How Much is Too Much?

by Sheila Connolly

I’ve already written about “stuff”—the accumulation of several generations of treasured objects, plus all the things I’ve added over a rambling lifetime (was it seven states? Or eight?).

Cover Seeing the DeadBut maybe it really is a character trait of mine, this adding more and more of everything. As you may have noticed, I write multiple series. Four, in fact, although the latest one wasn’t planned—I had written a standalone ebook that I self-published last year (in an unfamiliar genre, paranormal romance), and it sold nicely, so my agent said, why not write a sequel? So I did. This is how I backed into writing a fourth series. Yes, there will be at least one more, in addition to the three for Berkley Prime Crime. I guess I shouldn’t wonder why some people question my sanity.

Recently I was on a public panel of writers and I was asked (not for the first time), how do you keep all your characters straight? In a way it seems an odd question, because I usually say that they’re all different people (and yes, after you’ve lived with them for a while, they seem like real people to a writer—you find yourself saying to someone, “but she wouldn’t do that!”). To some extent that was planned: Meg is a thirty-something former banker now running an apple orchard in a rural area, Nell is an almost-forty museum administrator in a big city, and Maura is a blue-collar twenty-something pub owner in Ireland. I can’t imagine how I could come up with one standard character, tweak a few personality traits, change her hair color, and drop her into three such different roles.

Of course, each of these women is surrounded by friends and colleagues and the occasional villain. How do I keep them in order? How do I even manage to avoid using the same names for them? (Sound of crazed laughter.) That’s harder, I’ll admit, especially if I have favorite names of friends or relatives, or former bosses I really want to slam for being jerks, and I want to fit them in somewhere. No, I don’t keep tidy spreadsheets or character profiles of each person in every book, and I think it’s kind of late to start.

But again, I say that even those characters are different people. Maybe they’re modeled on a real person, or maybe I made them up from scratch (I sneaked my Ideal Man in there somewhere, and I’ve pointed him out to my husband, hint, hint). But they aren’t just placeholders (the Best Friend, the Love Interest, the Unsuspected Killer)—I try to make them three-dimensional.

Or in the case of my paranormal heroine Abby, maybe four-dimensional, since she sees dead people. (Do I? Not yet, but I’m hoping. Do I know people who have or who do? Maybe.) But that sets her apart from my other protagonists. On the other hand, what links her to the others is how she deals with unexpected and difficult events and circumstances. In her case it’s seeing ghosts; the others have faced job losses, false accusations of crimes, thefts, fires, plagues of insects, unanticipated romances, and more than a few dead bodies. If they share any similarity, it’s because I hope I’ve drawn them as strong, intelligent women who can use their brains to figure things out and move forward with their lives.  And I’m happy to count them as my friends, even if they’re imaginary.

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5 thoughts on “How Much is Too Much?

  1. As long as the books stay good, is there such a thing as too many series?

    Seriously, you need very different characters for your readers to be interested enough to read multiple series as well as for you to keep them straight. I agree with you 100% on that.

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