Let’s Talk with Karla Brandenburg

How Writing a Romantic Suspense Series is Different than a Mystery Series
by Karla Brandenburg

Fellow Booklover’s Bench Author, Maggie Toussaint, recently commented to me about how mystery authors have to work to keep a series fresh, and a sleuth believable. My first thought was something along the lines of that’s not a concern I have since, in romance series, its less about following a character through a number of books, and more about the people around them stepping into the spotlight. In a romance, your main characters are expected to find their happily ever after. They can’t be expected to fall in love with someone else in the next novel. A romance series generally revolves around a place, or a group of people.

In the first series I wrote, the Northwest Suburbs series, I centered on a “family of friends” who lived in and around a certain area. Each book centered on a different friend.
My second series, The Mist Trilogy, followed a recurring theme running through connected stories, with the same cast of characters—and some new ones—returning in each book to address the theme.

For the Epitaph series, I gave each of the main characters in Book 1 siblings who could each star in their own books with a supernatural subplot. As one of my reviewers says, “The main characters are real and believable. They just have a ghostly presence to deal with while going through the story.” Each story is different, but you’ll see many of the same supporting characters as each sibling steps to the forefront.

Mystery writers have a continuing character who is presented with a new situation to deal with in each book. Nancy Drew. Baxley Powell. Gordon Hepler. Seamus McCree. Tai and Trey. Marla Shore. The characters are familiar and have specialized knowledge or experience that helps them to solve the mystery.

What’s your preference? Returning characters stepping into a new situation? Or secondary characters stepping into the spotlight?

To celebrate October (and Halloween), one commenter will be chosen at random to receive a paperback version of THE TWINS (Epitaph 2) and a citrus and sage votive candle to keep the ghosts at bay.

Also, while you’re visiting the site, enter our Booklover’s Bench monthly $25 gift card giveaway. The contest runs run October 1-18. Click to enter the contest.

Comments

  1. Diane McMahon says:

    I was not aware that citrus and sage would keep the ghosts away…

  2. tinawhittle says:

    I love to read romantic mysteries (and write them — thanks for giving Tai & Trey a shout out!) because I am pretty sure I can count on an HEA and justice being served. I don’t mind knowing these things because for me the journey to these known destinations (the complications and the choices, the human nature part of the equation) is the most interesting part. And I always like a little familiar ground, whether it’s a setting or a recurring character. Looking forward to the latest in the EPITAPH series!

  3. Julia David says:

    I like both. I do like a series where I know the people and can see what is happening with their lives as they go on.

  4. SandyG265 says:

    I actually enjoy both.

  5. I prefer series with the same hero or heroine so I can watch them grow and change through time along with their relationships to other recurrent characters. This character growth is what hooks me as a reader.

  6. Linda Leonard says:

    Actually I have found both types to be appealing as long as they hold my attention and keep me interested in their characters.

    • I agree, Linda. For me, it is less about the genre of book and more about the quality of the story. As a “not sci fi” reader, I’ve even found some of those I enjoy as long as the story is compelling enough.

  7. Jackie Tessnair says:

    I love reading mysteries with familiar characters.Thanks for the chance to win this book.

  8. Sue Hieber says:

    I like continuing characters that’s why I love Hallmark’s channel with their new cozy mystery movies. Lost s of fun!!!

  9. Love familiar characters!

  10. Terri Rinko says:

    Thank you for the interesting post. I love familiar characters going in different directions. Complex writing to me if you can intertwine the characters and delve into their pasts to remind of us things. Thank you for the stories!

  11. When I was a shiny new author, I loved creating story worlds. It seemed with each book I invested more creative energy in defining that story world. I also discovered it was hard to let go of those people and places when that book was finished. A part of me wanted to linger in those places. One of my fans kept writing to me about the story world of Mossy Bog, a fictional town featured in my romantic suspense titled MUDDY WATERS. She insisted that I needed to write another book in that story world and that the lady copy would be the heroine. I took her advice and wrote the books she suggested and then a third in that romantic suspense series. I’m really glad I did. The experience allowed me to linger in that small town world with my favorite characters. Now that I write mysteries, I face different challenges, especially with adding paranormal elements. But my overall goal is always to provide an entertaining read.

  12. Allyson A. says:

    This was an interesting topic, that I never gave much thought to. I’ve read books with returning characters dealing with new situations, and series where secondary characters become a focal point in a new situation. I can say, I’ve enjoyed both because I get wrapped up in the story itself. I enjoy trying to guess the outcome of how the story will unfold. So, if that’s familiar characters stepping into new situations that’s great, or a series where each book is a new story surrounding a second character then that’s great, too. I guess, I’m neutral, lol.

  13. I tend to think of romance “series” as “connected books” for all the reasons you mention. I’ve only broken that “rule” once (because I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to bring the same hero/heroine back for another book). It’s fun to play with a stable of characters, but it’s also nice to be able to stick with a protagonist over a series of books, which is the convention in a mystery series.

  14. Not being a romance reader, I hadn’t thought about how one keeps a romance series fresh and exciting. Now that you mention the difference, it makes complete sense.

    • There is one romance series I read with returning characters that I absolutely loved, at least in the beginning. After a while, the couple grew stale and I thought the author might be gearing toward their children. Part of the appeal was also the location, so when they moved, that diminished the series as well.

  15. sallycootie says:

    Very interesting post. I never thought about it but you are so right about the difference in what we expect in a romance versus a mystery. I love the happily ever after in a romance, but in a mystery I like the friction or suspense around the main character. Don’t want their life to be a total disaster, but if everything is neatly wrapped up that’s got to be the end of the series.