The PHS Poll: Size Matters
Can we ever get enough of the characters we love? Do you prefer standalone stories, family sagas, a linked series of three or four books or an epic continuation of a tale you never want to end? When it comes to writing and reading these books, for some of us, Size Matters...
Elisabeth Hobbes - I Heart Family Sagas
I’ve always loved reading series populated by large, argumentative families, possibly because my own is very small. Families are tricky. Love them or hate them, you can’t pretend you’re the only person on the planet from your own personal gene pool. Families often have long-standing grudges and secrets stretching over generations or across different branches of the tree. It could be something as simple as which sibling always got to sit in the front of the car going to the beach, or as complex as which unworthy cousin inherited Great-grandfather’s war medals. All this makes for great conflict and drama.
I never intended to write anything other than standalone stories (mainly because in the early days I was taking it each book at a time in case Harlequin stopped asking for more). My first heroine was an orphan and single child so no chance of anything there. I toyed at one point with using the brother or sister of Eleanor from A Wager for the Widow - which in itself grew out of a line of parental backstory for Hugh, the hero in my first book, Falling for Her Captor - but then I got distracted with Hal and Joanna in The Blacksmith’s Wife and never returned to them. I was surprised after The Blacksmith’s Wife was published by how many readers wanted to find out what happened to Hal’s womanizing brother, Roger. After failing to persuade Joanna to run away as his mistress I sent him packing off to France to try making his fortune and I expected him to stay there. He was such an amoral, self-centered waste of space that surely he wasn’t hero material. Was he? I decided to find out if he was beyond saving so brought him back to England, shot him through the shoulder with an arrow and Redeeming the Rogue Knight was born.
Part of the appeal of a family saga is getting to see one character through the eyes of another and forming a different perspective on someone you thought you knew. I’d only shared Hal’s opinion of his brother so it was fun to explore Roger’s feelings towards the upright, loyal, all-round-good-guy illegitimate child his father openly preferred. Being a romance, I didn’t want to dwell too much on sibling relationships in Redeeming the Rogue Knight so I purposefully kept Roger away from his half-brother until the epilogue and instead threw him into the arms of a single mother halfway down the country. I couldn’t not give readers a quick glimpse of Hal and Joanna though. Family series are fantastic for finding out what happened to characters we have grown to love, even if it is just a cameo. It’s always good to see a HEA has continued once the last page has been turned and really is ever after. It’s like catching up with an old friend (or stalking an old flame’s Facebook profile in some cases).
Sagas give a writer the chance go down the generations as well as across them which makes a saga even more fun, especially if the children involved are hellbent on repeating the same mistakes as the older generations. The great thing about Roger’s heroine, Lucy, being a single mother is that she has a son who will one day grow up and have a romance of his own.And therein lies another story.It turns out I haven’t quite finished with the Danby family after all.
Elisabeth's historical romance, Beguiled by the Forbidden Knight, is available for pre-order now. To find out more about Elisabeth and her books you can visit her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Robyn Rychards - I Heart Standalone Stories
Series and connected stories are all the rage, but give me the choice between those and a standalone story, and I’ll pick the standalone every time. Not that I haven’t enjoyed my fair share of series and connected stories, but one of the big reasons I read is to escape from life and not have to think too hard.
Having a big cast of characters to keep track of, especially between different books, becomes a job I don’t want when I’m trying to relax. Now that’s not to say I haven’t become attached to various side characters and wanted them to find their happy ever after, but generally they’re few and far between.
It's the main reason I enjoy category romance so much, where the focus is on the hero and heroine and most of the time is spent on them. My first foray into the romance genre was the Harlequin Romance/Cherish line and so there will always be a special place in my heart for standalone stories. I love delving into the lives of the two main characters and getting to know them so well they feel like my friends. Friends I’m anxious to see get their happy ever after.
In my writing I lean toward standalone stories as well and usually have to flesh out secondary characters a lot more in my second draft. I’ve actually ended up shooting myself in the foot with my love of standalone stories in my writing. By not thinking too much about the possibility of those characters having their own stories, I’ve given them names off the top of my head, ones I may not really like for a lead character and then had readers clamoring for their stories. Leaving me stuck with names I’m not real thrilled with when I cave and write a story for them. Needless to say, I now give that more thought!
Standalone stories for the win!
Ali Williams - I Heart Speculative Romance Continuities
In general, I’m not fussed about whether I read standalone romances, or books in a series (though it’s always great to revisit characters that you’ve fallen in love with), but the one place where I adore it is in speculative romance. Good speculative romance (ie. paranormal, scifi, dystopian, apocalyptic, urban fantasy etc) benefits from some really wonderful world building. Whether that’s playing with an aspect of our world, adding in some magic, or sending us far out into the galaxy, there’s some seriously hard work that goes into creating these worlds. As an author, it can be hard to leave all of that hard work behind, and as a reader – why would you want to? It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore new worlds that capture our imagination.
Instead, it’s far more satisfying to continue to see the world and its characters develop.
Sometimes, that means following one specific character – particularly in urban fantasy, like in Kira Soloman in Seressia Glass’s Shadowchasers series or the eponymous heroine of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. The best thing about that is that you get follow a character through an extended narrative arc, watching them grow, change and face different challenges. You also get to invest in a romance that develops over several books – which means that you can go for the long haul payoff as opposed to getting that Happy Ever After in one book. (Of course, you always get a Happily For Now…)
And in some series, the world is what draws the characters together. Each book sees the overall narrative affect different characters and pairings…
I’m a little bit obsessed with Kit Rocha’s science fiction Sectors world – particularly in the new Gideon’s Riders series; and Alyssa Cole’s Off the Grid trilogy, about what happens when electricity disappears, is a masterclass in getting us to fully invest in the individual stories within one family’s experience of a post-apocalyptic world.
So yes; I like to fully immerse myself in a fictional world, and will pretty much inhale any speculative romance series that comes my way…
Ali Williams is a romance editor, academic and writer, and one of the hosts of Into the Stacks: The Bookcast, a podcast about speculative fiction. For more information about Ali and her projects, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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