Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Should You Keep Writing the Same Characters for Years?

Jill here. Have you ever daydreamed about writing the same characters forever? All your friends are bouncing between stories, or at least writing one at a time. Not you. You are so in love with your characters, you'd be happy writing them for the rest of your life.

Is that possible?

Today we're going to hear from an author who has done---and continues to do---just that. It's my privilege to introduce you to Robin Jones Gunn, author of the insanely popular Christy Miller series. I've always looked up to Robin and scoot to the edge of my seat whenever I get the chance to hear her speak, so I'm honored that she has agreed to share with you all today. As you can see from her bio, Robin has published a LOT of books! But one of her series has gone on much longer than any other---longer than most series ever do.





ROBIN JONES GUNN is the much loved author of over 85 books. With nearly 5 million copies of her titles sold worldwide, her popular Christy Miller series now continues in Christy & Todd: The Married Years. The Sisterchicks® series and Glenbrooke series are favorites with book clubs. Her novels and non-fiction works have received multiple awards include three Christy Awards, Gold Medallion finalist and two RWA-FHL Reader's Choice Awards. Robin's travels have taken her all over the world where she is a popular speaker at women's events and writing conferences. Robin and her husband have a grown son and daughter and live in Hawaii. Visit Robin online at www.robingunn.com.

Welcome, Robin. Would you give us a brief background on the history of Christy and Todd?

Robin: The first Christy Miller novel for teens released in 1988. Christy was 15 in the first book and met Todd that summer. The series grew to 12 books and yes, college bound Christy and Todd end up together on the last page.   I thought that would be enough of their romance and went on to write a spin off series of Christy’s friend, Sierra Jensen, who was still in high school.





Readers were relentless. They wanted to know if Christy and Todd got married. I wrote the College Years series and yes, Christy and Todd walk down the aisle on the final page. I thought that would be enough of their romance and went on to write another spin off series about Christy’s best friend, Katie Weldon, who was still in college.

Readers were relentless. They wanted to know if Christy and Todd had a happy marriage and of course, if they had a baby. I wrote a bunch of other books including three non-fiction titles.

Readers were relentless. My heart called me back to these characters and I wrote three books about Christy and Todd in the Married Years. The third one, “One More Wish” releases this Friday and yes, (spoiler alert) Christy finds out she’s going to have a baby on the final page.


Jill: How has writing the same series affected overall book sales?

Robin: My sales have been very strong. Better than expected. Loyal readers who grew up with Christy as teens are now married and sharing the whole franchise with their own daughters who are now twelve. If anything, the Married Years series has brought a slew of new young readers to the original series. It’s too early to evaluate if sales on book three will continue as strong as sales on book one and two in the Married Years, but presales were just as strong as on the first two books.



Jill: Can you give our readers some tips on what worked to make this series so popular for so long?

Robin: 1)  God’s favor. I mean that sincerely. I can’t explain why over thirty years of writing some of my books sell and some don’t. I just keep committing everything I write to the Lord and sit down and write what’s on my heart.

2)  The main character, Christy Miller, seems like everygirl to the readers. She wasn’t/isn’t extraordinary but throughout the stories she has some endearing, shining moments. She didn’t overcome great obstacles as in most YA novels (ie eating disorder, parent’s divorce, etc.) Instead of being issue driven, the focus was on simply watching her grow up. She felt like a friend to the readers and still does even when they’re in their 30’s now.

3)  The books are about Christy’s everyday life but with all the boring parts taken out. When nothing particular happened in my imagination for three months of her junior year of high school, I jumped ahead to when something interesting was about to happen. When Christy and Todd had been married for a couple years and all they were doing was trying to figure out jobs, I jumped ahead to when they thought they were ready to have a baby and left a year and a half gap between books two and three in the Married Years. This is probably a basic rule of story-crafting but I didn’t know it when I started writing (or any other basic rules). I figured it out when I wrote pages of details that didn’t tie back to anything or lead to anything.

4)  Each series needed to take a roller coaster ride of emotions before answering the question presented in the first book of the series – Will Christy and Todd end up together? – Will they get married? – Will they have a baby? My audience is romantic at heart and never tire of these questions. They need the emotional ups and downs.


5)  How long will readers stay interested in these characters? I’ve considered writing Christy & Todd: The Baby Years. Don’t laugh. It could be fun. Or I could be done. I don’t know yet. What I do know about writing a Baby Years series is that I need an opening question that is more amplified than in any of the other series. Will they adopt? Will their child/children have special needs? Will they have triplets? (probably not).  It’s going to be more challenging to keep the intrigue going, I think.

Randy Alcorn teased me that I'd write about these characters all the way past "Christy & Todd: The Nursing Home Years" and on into "Christy & Todd Go to Heaven." Click here to read the conversation, which I posted on my blog.

6)  Final thought if you’re thinking about writing about the same characters for decades. Make sure you miss them before you start writing about them again. You must find the main characters to be funny and endearing and mysterious and sort of egging you on in your imagination in order to go back to them again and again. Wait until you hear them calling to you as they take off running through a forest of possibilities. Start chasing them immediately or they will get away from you.

Jill again. Thanks so much for talking with us, Robin. What a fount of wisdom you are! I need to read Christy & Todd: The Married Years...

We're giving away a copy of one of Robin's Christy & Todd books. I'm going to let you choose which one. That way, if you're part-way through this series, you can get the next book. And if you're never read a Christy story before and want to start at the beginning, you can do that too. One print book is the prize. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!


35 comments:

  1. I didn't know series could go on for so many books! Thanks so much for the advice and the inspiration, Mrs. Gunn. The characters I'm writing right now I would love to keep around for awhile.

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  2. I've already started a series of books that if the Lord wills I have a feeling I'm going to keep writing for a while. The characters are ordinary people thrown into not so ordinary situations. They have to face their fears to help the people they love most.

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  3. I've been writing my Berstru Tales stories for five years and four novels now, and I have no intentions of stopping until I run out of stories to tell. The plot's a bit generic- quest to stop the baddies trying to take over the world- but I love the characters.

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  4. I've been working with the same MC for almost two years, and I'm planning to keep her and my other characters around until they end up in a published novel. Which could be years, but these are by far my favorites of the characters I've created, and I think their story has the potential to actually go somewhere.

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  5. I was just thinking about this! Pretty sure Go Teen Writers reads my mind...I've worked with the same characters for about four years now (I know, I know, not nearly as impressive) and was wondering if it was time to stop, even though I don't want to. So this was right on time, thank you! Great interview, very insightful.

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    1. Also, if I was to write a story for a long time...it would have to be the story mentioned above. It's a modern-day fairy tale with Sleeping Beauty elements. It started out with the simple question: What if Sleeping Beauty was never kissed? What if...she couldn't have been kissed, because she didn't fall asleep...she just popped into our world? My main character, Cassandra, is an 18 year old who is full of sarcasm and sass and just wants OUT of her town. She's been kind of friends with Ben, a reflective sort of soul, for years. Rose, a simple, innocent 16 year old, shows up, absolutely certain that she doesn't belong in this world...and they have to get her home.

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    2. That sounds like a really great story!

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  6. That's really cool! I've sometimes thought about doing something similar because I just don't want to let go of characters but I never really followed through with writing even a second book to the first one. This is really inspriational! Thanks for the post!

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    1. Ooops forgot my character/plot thing. The story I'm working on right now is a science fiction retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Really weird, really gets my creativity going and I'm loving it! :D Basically, Park is apprenticing for a hatter, and Alice is an Unknown living in the Home. They both meet and the government picks up the high brain activity of the two. They both are taken in for testing to create Project Wonderland, a super weapon that the government has been trying to perfect for eons. The two are sent to create a land to send their enemies to and Park's mind is starting to go because of intense trauma from 7 years back. Alice basically has to get Park out of wonderland before it destroys him.

      (oh and by the way, loving Alice. She's the best character ever.)

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    2. This sounds really interesting, Emma. There are so many Alice in Wonderland retellings right now, but this one sounds really good.

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    3. I agree! This sounds like such a unique take on the story. Good luck Emma :)

      Deborah

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  7. If I could write the same characters for many years... it would probably be my characters from "Stolen Time". It's a medieval universe of ships and massive stone-etched castles. My main characters are tough-and-ready people, but they are still only common people who rise to the situation.
    I could write Atarah, Gideon, Jabin, Hadassah... I could write them for years.

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  8. I've heard of the Christy Miller series before, but I haven't read them yet. I'll check them out. :D

    Right now, I really like my characters. I'm familiar with them. Even though they seem a bit sterotypical once you really get to know them better they have special personalities. I'm planning on writing a trilogy about them - but you never know, it could go on longer then that. ;)

    ~Lydia~ <3

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  9. I hadn't really planned to write one set of characters for a long, long series. But I suppose if I picked one, it would be the characters from Thorn of Peace. The characters are based on people I know and situations I have faced but transposed into another setting. And since I am still living, I think I could have endless inspiration for struggles and triumphs for the characters.
    "Petura has spent most of her years far from the palace and the stresses of royal life. But with her father ill, and the kingdom under the control of her two older brothers, Petura finds herself summoned to the palace to keep peace between the princes. But the power plays between her brothers are not the only friction in the kingdom. Different factions within the kingdom are each pursuing their own goals. And while Petura sometimes feels like a thorn in her brothers' sides, she may be the kingdom's only chance for peace."
    And that's just the first book... ;)

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    1. Wisdomcreates, this book sounds seriously awesome! I'd be interested in hearing more about the brothers.

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  10. I've never read the Christy Miller series or the others- it's just not really the genre I enjoy- but it sounds interesting. I have a friend who reads it, and she enjoys it a lot.
    Man, how I would love to write my characters for forever... *whimsical look on my face*

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  11. I spend so much time with my characters I swear they're more real than my brother...just kidding! But seriously, I don't have favorite characters. They're all my babies. Each and every single one. Even the ones for books I haven't even started plotting--I have an idea, and the characters pop into my head and refuse to move out. It's fun, though--when I'm bored, I play around with them, and introduce characters from one book to characters from another--anyone else do this?
    I won't bother talking about any of my characters, because there's just so many to choose from...but I don't think I could go on forever. I normally like writing trilogies (or would, if I bothered finishing any). My characters, though...if I ever fade from reality and get stuck in my head all the time, I will be so happy.
    My characters rock. If only I could have the patience to write about them forever...*wistful sigh.

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    1. Teehee. I agree on the brother thing. :-)

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    2. I know, right? lol. It's ok, though. My little bro likes my characters as much as I do--and he's an awesome sounding board for all my ideas.

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  12. It is absolutely awesome to be able to write the same characters for so long. There have been characters that I haven't wanted to stop writing before but on the same hand, I always like the challenge of a new character to discover.

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  13. I love these books!! I'm a big sucker for Christy and Todd. ;) I'm actually in the middle of a casual reread (meaning I take breaks every now and then to read new stuff, then go back to these and relax for a little while) of them, and I'm somewhere in the middle of the Sierra Jensen series. When I finish those I look forward to reading College Years and Katie's set for the first time. :) I had no idea there was a Married Years set! I look forward to those as well. :D

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  14. I adore the Christy Miller books! And all of the characters. I feel as if I've grown up with Christy, and it thrilled me to hear about the married years. I still need to read the second book! Thank you for the great advice, Ms. Gunn!

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  15. YES THIS IS SO COOL.
    I first read this series a few years ago, when I was about 14, and I really enjoyed it because Christy /was/ everygirl and I totally related to her. I've read all of the original books and her diary, but I haven't made it to The College Years yet, so I'm super excited to get that at some point. :D

    I don't know if I'd be able to write about the same characters for that long, lol. I guess, like you said, they'd have to really call to me and I'd really have to know that God wanted me to keep their story going. But I'm so glad you felt that for Christy and Todd!

    And lol, yes, I would love to read about them through the Nursing Home Years ;)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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  16. great post! its neat learning how many books are in the series.

    actually, the thought of writing with the same characters forever was what got me into writing. i was angry when i finished the last book in one of my favorite series. it was AMAZING, but i knew there wouldn't be any more. so i created characters out of legos, gave them some background and, two years later, their pretty much family.

    it would be a huge commitment to write a huge series with the same characters, but once you get past the big obstacles, i think it would be heaven. it may take me a while to read Christy and Todd series, but i'll definitely check it out!

    ~K.A.C

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  17. WOW ROBIN JONES GUNN IS LIKE MY IDOL. I'M SO GLAD YOU DID AN INTERVIEW WITH HER. :)

    if i were to write a story that went on and on and on, i'd set it in the spying world and focus on the several different large families who are involved in it. I've always thought that might be intriguing.

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  18. Oh my land I did a double take! Robin Jones Gunn is my favorite author ever!!!! I'm so happy she could guest post here!!!!!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

    Right now I'm in the middle of a story whose characters I love. <3 I had written it two years before, but I kept feeling as if God was telling me "Rewrite this story." and the characters kept popping back into my brain and saying "Hello! I would love for you to expand on my story a little bit more!" So here I am, in the middle of a rewrite. :D <3

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  19. Aaah! I love the Christy Miller series! And the Sierra Jensen series! I haven't finished the Katie Weldon series, but that was more because I couldn't get ahold of the second book than because of any lack of interest. I didn't know you'd written another series with them; I'm so excited to read them now!

    Hmm, writing one story and set of characters for a long time is quite the challenge. At the moment, I could see writing more stories from my Beauty and the Beast retelling, probably as short stories. I find myself wanting to tell more about Tristan and Alette's backstories, especially Tristan's, since he grew up in a war-filled world and suffered such a debilitating injury. I also want to tell the story of their marriage and children, since I didn't get to cover that in the novelette that I wrote. They're definitely the characters that have me most invested right now. :)

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  20. I just loved reading about the stories and characters you all love so much. Thank you all for sharing! You're awesome authors. Keep at it!

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  21. If I could write one story for quite some time, I'd probably base it more around a world than anything else. I've just recently finished plotting and researching for a fantasy novel and have begun writing some of the scenes. The main character is this girl - Elysia - who has been on the run for her whole life, the only problem is that she's actually the heir to the monarchy hunting her down. Her parents were overthrown in a coup d'etat when she was very young, and she's spent her whole life trying to build support and skills enough to take back her rightful place.
    I'd probably explore the origin of the world more through the Ancestors who sired the five races in this world, I'd tell the story of Elysia's parents (I've actually written a scene of them when they're meeting when they're younger) as well as a side story or even a full length from Jolal, the antagonist's, point of view. The idea of telling stories from different points of view (somewhat like the movie Vantage Point) has always been interesting to me. In fact, for one of my finals for my cinema directing class my group is telling an anthology murder mystery from the points of the best friend, the brother, the brother's friend, and the actual murderer.

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  22. I've spent my beginning years as a writer trying to perfect character and etc., and I've finally found the near-perfect five. They will require five books, but I've thought about continuing ... this is something to think about. If I did continue, it would have to be somewhat of a crossover (love the idea of connecting my different series), with a fresh concept (I have one, but it all depends if I want to continue with the same characters ...)

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  23. I would probably keep writing Sean and his life... He's had a very hard life and doesn't trust anyone. But then a white dragon called Lightning comes along and changes his perspectives a little :D

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  24. My book that I just wrote - I lo a the characters so much that I have been considering doing a series on them, but each book, though in sequential order could be a stand alone novel.

    Great post!

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  25. Your books reminded me of how I loved to read the Anne of Green Gables books. I could relate to her in a more normal sense. I'd love to check out your books! :)

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  26. I'm not sure if there is any series I would want to continue writing. I do like the idea of connecting my stories in some way. I suppose I would choose my Prince's Quest series. It's about a crown prince who doesn't want to be a crown prince and how he has to prove himself to his father while dealing with lots of problems. I think I could continue that. I've already considered a spin off about his younger sister who will be born in the second book of the series. :)

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