Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guest Author: Rhonda Pollero

My Fake BFF . . .

First, thanks to the great ladies at Riding with the Top Down for letting me chat about my third Finley Tanner book, FAT CHANCE.

Finley is my fourth series, so I thought I’d share a little bit about writing continuing characters and/or locations. The first thing you need to know is that there are some plusses and minuses when you’re writing the same character. The biggest plus is that you really get a chance to explore the character. Finley is my BFF. I know her secrets, her strengths and her weaknesses. And she has an abundance of weaknesses. That was intentional. Reading about a perfect person is boring. So when you sit down to give birth to a continuing character, think about all aspects of her (or his - I did do a seven book hero series) personality as well as her world. Finley’s name set the tone for me - she’s Finley Anderson Tanner, all family names but not in the way you might think. They’re the family names of the men her mother was sleeping with when she got pregnant with Finley. That also provided the tone for the mother-daughter relationship in the books. Then I did friends, siblings, work, play and eventually she evolved into an under-achiever by choice. And just to set the record straight, Finley and I have virtually nothing in common. I don’t like to shop, the latest fashion doesn’t even enter my consciousness and I’m a security junkie who refuses to carry a balance on a credit card. We do share the same sense of humor, mostly because I write all her dialogue and thoughts because she isn’t actually real.

When it comes to building a world, my advice is to cast a wide net. When I wrote The Rose Tattoo series for Intrigue™, it was meant to be a trilogy. Then it turned into a continuing series and thus far, I’ve written twelve. Because I didn’t think with a broad brush, I’ve had to get a little creative introducing new characters.

Maybe the trickiest thing to accomplish when you’re writing a continuing character (or location) is what I call the necessary recap. I won’t kid you - I loathe this moment in the book. This is when you have to sum up the history of the character without making it sound like an info dump. You don’t want to bore your established readers but you also don’t want new readers feeling as if they’ve come late to the party. I use the friend approach. If possible, I introduce a new character who will ask questions that elicit the information. If possible, I do some carry-over. Part of what happens in FAT CHANCE happens because of things Finley has done in previous books. Since she can’t seem to stay away from dead people, her law firm adds a criminal attorney. I got double bang for my buck on that one - I also gained a potential new love interest for Finley.

Of course, the best thing about a continuing character is continual employment. Things are tough in publishing and if you happen to have a publisher excited about your character, count your blessings.

Think outside the box. Cast a wide net. Be willing to drop and add secondary characters as needed. Most importantly, write a character you can live with for years. I’ve been writing Finley since 2005 and I still have fun with her. She’s the best fake BFF I’ve ever had!



Kylie said...

Welcome to the convertible, Rhonda! Finlay sounds great! Wonderful advice on continuing characters, too!

I find myself getting bored with a series by the third book, even when doing a family, etc. How do you keep things fresh?

Helen Brenna said...

Hey, Rhonda! Thanks for coming to visit today and welcome!!

Why didn't you come 6 months ago???

I just finished the first 3 in the first series (place is the continuing character, not a person) I've ever done and I can already see that I haven't cast a wide enough net!

I'm putting together a proposal for a 4th one and could use a few more secondaries. Dang!

Love how your character's name came into being. So telling.

Keri Ford said...

Hi, Rhonda. What a timely post! I have a series and that heroine has been on my mind a lot here lately. I've only written bk1, but have bk2&3 mostly figured out. Casting a wide enough net doesn't seem to be a problem, it's finding someone to fall in love with her during this economic time!

Love the sound of this book. Going to have to find it...

Debra Dixon said...

Ha! Love the "names of the men her mother was sleeping with" tidbit. That's great.

And, hi and welcome to the 'vertible.

Anonymous said...

I love series but only if they stay fresh. I think yours sounds wonderful. How do you keep it fresh?

(And side note hijack.. congrats to Susan Kay Law for her RITA nom for The Paper Marriage)

Kathleen Eagle said...

Welcome, Rhonda!

Three daddies on board and no apologies. Mama Mia! Love the mother-daughter aspect, especially when you've got some "non-traditional" elements going. And isn't it fun to write that character who's out there doing things you'd never do yourself. Fun to read about her, too. I'm off to Amazon to get myself a Fat Chance!

Oh, and the closest I've come to a continuing character is the spin-off situation. Right now I'm working on the 3rd of 3: Hero #1; Hero #1's brother becomes hero #2; Heroine #2's sister becomes heroine #3. I didn't plan it, but I became interested in the next prospect as I wrote each story. I've never gone much beyond 3 books. Once--much to my surprise--a novella spawned 3 more books.

There's a character in a book I haven't sold yet who has the potential for continuing protagonist. I'm pondering the notion.

Helen Brenna said...

Yes!! Congrats on the RITA nom for our lovely Susie!!

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, Rhonda! Welcome!
I get confused between continuing characters and trilogies and such. Some stories are spread over three or so books, reach a climax, and end. Others are like episodes in a character's life and story with no visible end in sight. I guess that second one is probably the "continuing character" type. So how do you know (when proposing the thing) which you have?

And what do you mean by "not casting a wide enough net?" Does that mean you haven't included enough characters or made enough room for multiple problems and lots of character growth?

I've never written a continuing character. I did one trilogy that was loosely knitted together-- all the books started in a medieval convent.

If you have one character over eight or ten books, how do you keep them from becoming too predictable? That would be my biggest fear.

LeanneBanks said...


She gets into so much trouble and I love to see how she works it all out. She's a guilty pleasure, the best kind. -- Leanne Banks

Rhonda Pollero said...

First, thanks for the warm welcome. My apologies for the time passage - I'm sure you can all feel the pain here - my pity responses kept gettting slapped off.

On keeping it fresh . . . I have the attention span of a gnat, so I have to like the premise of the next book. I try very hard to give Finley a new skill in each book. I think the key is to find a way for the character to grow and change while not losing whatever charm made her (him) unique.

On planning ahead - I'm an anal rentitive plotter - I know EVERYTHING that will happen before I write the first word. I've been lucky in that with the exception of The Rose Tattoo, I've known from the get go that I was writing a trilogy or a series so I planned (As I said, a lesson learned after The Rose Tattoo) for as many escape routes as possible. Realistically your editor might want Book 1,2,3 to feature a character then your editor changes or leaves and your new editor wants a change in mid-stream. I think that's why it's so important to be flexible.

I also think you need to know what you can stand. You have to really like the character or the setting to write a continuing series. They are like house guests that don't leave.

I cut my teeth on mystery series so I when I approached Finley, I knew I wanted her to have growth and change. No, no reason for me to go on meds. I do know she isn't real. But she has to be real on the page and the only way I can make that happen is if I'm enjoying my time with her. When I would devour Nancy Drew mysteries I was always stunned that she didn't learn anything. In one book she'd track finances and in the next book she'd forget that following the money is often the best route to the bad guy. My 8 year old brain swore then and there that when (feel free to chuckle here) I was a famous writer (be kind, I was 8), I'd make sure my character learned things (Yes, I was a geeky 8).

The ony thing I haven't quite figured out is if/when Finley will age. I need a plkotline that makes her age relevant and I just haven't thought on one yet. I did one 7 book series in 'real time' aging marriages, babies, jobs, etc. in sync with the books. NEVER AGAIN!!! Way too much math.

Okay - I'm about to type in the verification code . . . wish me luck!!!

Helen Brenna said...

Thanks for visiting with us, Rhonda!