So Alex did it to me again. She sent out a vibe three thousand miles away, found out exactly what I was thinking, pulled it from my brain, and wrote a fabulous blog about love and sex in mysteries.
I’d been thinking about this subject a lot lately as I write the second book of my Lucy Kincaid series. Why? Because with an ongoing relationship, the love scene takes on a different meaning, and to keep them from being staid, “insert part A into slot B”, each scene needs to bring the characters closer or push them apart, while also complicating the relationship or raising the stakes. That’s a lot harder to do, I’m discovering, in book two of a series (and probably book three, book four, book five . . . if I’m so lucky.)
So because Alex invaded my thoughts and plucked my idea, I went with the next logical discussion point: character growth in the series.
I wrote twelve romantic thrillers which were more or less stand alones. Not purely stand alones, but each one had a separate hero/heroine and a separate crime, which was resolved by the end of the book. The only continuity was the occasional recurrence of secondary characters, some of whom had been or would be stars in their own book. The only trilogy that was more than loosely connected was the Prison Break trilogy where in book one (KILLING FEAR) an earthquake under San Quentin frees a group of death row inmates and each book handles a different escapee, until book three where the last escapee is trying to prove his innocence and enlists his estranged daughter’s help.
Because the story, protagonists, and villains are different, I don’t really think of these as a series—more like they’re crimes happening in the same fictional world.
The Lucy Kincaid series is truly a series, with the same core group of characters facing different crimes. Lucy was previously a secondary character in my “No Evil” trilogy who was kidnapped in FEAR NO EVIL. Because of her past—not only what happened to her but how she responded both then and now, six years later—I find her one of the most compelling characters I’ve gotten to know. Everything she’s done for the last six years is to land her a job with the FBI, but she’s not there yet. Her love interest is Sean Rogan, a private investigator and security expert who has had run-ins with the FBI, and not all of them friendly. We don’t know his entire past, but there are enough hints in the first book to suggest that he hasn’t always been a law-abiding citizen. Well, he’s not exactly a law-abiding citizen now, either—just better.
There are other recurring characters, some more important than others (like FBI Agent Noah Armstrong who Sean calls “Mr. Law & Order”—and not very nicely, I might add!—especially after Lucy develops a camaraderie with the agent. Patrick Kincaid, Lucy’s older brother who was seriously injured rescuing her in FEAR, is Sean’s partner, and there may be other characters from previous stories who will pop in, depending on the story.
I’m not worried about story ideas–I have a lot of ideas for Lucy. I can “see” the characters and what type of crimes would draw them in and challenge them, while tapping into something in their past. What I’ve truly been wrestling with is multi-book character growth. There are two primary concerns here: first, that my characters continue to grow and change, organic to the story, in each book. And second, that new readers coming in mid-series will get both a complete story, and not be lost in understanding the character and their decisions.
Writing a stand-alone—where two characters (for me, a hero and heroine)—I know what to expect, at least as far as the character arc. The reader needs to be satisfied that the characters have grown to the point where they have solved their internal problems and can have a life and stay together (the romance part of “romantic suspense.) In my book THE HUNT, for example, the hero FBI Agent Quinn Peterson prevented the heroine Miranda Moore from graduating at the FBI Academy—he had her kicked out because of a psych exam. Considering that they were lovers at the time obviously caused much consternation—Quinn felt that Miranda was on a personal vendetta against a serial killer who killed her best friend, so much so that she’d make a dangerous agent. Miranda felt betrayed that Quinn had her tossed from the academy, and that what he believed about her mental stability. Fast forward twelve years and they are working on a case together—Miranda in search and rescue looking for a missing college girl who fits the pattern of the serial killer, and Quinn as the FBI Agent most familiar with the case. They obviously have to find the girl before she’s killed, and identify and catch the killer, but layered over that is Quinn’s perception that Miranda is too close and reckless, Miranda’s personal fears about the killer, yet ultimately Miranda’s knowledge of the Gallatin Valley is essential to finding the killer. They have to work together—they have no choice if they’re to save the girl.
By the end of the story, Miranda faces her fears and proves to Quinn that he was wrong about her stability and she ; Miranda accepts that twelve years ago she was too close to the case; time and experience gave her the ability. By the end, she forgives Quinn because she now understands herself and her flaws—but more importantly, what her motivation was then and is now. The End.
In a series, I need to take Lucy and Sean to the next logical level in the relationship without having a complete conclusion. There should always be reader satisfaction, but a hint of doubt and conflict for the future. Each book needs to grow on that. JD Robb’s Eve Dallas and Roarke are models for this—you know they love each other and will stay together . . . but they both have a past and conflicts. For example, when Roarke’s previous lover comes to New York, Eve’s insecurities about their relationship come forward and Roarke, true to personality, is angry that Eve doesn’t trust him and his feelings.
But more than their personal relationship, each character has to grow and change in the story, without rehashing the same problems over and over. Therein lies the difficulty. Keeping the characters growing, changing, but having conflict in each story. Keeping the love scenes from being more than just physical acts of sex, but emotional turning points for one or both of the characters.
What I’ve decided to do, at least for book two, is take Lucy’s primary insecurity—that she isn’t “normal” because of her past, and run with it by highlighting how “normal” Sean is and see where it takes the two of them. Lucy is serious and focused; Sean is a daredevil and charming. Put in a female character like Sean and Lucy’s insecurities will shine. The female cop who is helping them find a missing teenager is everything that Lucy wants to be and thinks she isn’t–attractive on multiple levels, from personality to looks, having “normal” interests outside of work. The cop’s life and past doesn’t consume her: she’s doing a job and has a personal life. Lucy has a hard time separating these, and seeing how Sean is so natural with the stranger highlights Lucy’s fears and insecurities about not only herself, but their relationship. This should be the core conflict in all the scenes between Sean and Lucy, hanging over them, but be at least partly resolved by the end of the story.
Character development should be organic to the story, the the love scenes should continue that whether they are graphic or tame. I’m hoping that each book I can find one more area to work on. I’m finding I love writing a series, but at the same time? It’s just as hard as a stand alone. But in this business, nothing is easy.
Just curious . . . do you prefer stand alones or series? Why or why not? Does it matter?