The first impulse to revisit the Gresham family came from a review of my romance novel The Bargain that praised its “funny family relations.” I’d really enjoyed writing about the hero’s five brothers as I told the tale of the youngest son of the Duke of Langford. I was glad to see them appreciated, but even though the plot had touched on some of the details of their wooing, it wasn’t until later that I wondered, why didn’t each brother have a full love story all his own?
They certainly deserved more, and they were all different enough to offer unique story possibilities. Nathaniel, Viscount Hightower, the responsible eldest son, carried the burden of his distinguished heritage. Sebastian, the dashing cavalry major, had met his match in the lovely Lady Georgina. Randolph, the ambitious clergyman, needed just the right sort of wife for a rising churchman. Robert, the suave town beau, had been unexpectedly beguiled by a bluestocking. James, the naval officer, back from sailing the South Seas, thought he was ready to settle down. I started to get all sorts of ideas.
I’d also noticed that readers seem more fond of series than standalones. They enjoy following a set of characters through several books, a bit like stopping by to visit friends and hearing what everyone’s up to lately. So a new series seemed like a good idea. I got the go-ahead from my publisher, and I set off to craft an interconnected set of books.
Right away, I discovered that writing a series was quite different from writing a standalone. The first and trickiest part is keeping track of all the details.
I was used to telling a story one time, over several hundred pages—managing one plot line, a single time sequence (with maybe a few flashbacks), and one set of secondary characters. When the book was done, it was over. No need to remember any particular step of that story.
But now I was planning five inter-related books, which meant five times the words, incidents, references—and many more opportunities to lose track of details. Who said what, when? Where did I say Sebastian was when Nathaniel went to Brighton? When Robert and James meet up in London, what’s the season? I didn’t want to find that I’d set a scene in July in one book and then mentioned it as happening in August in another. Also, The Bargain was already out there. I had to make sure I carried through what it promised in terms of characters and adventures.
I created a detailed grid for the six brothers and their respective love interests. It has headings for character descriptions, chronology, the main incidents in each book, and minor players who enter and exit the different plots. As I write (I’m on book four right now), I take care to add new information as things unfold and check with what’s already there. If I lose track of a Gresham, I can turn to this reference and set myself straight.
That done, I began the balancing act of series writing. Each of the five stories needed to stand on its own, even as it was interwoven with the others. Some people will read a series out of order; I didn’t want to disappoint or confuse those readers. They should feel as rewarded as those who follow the books in order. Fortunately, romance offers a natural way to accomplish this. Each Gresham brother has a particular love story and finds his own happy ending in the closing pages of one of the volumes. Some of his brothers may still be struggling—a lure, if you will, into later books—but there’s no need to look any further to enjoy the denouement.
With these technical matters in hand, I was able to relax into the fun part of writing a series: hanging out with my characters for much longer than usual. I didn’t need to imagine a whole new set of people for each novel. I was settled in with a group I knew, with all their quirks and history. Some events suggested in The Bargain have been a joy to expand and explain. (And some have been more of a slog.) Probably my favorite thing, though, is dropping hints about what’s going on with absent brothers, which will later be told at length in their books.
All in all, I’m delighted with rejoining the Gresham family and looking deeper into their lives. It could be the series route for me from now on!
Jane Ashford is an author of historical romances. She lives in Los Angeles.