Binge-worthy. Over the past year, many of us have gotten even more familiar with the concept of bingeable television, especially when those clever streaming services make it so easy with their autoplay feature to watch the next episode without lifting a finger.
But long before box sets or platforms like Netflix (not to mention a global pandemic) made binge-watching flourish as an accepted routine, romance readers have understood and appreciated the lure of a book series that keeps you coming back from more. In fact, within the romance community, staying up into the wee hours, or hiding from the reality of life to escape into the pages of a favorite series has often been seen as a badge of honor. And popular series holds a special place in the hearts of readers, like a treasured friend.
So what are the hallmarks of a romance series that will entice readers to invest in more? Let’s take a look at three areas that can help make your books binge-worthy for readers.
Writing a Romance Series That Keeps Readers Coming Back for More
Characters are Key
Most romance books fall into the category of standalone series. The world of each story is the same, but the book can be read on its own with the two main characters resolving their issues and finding love by the last page. The next book shifts to a different couple and the series continues to move forward from there. It’s the best of both for readers, with time to really settle into a world they love while also being guaranteed the all-important promise of the story at the end of each individual book. Authors often craft these series around a family or group of friends, introducing future heroes and heroines in one book even though they might not have a fully-fleshed-out storyline until several books into the series. These little tidbits of information, where readers are enticed by upcoming characters, are critical to a successful series. It’s often this “hero-baiting” that ensures an auto-buy for your next book. And these secondary characters add extra fun and sometimes a sprinkling of sentiment or snark into the current story that keeps things fresh both in writing and for readers.
How Theme and World-Building Work Together
The characters you create also inhabit the world you’ve invented for them. Whether it's a small-town or a rich historical landscape, readers want to feel immersed in your world. Details about place as well as community and the feel of your world all contribute to this. Readers want to feel connected, as though they are living the story right along with your characters. It’s more than simply a setting; the world of a book series becomes home to the readers who love it. Your world is an escape and every person in it can help draw a reader more deeply into the experience, and having a universal theme for the series will help bind it together.
When I first crafted the idea for The Magnolia Sisters series, with three sisters who discover their connection after the death of their father, I knew that each story would revolve around the theme of finding home. That theme influenced every choice I made for the town of Magnolia because I wanted to create a place where my characters could discover who they were and come to realize what was important to them. Even the secondary characters contribute to this journey, and the town becomes a huge part of the hero and heroine in each book finding their place in the world.
The Nitty-Gritty of Your Series Bible
While your creativity can flourish through the crafting of characters and themes for your world, it’s critical not to lose track of the details. Readers notice details, and if you get them wrong it can jar a faithful reader out of the story and onto something new. This becomes even more important with a series. That minor character from book one might take center stage in book four, and you have to keep their background—and their eye color—consistent. It might seem like it would be impossible to lose track of the details of a character you know so well in the moment, will you truly be able to keep track of everything in your head for multiple books? The answer is no, and that’s the reason why a series bible is essential from the start.
The bible will help you keep track of the details and serves as a cheat sheet for your world and the characters in it. Whether it’s handwritten or created in a spreadsheet, the bible should include physical descriptions, specifics about age, background and a basic timeline for each book as well as the details of setting and possibly even a map of the world you’ve created. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s easier to keep track of these things as you go than to start the bible three (or even seven) books into the series.
Taking the time to craft a series can seem like a daunting task—especially when sometimes seeking out even a daily word count feels like climbing a mountain—but it’s worth it. As a writer, immersing yourself in a series can take your work to a deeper level where you get to explore the issues and themes important to you. And there is no better feeling than hearing from a reader who’s lost a night of sleep because they were binge-reading one of your book series. That is high praise, indeed.