How do you drop hints for a sequel into 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 an excerpt 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 Hanging By A Hair, book #11 in my Bad Hair Day mysteries due out on April 18th. At the end of this story, I drop a hint that leads directly to the sequel, Peril by Ponytail. The mystery in Hanging By A Hair is solved, so readers go away satisfied, and the main character learns a lesson. But anticipation is half the fun, and I’m hoping fans will be eager for the next installment. I did the same thing in Killer Knots when Marla announces she and Dalton have set a date for their wedding. That leads into Shear Murder, the wedding story and #10 in my series.
But what if you haven’t plotted the sequel, written the first chapter for it, or even planned on 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 heralded. 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, will 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 books special, if fans know our main villains get vanquished in book 3? It appears our Drift Lords are not finished just because they’ve prevented disaster. A worse villain awaits them around the corner.
I created a new story arc for books 4 through 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.
I drop hints in Warrior Lord (Drift Lords book #3) for the next trilogy in my series. 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 waiting in the wings. Is evil ever truly vanquished?
Do you like hints of what’s to come in stories subsequent to what you are currently reading? I’m not talking cliffhanger endings here. I hate it when the main story isn’t finished, and you have to wait for the sequel. But personal issues can continue in the next installment, or new problems might arise that cause trouble. One has to be careful not to frustrate the reader by leaving too many threads loose, but it’s good storytelling to offer a teaser about what may be in store. Just make sure you bring the current story to a satisfying conclusion.
NOTE: This post originally appeared on my personal blog at http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com
I agree that it’s a good idea to hint at what is to come in the next sequel, assuming you plan one.
Yes, the plan is the key. And it only needs to be a subtle hint.
I wonder how pure pantsers would go about this. I recall Lawrence Block once saying that he had a striking detail pop into his head and put it in the book, not having any idea what it meant, but trusting himself to figure it out. I guess that’s one way to go.
Currently, I’m experimenting with writing the first two book in a series, completely. The second book is helping me see what good things to plant in the first.
That’s a cool exercise even if you’re not a pantser, to plant a clue without knowing what it means and having to work it into the next plot.
It might also be tricky for writers who don’t know if there will be a next book in a series published. I think dropping some hints or threads can still work, just so long as the primary mystery/story is resolved completely in the one book. In this industry I think it can be hard for writers to know what will or won’t be picked up in terms of a series – though they can always go indie with a sequel I guess:)
You’re absolutely right. With traditional publishing, you may have a two or three book contract so you can drop hints for the next book then. But you never know when your series might get cancelled. However, now you can continue the series as an indie author so it’s a win-win either way. And yes, the current mystery must be completely solved in the one book.
What happens when you have a trilogy that can also be published as stand-alones? The idea of supporting characters in one book take over in the next on a separate story?
My Drift Lords series is a trilogy in that the first three books are complete and end the main thrust of the story arc. Each one features a different hero/heroine who appear in a previous volume. It’s this overall story arc that lends to hints about sequels. Each hero has a particular mission that he completes for his story. But the greater arc to a coming evil continues. And with one trilogy done, I’ve dropped hints for the next few books. So what you need is a story arc that encompasses several books and links them together.
I was concerned about not wrapping everything up in my next release. It’s a mystery, and there was no way to solve all the mysteries that had cropped up during the story, at least not in a realistic manner. My beta readers said the unsolved crime didn’t bother them–it made them want to know what happened so they’d be waiting for the next book. I don’t have it plotted (I’m working on a totally different series), but when I do get back to that one, I’ve got a crime waiting.
Make sure you have good notes so you’ll remember the details when you get to the next book.
As a reader, I like just enough to keep me anticipating the next story.
Sometimes it’s the protagonist’s failure to resolve her internal conflicts that keeps me hanging until the next book. (i.e. The detective who solves the case, but can’t trust enough to commit to a relationship…yet.)
PS – Nancy, I enjoyed meeting you and hearing you talk at Sleuthfest in Orlando! Did you keep count of how many people mentioned enjoying The Kill Zone?
SleuthFest is a great mystery writers con. Yes, it is the personal threads that keep readers coming back for more in a mystery series. The teasers I use for my Bad Hair Day books are much simpler and overt than the subtle hints in my Drift Lords series. Those books have complicated timelines, mythology, and interwoven plots based on ancient prophesies.
Three of my previous books all ended with one particular character disappearing into the sunset, only to reappear in the next book. Thus far he, Kharzai Ghiassi, has been my only regularly recurring character. He also carries into the next books, which are a totally new series. These on the other hand are a true series (where the previous ones were semi-connected standalones).
That said, with these new books, each one will have a solid conclusion to the main story arc at the end, but an over-arching general plot that remains open ended at the conclusion of each book in the series. This way folks can see the characters reach a climactic point to close that episode, but are left wondering what happened to them next and needing to buy the next book when it comes out.
An excellent explanation. Thinking of books within an overall story arc as “episodes” is a great idea. Think of your favorite TV shows. There might be an overall season arc but each week you get a contained story.