters can drive certain books’ plots. A couple of supposedly minor characters are living MUCH larger on the page than I ever anticipated, yielding plot possibilities I hadn’t previously considered. I also have an opportunity to respond to reader feedback by introducing possible love interests for characters I hadn’t originally targeted for an HEA. I want to nail as much of this stuff down as I possibly can, NOW, so I can lay a stronger foundation for more complex future stories.

World-building – Origin Story: The series’ origin story is that about 4000 years ago, a spaceship cruising past Earth crashed in northern MN instead of reaching its intended destination. Hopelessly marooned, the passengers — incubi and succubi, vampires, sirens, werewolves, faeries, and Valkyrie — managed to survive a hellish first  winter and started repopulating, making a conscious decision to leverage humanity’s propensity for myth-making to help them hide in plain sight. The series is mostly set in present day Minneapolis, location of the privately held technology conglomerate Sebastiani Labs, whose secretive Board of Directors doubles as the extra-planetary species’ ruling council. The crash scene was the very first one I wrote, over five years ago, and given Book Four’s role in the series arc, I think I finally get to use it!! Wheee! But reading the crash scene now, through the lens of the identity of the series’ Big Bad? Whoa, I have so many more questions – and there are so many new possibilities!

World-building – Species: Each species in the series has a certain set of biologically-based strengths and weaknesses, and with each romantic pairing, I try to mine those strengths and weaknesses for conflict, particularly romantic conflict. In TASTE ME, I paired up Lukas, a control freak incubus who must absorb emotional energy for sustenance, with Scarlett, a siren rock star who interprets and amplifies the emotional content of music with her voice . In CHASE ME, I paired up my hyper-physical Valkyrie archaeologist Lorin with genetically damaged werewolf geologist Gabe. In TEMPT ME, I pair up Bailey, a human tech savant with a guilt complex a mile wide, with Lukas’s brother, Rafe, an incubus sculptor with a reputation for hedonism even among his kind. (Can you say “issues?”) In Book Four, I have a different kind of hero/heroine challenge—two vampires. Physically, the hero and heroine have the same strengths and weaknesses. So I’ll have to delve into some messy emotional ground here for sources of conflict.

Settings:  Writing down setting details just hasn’t been on my radar. So far, most of the Underbelly Chronicles takes place in the Twin Cities Metro area, with the Sebastiani family cabin, Lorin’s archaeological dig, and the Arkapaedis’s original crash site located in northern Minnesota.  But as the number of books and characters grows, and the same buildings and locations get referenced in multiple books, fine details like how many floors Sebastiani Security has, and what the Sebastiani Labs boardroom looks like, were getting lost in the shuffle. I’ve started a Settings spreadsheet, and I’ve also mapped all the series’ locations and residences. This map hangs on the wall of my home office.

Themes: Having re-read all three of my books in a short period of time made me aware of some running themes in my work: Friends are the family you choose. Living outside the traditional strictures of society. Data can be fallible, as can health.  To me, theme is at the heart of the writers’ admonition “Write what you know” and I’ve definitely used these themes to inform my world-building. I’m sure more themes will become apparent to me as time goes by, but now that I’m aware of theme, I’ll write ‘em down.

So much to keep organized! I’m starting to get a better feel for why it takes me a whole year to write a book! But…OMG, Ruby readers, what if I hadn’t listened to that pesky inner voice, noticed that hair standing at the back of my neck – those signals that said, “Re-read your books. NOW!” What if I’d stayed heads-down in Book Four research instead, and hadn’t discovered those continuity errors in time to fix them?

So…lesson learned…occasionally taking a few hours away from the WIP to update my series materials and keep myself organized is an investment in my work, not a distraction from my work. It is important. Worthwhile. Essential.

When you’re working on a project, how do you keep your materials organized? Scrivener users, any insight into whether the package helps organize things at a series level? 

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

CHASE ME Buy Links: (Amz | BN | Sourcebooks | Powell’s | BAM | Sony |  Kobo | iBooks)



Twitter: !/TamaraHogan1




37 responses to “Adventures in Series Writing”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Congrats, Tammy, on turning in TEMPT ME!!!

    And the “forgetting the hero’s eye color” thing cracks me up…I’m in the MIDDLE of a freakin’ book and I got it wrong. Book Bible time for me.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Glad I’m not alone, Elisa! Eyes, eyes, eyes…boy howdy, has this series forced me to research eyes. I had to verify my understanding of dominant and recessive traits when writing Sebastiani family; the girls, Sasha and Antonia, have blue eyes like their deceased mother, Dasha. CHASE ME’s hero, Gabe, has myopic macular degeneration and cataracts. Many of Gabe’s “glasses off” perspectives in CHASE ME come from my own experience with severe myopia (-18.75/-17.50). I’m dead in the water without my glasses, and carry backups with me everywhere I go.

    • Shoshana says:

      Exactly what I was thinking–I have a hard enough time keeping track of these things for one book. If I ever decide to write a series, it will be a mess.

      Congrats on turning in TEMPT ME, Tammy!

  2. Gwyn says:

    I use large index cards for my people. When the character moves to another story, so does his or her card. The cards contain physical characteristics (like eye color *g*), specific likes and dislikes, siblings, DOB, things like that. If he or she is a main character, the GMC is on the back.

    For my Sci-Fi, however, world-building is necessary, so there’s a notebook nearby. When the heavy gravity kicked in, it went in the notebook. The specific planetary details—in the notebook. As they are revealed, I write them down. Such is the life of a “story evolutionist”.

    Congrats on turning in book three. Can’t wait to see where this journey takes you.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I also use a notebook while I’m in the thick of research, Gwyn. Using pen and paper helps me think and explore in ways that aren’t quite as successful as when I’m looking at a blank screen and blinking cursor. Right now, I’m researching the lineage of the Draculesti family, a member of which Bram Stoker appropriated and fictionalized when he wrote Dracula. My notebook is full of thoughts and scribbles. As I transcribe those notes into electronic format, I find that ideas form and coaleasce. I move things around, to here and to there, and the plot structure becomes apparent.

      Interesting that you mention the journey. Gwyn. TEMPT ME is the third book in a three-book contract, and I don’t yet have a contract for the fourth. While my agent does her thing, I’m working excitedly on the piece of the puzzle I have control over – developing the story, writing the manuscript. Whether my publisher wants more Underbelly Chronicles books or not almost feels inconsequential to me at this moment. I’m so exited about this fourth story…about researching it, writing it, telling it. There’s a freedom I feel right now that I can’t quite explain.

  3. Congrats on turning in the book three.

    I just published my first in a series (Seized By Darkness, and I’m hard at work on book two, so I get what you’re saying. Somewhere between pages ninty-five and one-hundred of wip, I grabbed SBD and searched for a secondary character who is still a secondary character in this book. Once I had to do that, I thought I’m go to need someway of keeping everyone straight and started adding every character to my person of interest file (I write RS, as you know) in word and printed it again. I also pulled state wide maps, city maps and even a campus map, since my next story is set near a college and put them into me file.

    I like a hard copy of character files. At times, I grab the file, read over a character’s detail summary and then interview them or a group of them. And make notes. It’s interesting interview two or three characters at once-sort of like a debate on prime time. Stuff happens. Stuff comes out. Stuff gets noted.

    I think I’ll interview again today. Make monday exciting. LOL

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      “Person of Interest” file? That’s great, Autumn!

      In terms of files, my Master Characters List might look like an Excel spreadsheet, but it’s actually a Word table. I bounce between multiple computers while I work, and I have Microsoft Word on every computer, but not Excel. By using a Word Table, I have the ability to tweak and update any file from any computer at any time. Like you, I also carry hard copies of key documents like my Master Character List, my series arc, and any feeble Synopsii I might have tried to write, in a folder that stays in my writing bag, which I carry to the coffee shop each morning.

      Happy interviewing!

      • I forgot to mention pictures. Pictures of my characters is usually where I start my stories. Hair, eye color right there in front of me. They go into the file too. I’ve done a story board once or twice and that helped with ideas.

        I would love to be tech saavy like you.

  4. Hope Ramsay says:

    Congrats on turning in book three. Somehow the third book in a series seems like a bigger milestone than the second. So pat yourself on the back.

    And OMG you really don’t want to know how I keep track of things because I have developed my own Microsoft Access database where I keep track of characters, their GMCs, their archetypical traits, physical traits, wounds, you name it. The database also holds plot arc, although recently I’ve been making more use of the virtual file cards in Scrivener for plot points and such. Cranking my plot arc into Scrivener has been so helpful in keeping me on track and writing fast, so the software has definitely changed my writing process in many ways.

    I can also export GMC charts and other character info from my database and import the key pieces of character information into my Scrivener file under a tab in the project binder called World Bible. In that tab I also always have the map of Last Chance (which changes and grows as I add details), as well as maps of special settings. Golfing for God has its own map with detailed descriptions of each and every one of the 18 holes. And I do have one big master list of characters like yours, as well as a master time line for the town history and major characters that goes all the way back to 1830. The master time line is helpful in noting birth and death dates as well as military service dates and so forth. It allows me to figure out, at a glance, who in town is a contemporary of whom. I will also develop and track a story time line in Scrivener as I write. The Scrivener notes feature makes keeping track of time so easy. I make all kinds of use of Scrivener’s meta tags and color codes for tracking themes, plot arcs, and plot layers.

    I’m so OCD its kind of scary, actually.

  5. Tamara Hogan says:

    –> I make all kinds of use of Scrivener’s meta tags and color codes

    META TAGS. COLOR CODES. those are magic words, Hope! Gotta download Scrivener.

  6. Vivi Andrews says:

    Oh jeez, I don’t even want to think about all the mistakes and continuity errors I’m making! I keep it all in my head (which I do NOT recommend though luckily I have a kind of freakish memory) and periodically go back to check the earlier books to make sure I’m on course. As soon as I finish the book I’m working on now (#7 and the LAST in the series!!!) I’m going to go back and read them all through in order to patch up any wobbles. It’s always the things I wouldn’t even think to check that trip me up.

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Oh! And I meant to say I LOVE what you said about the Themes being the truest representation of Write What You Know. Or really Write What Matters To You. So many of my books are about self-acceptance and embracing your own power to find happiness.

      • Tamara Hogan says:

        I think it really took re-reading all my work to realize the degree to which my personal interests, issues, perspectives and experiences saturate the characters, plots and world-building.

        I wish I had a freakish memory for story facts! Alas, no; I’m safer writing it down – but strangely, I always seem to have the answer when Mark asks if I remember where such-and-such is. 😉

  7. Terri Osburn says:

    Feeling a little queasy after reading this. Writing the 2nd of a 3-book series I’ve finally created a character list that’s taped to the wall over my desk. But now I’m sure I’m missing major details and not all characters are on that page. I know what I’ll be doing this week.

  8. Addison Fox says:

    What a fantastic post!

    And congratulations on turning in book 3!!!!!

    I so hear you on needing to keep characters and names of things organized. I’m amazed how often I go back through previous books in a series hunting for information….did I name the heroine’s mother? What WAS that eye color for the hero in book 1? Does his hair sweep the nape of his neck or is it short-short?

    It’s amazing what is so very vivid to us in the writing fades as new characters come in to take up our time! 🙂 (Yes, I’m a character ho….my current hero is ALWAYS my favorite!!!!)


    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Addison, the regulars at the coffee shop where I write have gotten used to me paging through the pages of my own books as I try to verify this fact or that… /sigh/

      One of the neatest benefits of writing a series featuring a cast of continuing characters is that you never have to say goodbye to your previous books’ heroes and heroines. But one of the challenges is that these characters’ story arcs continue to develop after “their” book has been written. Three books in, I’m still having a blast putting my first hero, Lukas, through the emotional and physical wringer. 😉

  9. This is such a fantastic breakdown, Tammy! I haven’t tackled writing a series yet, and I tend to be more of the “It’s all in my head” type of people, but, wow, I’m impressed with your method of keeping everything straight. Definitely something I’ll keep in mind when/if I ever do write a series!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Cynthia, more power to you if you’re able to keep it all straight in your head. I simply can’t. Thankfully I discovered this in time to correct TEMPT ME’s continuity errors before publication, rather than receive reader email about it! {{shudder}}

  10. Tammy, it’s like you read my mind. I was just thinking that after I turn in this book – soon, I hope! – which is also Book 3 in a series, I need to go back and create a bible. (I’ve actually considered paying my sister to do this – she’d be awesome at it, and, like you, I wince when I read my own writing. LOL) I’m printing this out as a reference for when I (or my sister) does this. 😉

    Oh, and to answer your question – until now, I’ve felt like my stories changed so much from first draft to final that it wasn’t worth my time to create a detailed bible. I had started with character sheets that listed details, but they never seemed to be handy when I needed them. More often, I would open up the published book and search for the detail I needed. Now, though, I think it’s time to bite the bullet and create that bible.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> More often, I would open up the published book and search for the detail I needed.

      Sounds familiar, Anne Marie! Another thing I also did is to make sure I have an electronic copy of my final, copy-edited, page-proofed manuscript available to me on all my computers. Sometimes it’s faster that way.

  11. Liz Talley says:

    Well, I’m done with my series for a while so no book bible…though I didn’t keep anyone anyway. I just flipped back and found the info. I’m too lazy to do a lot of preemptive work which I often regret. If and when I do another series I will make sure to make a chart for eye, hsir color, age, etc. I always seem to screw up the time line.

    Nice post and best of luck staightening it all out.

  12. Congrats on handing in TASTE ME, Tammy! I’m looking forward to reading it!

    Great tips here for a reformed pantser like me! Because I’m learning to become more detail-oriented, I use Scrivener as my all-in-one book bible. I’m in the middle of a ginormous revision and my extensive notes on character, setting, chapter-by-chapter and scene-by-scene breakdowns are a godsend.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Vanessa, I just downloaded the trial copy of Scrivener – I’ll have to explore it through the lens of my computer bounce-around habits… gah, process changes always give me the wiggins! I look at it with both awe and trepidation.

  13. Congrats on Tempt Me, Tammy! I really loved seeing your process laid out so clearly.

    I recently participated in a continuity of 8 books all set within the same hospital (written by 8 different authors). The editors had a story bible with everything laid out for us, including an overarching story arc that spanned the entire series. I never realized how important it was to have everything organized in a clear concise manner, and I referred to that bible over and over again as I wrote my particular book. Since the authors were having to use each others’ characters in their books, knowing things like accents, personality traits, etc really made things so much easier. It was a great learning experience and made me a believer in keeping detailed notes!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Wow, what an awesome opportunity, Tina! I’d love to get a peek at that story bible someday. 😉 Other people’s processes absolutely fascinate me.

    • Tina, I had a similar experience writing Obsessed By Wildfire, except I didn’t have a character bible. I had to read the other author’s works, pick which characters I wanted to use, gain the author’s permission to use the characters and then make sure I stayed in character. Of course my editor helped. HQ’s way sounds so much better, although I did enjoy reading the TWP Wayback series.

  14. GREAT POST!!! I use something similar in my character lists. I do it by book though, then I have physical description and background info for those recurring characters in a separate doc. I would love to learn more about Scrivener and ordered Gwen Hayes’s book. Can’t wait to get it. But thanks everyone for your comments. I’m always looking for better ways to do what this writerly stuff.

    Congrats on getting that book in, Tammy!!!

  15. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Sorry I’m late to the party, Tammy. Great post, and good reminder to keep up with my record keeping for my books.

  16. […] At the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog, I talk about my adventures in series writing. […]

  17. […] published books out in the world, continuity is a perpetual concern. In a previous blog post about writing a series,  I mentioned creating a series bible or playbook. I’ve already used it planning this book, and […]


Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Kim Law: Oooh!!! LOVE!!!
  • Jennifer Marvel: The noise came from just outside my window. I draw the curtain slowly to the side, a pair of red...
  • Darynda Jones: Love this, April! I could see this for any age. Your protagonist could be a child haunted by a...
  • Darynda Jones: Oooooo, this would make a great opening, Cynthia! Great job!
  • Darynda Jones: YES! Love it, Lydia! Creepy and dark. Two of my favorite things, and if that’s wrong, I...