When my editor at Zondervan bought Summer of the Wolves (2012), my book about stepsisters in a newly blended family, and asked for three more books about the same characters, I panicked.
I had written the book several years before, so I hadn’t been “with” those characters for awhile. I hadn’t planned on returning to them. Many writers dream of getting a series, but I hadn’t.
When I started brainstorming, though, I found lots of ideas for more books. The first book had taken place on a family vacation. There were plenty of other interesting places I could take the family on subsequent vacations. The first book had featured an adventure with animals, and I felt confident I could come up with plenty of other animal adventures. I relished the idea of researching those.
But the most important element for the series was the relationship between the two girls. I recently read a thoughtful article in The Kenyon Review by Amy Boesky, a literary writer who has formerly written many books in the Sweet Valley Twins series, and she said the crux of the success of that series was that one twin was mischievous and fun-loving and rebellious while the other one was a rule follower. Almost every activity resulted in conflict between the two girls, and this was the axis upon which the entire series turned.
My girls were very different, too. Diana is physically bold but socially awkward and reclusive, while Stephanie is socially adept but physically fearful. By nature, if one girl is happy in a certain situation, the other is likely to be miserable. With almost any activity, my two girls were going to want opposite outcomes.
This may seem obvious, but if you’re interested in writing a series, developing characters with this inherent conflict in their personalities can help drive the action of more than one plot. The conflict won’t seem manufactured, but can naturally arise from who your characters are.
Relationship triangles also drive conflict. An example of a relationship triangle is the one that drives The Hunger Games – between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale – where two people vie for the attention of a third. I saw that in my blended family, there were many opportunities for these relationship triangles, between the girls and their parents, both natural and step, between the stepsisters and other girls in their extended family, between the stepsisters and boys they met, and between the stepsisters and their grandparents.
In the second book, Wild Horse Spring, the girls both like the same boy. In the third book, Blue Autumn Cruise, the girls go on a cruise with extended family members, one of whom is a cousin Stephanie knows well but Diana has never met. There is instant probability of “odd man out” conflicts.
Again, the need to create these relationship triangles seems obvious, but now that I understand the way that these character dynamics can drive multiple stories about the same characters, as a writer I have tried to become more intentional in my use of them.
3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Lisa Williams Kline on Character Relationships & Series Potential”
I agree. Character relationships are the difference between mediocre and good storytelling. I'm willing to be that part of your success was because your readers could identify with both personalities in at least some small way. Sounds like a great series!
Lisa, you do a wonderful job with the character differences in the Sisters books. I too, can relate to parts of each of them.I also think you do an amazing job with your action/animal scenes.
But now I'd like to hear a bit about the character differences of those very handsome cats that live at your house…
Hi Patrick and Barbara –
Thanks for reading and commenting. I originally wrote the series in third person, but changed it to first on the suggestion of my agent, and was concerned about keeping the voices distinct.
Yes, my two cats are totally different, Barbara! The gray one is a true scaredy cat and the black one is quite vain.
Thanks so much for the guest post, Cynthia!
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