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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How I Introduce New Characters In A Series by Sarah J. McNeal

I like to give readers a preview of a character whose story will be coming up either next or somewhere close down the line in my Wildings series. I want to give them enough about an upcoming character to make them familiar with the character and maybe even know a flaw or weakness in the character’s personality to get the reader’s attention. Occasionally, I’ll even set up a tiny piece to show the reader a situation with the new character that may cause the character pain or shed light on a danger or problem they face.
I’ve noticed how some of my favorite authors introduce characters, especially family members, in a story previous to their own that gives an indication of their personality, flaws, or desires. Linda Lael Miller will often have 3 brothers, 3 sisters or friends with a shared circumstance at the beginning of a series. I like how I anticipate that next character’s story after reading tidbits here and there in the present book. My interest gets roused by something the character says or does that tells me something’s up with that guy and I want to know what it is.

In the short story, UNEXPECTED BLESSINGS, I introduced the next heroine, Lucille Thoroughgood, a straight-laced woman who speaks her mind and works as a social worker at the orphanage…a job she takes very seriously.
Lucille Thoroughgood:
Miss Thoroughgood’s eyes darted away for a moment and her pale skin pinkened. “I’m sorry. Like you, I wanted to place them all in the same home, but you must know how difficult that is. Not many foster homes are willing to take on so many children at once. Even the few that are willing, don’t have enough room to accommodate so many children, especially if they already have children in the home.  Surely you can understand how difficult it is. Believe me, it’s all for the—“

From THE BEAST OF HAZARD I introduced “the frowner”, Hank Wilding who would become the hero in HOME FOR THE HEART.
“Well, hang on, let’s hear what Joey has to say about it. What do you think, cousin? Is this a hell hound, or something like a bear or other big predator?” Hank spoke in that deep, commanding voice that made people listen.
*  *  *
“I agree. This thing has been mighty brazen so far. It could decide to attack humans.” Hank knelt beside Joey and lowered his voice. “It’s got you puzzled, too, doesn’t it?”
“I have to say, I don’t have any quick answers here.”
“I think it’s one of them freaks from the circus that just come to town. Nothing happened ‘til they came,” one of the ranchers declared.
Joey and Hank exchanged a look. Joey stood and faced the ranchers. “I’ll ride over to the fairgrounds in the morning and see if they’re missing one of their animals. Meanwhile, let’s get this mess cleaned up before it attracts more predators.” He glanced at his cousin. “I’ll meet you here tomorrow after I’ve seen to the clinic animals and we’ll search the area. Maybe Sam and Kyle can come along.”

As I wrote Lucy and Hank’s story in HOME FOR THE HEART, I showed how Hank’s twin, Kit, suffered with “battle fatigue” or PTSD as we call it today and his unlikely love interest, June Wingate. June is a spirited young teacher who is impulsive and sometimes reckless. Kit knows there is something off about June’s family and, whatever it is, he is determined to help her through it.
June and Kit:
Another vehicle pulled up beside her and screeched to a stop. That would be Lucy’s friend, June, a teacher who volunteered at the orphanage. Hank’s twin brother, Kit, sat beside her in the passenger side. His eyes were wide and his hands clung to the dashboard as the dust settled from the sudden stop. June was not a great driver, but that didn’t stop her from loving to drive, or from laying on the gas.
“I’ll drive us back to the orphanage when we finish,” Kit growled as he disembarked from June’s automobile.
Lucy noticed the pallor of Kit’s face and the beaded line of perspiration on his upper lip. His hands shook and his eyes had a wild, dilated look to them. She’d seen it before with soldiers who suffered emotional trauma during the war. Some called it shell shock. Whatever it was, she knew that it could be paralyzing to those who experienced it. She decided to ask Hank about his brother later in private.
June stepped out of the car and glanced at Lucy. Her brows pulled together above the bridge of her nose in a worried furrow. She hastened her steps toward Kit and took his arm to stop him. Lucy couldn’t make out everything June said, but she did hear the words, “I’m sorry”, and then something like, “I didn’t mean to make you fear for your life.” Some other words followed and then Kit halted his steps, and turned to face June.
His words were clear. “I didn’t fear for my life; I feared for yours. You’re reckless with it as if you have no end of tomorrows.” He pulled his arm from her grasp and took long strides toward Hank who watched the scene between Kit and June unfold with a solemn, thin-lipped grimace.
Lucy greeted her impulsive friend and Kit warmly and waved to Hank before she went to help the rest of the children out of the car.

I also showed more of Kyle Red Sky’s struggle with his Lakota heritage. Kyle is a cousin to the Wildings. He has played a secondary character in several stories leading up to his own. As he deals with the prejudices against his Lakota heritage, the mysterious new owner of his mother’s dress shop comes to town. She hides half her face behind a mass of red curls and keeps her own counsel. Kyle has dreamed of her and knows she has faced danger with a courage he admires, but he also knows she is still in danger. When she moves into his old apartment above the garage, they begin to exchange notes on the refrigerator. Through the notes, a bond is forming between them, one that may get one or both of them killed.
“I’m afraid so, honey. I like you, Lucy. As a matter of fact, I like you a lot. I don’t want to see you get hurt or just end up with nothing but a broken heart.”
She saw the look of genuine concern in Kyle’s eyes. His words had pierced her heart, but she knew he meant well. He didn’t want her to have unrealistic expectations of a future with Hank or see her get hurt. “I know, Kyle. But I don’t think we get to choose who we fall in love with. It’s true, I may end up an old maid if Hank never loves me back, but I can’t imagine loving someone else. I’d rather have his friendship than nothing at all.”
“That’s a mighty sad way of thinking. Hank might fall in love against his will I suppose, but that doesn’t mean he’d ever let the woman know his feelings, let alone ask her to marry him.” A wide grin broke out on his handsome face. “Just in case you decide to give up on Grumpy, I volunteer to be your backup plan.”
Lucy could not suppress her laughter. “You crazy, wonderful man. I can hear all the hearts breaking all over town the day you fall in love and take a wife.”
His grin disappeared and, for an instant, Lucy noticed a fleeting shadow cross Kyle’s face. “I sincerely doubt that, Lucy girl. Women may want to flirt with me, get my attention, or even roll around in bed with me because they think I’m handsome—and I am you know.” He gave her a teasing grin. “But most of them would never consider me for a husband because I am part Lakota.”

I’ve learned so much about writing a series through personal experience and through reading series books by other authors. When it’s done right, it is such a joy to read serial books. To learn more about my Wilding stories, click onto “The Wildings” in my signature.
Have you written a series? How did you project interest for the next book in the series? Did you have the next hero or heroine play a secondary role in the previous book?
As a reader, do you like to read books in a series? Do you like to have a hint about an upcoming character in a preceding novel or story? Do you like having an idea of who the characters are, or do you want them to be a complete surprise to you? 

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Good post, Sarah. I also contemplate how to introduce characters, but since I have considered, but never accomplished, writing a series, this was especially interesting. I keep wanting to put together a series (I have one in particular in mind)...

    1. I would love to see you write a series, Gail. The Wildings did not start out as a series, but I am very glad that it turned into one. When I write abut the Wildings now it's like returning to my home town. So, if you have one in mind, I hope you carry on with it.
      Thank you so much for your comment, Gail.

  2. As I continue to take this journey as a writer, there are people in the stories I write who beg to be heard. Your post if very timely and useful. Great information and thank you. Doris

    1. Any time I can help out or inspire another author, I'm all in. I am so happy to have shared information with you that you may be able to use, Doris.
      Thank you so much for coming by.

  3. Sarah,

    I'm in the same series "boat" as Gail in that I've never written a series, but I sure enjoy reading series-connected stories. I love learning about the world the author builds for the characters. The closest I have to a series is rough notes on a set of connected "episodes" stories that don't qualify as series (there is only one recurring character). I admire you for writing stories that all tie-in together and have such richly developed characters.

    1. Kaye, I hope sometime you take the plunge into writing a series. I just sort of fell into it when I wrote Harmonica Joe's Reluctant Bride. Building a fictional town certainly helped. The characters can either be related or have friends who have a story to tell. I love that I can bring some previous characters back into the stories even as I introduce new characters. The only hard thing is what to do with older characters--kill them off or let them fade away--or just don't mention them in upcoming stories. I don't know that I could ever write a story in which Joe, Lola, or Banjo Wilding could die.
      I would love to see what you might come up with a series.
      Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts.

  4. Good points. I knew your series had continuing characters and some became characters in their own book. I love this kind of series. Each book is a stand-alone, yet family ties, usually.
    My Texas books are like this, and although I stopped the series with Texas Dreamer, I still have my genealogy sheet I created showing all the relationships. There are some viable characters on there, potentially, but I had the feeling it was time to stop.
    Now you're making me want to start another one.
    The mail order bride stories are different, mostly not like you're describing. Still, we call those a series.
    Thanks for the background and workings of the Wildings and which direction each will take. You truly have a winning series going.

    1. Celia, I read your Texas books and I loved them. I hope you do write more stories in that series. You could add more Mail Order Brides stories any time you wanted because they are not connected to one another the way the Wildings are. I have never written a mail order bride story even though I love to read them.
      Thank you for all your kind words and support. You are an unfailing friend.

  5. Wonderful bit of sharing! I have a weakness for a good series, because it lets us revisit old friends and settings and see what happens next in that town or family. In my writing, I have vague ideas where I want to go with various characters but no real outline. Do you plan your next few series down the road?

    1. Ohmagosh, Gerald, I haven't thought about a new series, but I have thought about writing stories about the first settlers in the fictional town of Hazard, Wyoming. I have plenty of characters to move forward with the Wildings and I'll probably get to them eventually, but I would like to get back into some more historical stories--just keep them in Hazard.
      Thank you for your question and for coming and commenting.

  6. I like how you actually plan what you're writing next. Mine have never been that way. Mostly, I get emails: "When are you going to write Iris's story? So book 3 in that series happened. Then, "When are you going to write Josh's story?" so book 5 happened. Now, it's "When are you going to write Bram's story?" so he's next in book 6 (after I write 3 other unrelated books). Book 6 will be the first one where I purposefully plant characters for subsequent books. We'll see how it works out.

    1. Dang, Jacquie, that's pretty cool that fans request stories about certain characters. I think that is so impressive and deserved. It would seem you have unintentionally written characters that need their own story.
      Thank you so much for coming by and commenting and for sharing what you're doing with your own series. I loved your Much Ado About...series.

  7. My husband and I work on each other's novels and stories, so we will borrow characters. Since we were short a story for the Christmas anthology, I decided to bring back some outlaws he had in a series from 20 years ago, the Barlows. We've tied together a lot of books and stories over the years. Some characters have to come back to tell more of their story, and those Barlows refused to stay quiet.

    1. Livia, it always amazes me how you and your husband work on these collaborations. I can't imagine how that works. I would be so befuddled, but the two of you work in perfect sink with one another.
      Hmm, outlaws in a Christmas story. This is gonna be good!
      Thank you so much for coming by. I know how busy you are so I really appreciate it all the more.

  8. Sarah, Great post. Very interesting and it adds food for thought. I too haven't written a story with one to follow to make it a series. However, when I wrote a short story, Brighter Tomorrows, for A Cowboy Celebration Anthology, two of the secondary characters I planned to bring back in their own story. So this post is an inspiration for me to get on the stick and get them moving. Thank you. You know I love each and every story you've written, so keep them coming.

    1. Bev, you might be surprised how much fun it is to write a series using secondary characters you already know are special. I look forward to seeing what you decide to do.
      Thank you for dropping by and adding your thoughts to the conversation.

  9. I love series, and I have enjoyed reading about the Wilders. Thanks for the post.

    1. Robyn, I know you meant Wildings, not Wilders, but I suppose they're all wild any how. LOL
      Thank you for dropping by and leaving a nice comment.

  10. I love series books, Sarah, and you're so good at them. I don't like to say good-bye to characters. Great post.

    1. Why thank you, Tanya. I like reading series stories as well as writing them. I don't really know yet how I'm going to handle leaving some of the characters behind. It's almost like they were real people to me.
      Thank you so much for dropping in. I always enjoy seeing you.