Marie Sinclair has just released her first novel, “A Kind of Forever,” a gay romance with well-drawn characters and an engaging storyline. But she faces the author’s challenge of creating a stand-alone novel that will eventually be part of a series. Sinclair cited special considerations with the romance genre. “This genre has a unique aspect in that every stand-alone book has to end with an HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now), even if it’s part of a series.”
I asked how do you balance keeping your reader interested in a possible series, but also making the first novel a complete story?”
This is really a great question and one that was challenging for me. While the books in my series can be read as stand-alones, they also function as a unit by each book introducing characters and situations that play out in the next book in the series.
In my case, I wrote the novel (book 1) first, but knew I wanted to write a prequel to the novel, but my biggest challenge not ending the prequel with a typical HEA for a couple of reasons. 1) the novel was a “second-chance-at-love” story, so even if I ended the prequel with my couple solidly together, the reader would know it wasn’t going to last (especially since they hadn’t seen each other in twelve years), and 2) I couldn’t end with them saying, “I love you” for the first time as a big relationship milestone because their first time saying it happens at a very specific moment that sets in motion the events that lead to their separation.
So, my dilemma was how to create a satisfying ending that was in keeping with the genre expectations if I couldn’t end with a significant relationship milestone.
What I did with the prequel was to make the question of saying “I love you” the through line on which the tension in the novella rests. There are reasons why the couple is holding back, but I also made it clear to the reader that they do love each other. That was important. For one character, the novella charts him recognizing that he loves the other, while, for the other character, it’s coming to terms with the fact that taking this step might out him to his conservative family. Both characters have things at stake if they do say “I love you” and if they don’t, which is important in creating tension for the reader.
I also put a teaser for the novel in the novella/prequel by mentioning the future event (an LGBTQ protest) at which my main characters say “I love you” and making it a significant step in the novella. In the first chapter of the novel, it’s clear that something happened at the protest that resulted in the characters being separated for twelve years.
One of the things I love about building a series is the opportunity to introduce readers to the characters who will appear in the next books and lay a foundation for those characters. I’ve always loved reading series with subplots that run through the entire series and then become the main focus in the final book of the series. I think building a series with that in mind is a great way to introduce the reader to a complicated situation without having to give a lot of backstory or set up. I also really love spin-off series (this is something I’m doing with my first series).
As to what makes a series compelling for the reader — I think it comes down to building a complete world and making sure the characters in each book have things at stake as well as you’re not just adding details for the sake of adding them — those things mean something and have a function in the story that pushes the characters. In other words, the writer isn’t just putting something in the story to just connect the books, but that every detail increases the risk or stakes for the characters.
(Both Sinclair’s novel and prequel just released on Amazon last month.)