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Sowing Seeds for a Sequel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 11, 2013

How can you drop hints for a sequel in your current story, not only to let readers know more books are coming but also to whet their appetite for the next installment?

You can (1) title your book as part of a series, (2) include a teaser for the next book after the last chapter, (3) plant clues foreshadowing another problem to come, or (4) drop an overt hint toward the end of your story.

Number four is what I did in Killer Knots, book #9 in my Bad Hair Day mysteries. At the end, I have Marla and Dalton announce they’ve chosen a date for their wedding. Now readers can anticipate the nuptials for which they’ve been waiting throughout the series. But knowing a mystery is a must, hopefully they’ll also anticipate that things won’t quite go as planned. That story becomes Shear Murder, book #10.

But what if you haven’t plotted the sequel, written the first chapter for it, or even planned to do one? And then suddenly readers are demanding the next book. What do you do?

Hopefully, you can still make additions in your current WIP. So here are some tips on how to drop in some subtle hints of what’s to come:

  • First plot your overall series story arc for the next few books.
  • Identify the main characters. Is this a series with a single protagonist in each volume, or are the stories spin-offs, wherein secondary characters in one story become the heroes in another? Either way, try to determine what personal issues will be driving these people in the next book.
  • Write the opening scene to get a feel for the story.

Now go back to the WIP and look for places where you can drop in hints of what’s to come.

In the Drift Lords series, a sweeping battle between good and evil is coming. What happens after this battle when my heroes triumph? Is the series over? Not necessarily, because you all know that after one bad guy goes down, a worse one pops up to threaten humanity.

Spoiler Alert! I created an unusual situation by writing my first three books in chronological order because the story comes to its rightful conclusion in this trilogy. The next three books, as I’ve planned it, take place in the same time period as books 2 and 3. I know it’s confusing, but bear with me. What will make this next set of three books special, if fans know our main villains get vanquished? Here’s what happened: I came up with another story arc for books 4-6. Look at Star Wars. George Lucas made a wildly popular trilogy. Then he did another 3 movies, calling them prequels. Now the series will continue with a new story line, into the future. But unlike Lucas, I have the chance to drop hints in book 3 for the next trilogy of books in my series. In my mind, I see them as sets of three with the potential for a total of seven or more. And like Terry Goodkind’s excellent Sword of Truth series, just because one nasty bad guy is defeated doesn’t mean there aren’t more out there.

I’ve had to go back into certain scenes of book 3 and add factors that will cause the reader to wonder what’s going on. This plot thread will not be solved by the end of this story. In other words, our hero’s job is not done just because he’s prevented disaster.

Do you like hints of what’s to come in stories you are reading? I’m not talking cliffhanger endings here. I hate it when the main story line isn’t finished, and you have to wait for the sequel. But personal issues may continue in the next installment, or new problems may arise that cause trouble down the road. One has to be careful not to frustrate the reader by dropping too many hints, only enough to gently tease her about what may be in store.

7 Responses to “Sowing Seeds for a Sequel”

  1. Personal issues are okay. Developing character relationships are also good. But I agree, cliffhangers aren’t fair. I’ve read a couple like that and feel more cheated than eager to wait for the next book. For me, it’s always about the characters, so as long as I can anticipated that there’s more to come, I’m fine. I’m reluctant to leave ‘loose threads’ unless they’re introduced without getting the reader all excited to find out what happens, and then the book ends, and that thread isn’t resolved. Then again, most of my books are “connected” or “spinoffs” rather than series. However, I did break all the rules when I continued Finding Sarah, which is romantic suspense, by following it up with Hidden Fire, which features the same hero and heroine. However, I didn’t plant any mystery seeds–it’s simply the next step in their relationship and another mystery to solve.

    I think you can look at this from the other direction as well. Right now, I’m writing Book 5 in my Blackthorne, Inc. series. Each book features a different hero who’s been introduced in a previous books. Rather than foreshadow things to come, I like to drop in tiny references to things that have gone before–not spoilers, but rather tidbits so readers who have read the other books can get that “insider” feeling.

    • I drop hints about previous books in my Bad Hair Day mysteries, too. And for my mysteries, any continuing issues are personal. It’s the Drift Lords series with its fantasy elements that requires more long-term planning and an overall story arc. These are spinoff stories but within one universe with tension building to a final confrontation between good and evil. I think the type of series and the genre makes a difference.

      • Agreed. One of my crit partners writes fantasy and he says his audience is used to books ending with unresolved issues and setups for the sequels. In a mystery if you don’t solve the crime, you’d be history with readers.

  2. Sally Carpenter said

    I like the story wrapped up too, none of this “we caught the killer but who hired him?” The TV show “Castle” made a mistake by dragging out Kate Beckett’s mother’s murder for far too many episodes until the thread was boring and the conclusion was silly. But personal issues take longer to work out. In my WIP (second in a series) an issue that gets a brief mention will generate the story of book four.

    • I agree with both you and Terry that in a mystery, the crime has to be solved. However, leaving a personal issue unresolved is okay. In the C.S. Harris historical mysteries, each story solves a murder, but bigger personal issues for the sleuth are still present. This adds tension and suspense to the series as a whole. I find it harder to plot a series arc for a mystery series than for fantasy.

  3. Yes, I remember Killer Knots. As a reader, I did just as you expected and waited impatiently for the next book. Good stragegy.

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