Mar 262014
 
Nancy J. Cohen

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.

ShearMurder

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.

WarriorRogue750

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?

Sword Truth


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

Dec 312012
 

Dial M

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

Will the hero still have a pulse at the story’s end? Will the young woman have the wit to pick the man who really cares for her? Will the professor get tenure?

These are urgent questions and as a reader I’ve never wanted to know the answers before the author was ready to tell me. As a writer, I’ve assumed other readers were similarly inclined.

But maybe not.

For example:

(1) A woman I know reads widely and ardently, but will never begin a book until she’s read its last several pages. Something compels her to read the ending first. Doesn’t this spoil it for her? Evidently not. It’s spoiled for her if she doesn’t approach it in this fashion. (This only applies, I should add, to fiction. When she sits down with a book about the War of 1812, she doesn’t have to begin by reading about the Battle of New Orleans. Unless it’s a novel about the War of 1812, in which case she does.)

(2) Another woman I know, a writer herself and an omnivorous reader, always takes a book to bed with her, and insists that it be a mystery. It’s essential to her that her bedtime reading take place in a fictional world in which things are not left hanging. With a mystery, she can relax knowing that there will be resolution at the end. Triumph or tragedy, all will be resolved.

(3) “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” Edmund Wilson famously wondered, showing how utterly he missed the point of what Agatha Christie was doing. And yet I re-read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd a year or two ago, decades after my first trip through it, and enjoyed it more this most recent time. The book’s a puzzle and a tour de force and a bit of brilliant trickery—and no, I shan’t spoil it for you—but the fact remains that my own familiarity didn’t spoil it for me.

I write several series. Sometimes the survival of an important character is in doubt, and indeed some of Matthew Scudder’s key supporting players have died over the years. So the reader’s in doubt—but not when he’s already read a later book in the series, and knows that So-and-so made the cut. Does that make the reading less enjoyable? Yes for some readers, no for others.

In 1961, I wrote a book under a pen name; a half century later, Killing Castro is back in print from Hard Case Crime. Last I looked, Fidel was still sitting up and taking nourishment, so could any present-day reader seriously expect the five Americans dispatched to Cuba could possibly succeed in their mission?

Heh heh…

Lawrence Block is a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, has won multiple Edgar and Shamus awards and countless international prizes. The author of more than 50 books, he lives in New York City.

A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, the New York Times bestseller featuring the celebrated series protagonist Matthew Scudder (soon to be played by Liam Neeson in a major motion picure), is now in paperback in bookstores everywhere.

Mulholland Books will publish Larry’s newest novel, the Keller thriller HIT ME which has already received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist, in February 2013.

Feb 192012
 



Today's post is brought to you by my new boxing story, "King Crush," now available for 99¢ exclusively for Kindle. And, as a special inducement, for a limited time the first story, "Iron Hands," is available FREE. 

Today I have a question: What do you like to see in a series character? The same "feel" over and over, or deepening and changing?

There are two schools of thought on this.

Lee Child once remarked that he loves Dom Perignon champagne and wants each bottle to be the same. He's not looking for a different taste each time out. So it is with his Jack Reacher novels. And millions of fans are tracking right along with him.

There are other enduring series where the character remains roughly static. Phillip Marlowe didn't change all that much until The Long Goodbye. James Bond? Not a whole lot of change going on inside 007.

At the other end of the spectrum are those characters who undergo significant transformation as the series moves along. The best contemporary example of this is, IMO, the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly. What he's done with Bosch from book to book is nothing short of astonishing.

Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder was traipsing along as a pretty standard PI until Block made a conscious decision to kick it up a notch. He did that with Eight Million Ways to Die, a book that knocked me out. Here we have Scudder not just on a new case, but also battling his alcoholism and the existential angst of life in New York City in the early 1980s. By going deeper Block created one of the classics of the genre.

In my Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series (written as K. Bennett) I have a lead character who is a zombie hungering (you'll pardon the phrase) for change. She doesn't want to be what she is. The just released Book 2, The Year of Eating Dangerously, begins with Mallory in the hills looking down at a motorcycle gang and thinking, Lunch. And then reflecting on her damaged soul.

Book 3, due out later this year, begins with Mallory at a ZA meeting—Zombies Anonymous. She is trying to stay off human flesh (substituting calves' brains) but it's not easy. And I say without hesitation that I was inspired by the above mentioned Eight Million Ways to Die.

So here's my series about boxer Irish Jimmy Gallagher. These are short stories, and I'm going for "revealing" more of Jimmy in each one. "Iron Hands" was the intro, giving us Jimmy's world and basic personality. Now comes "King Crush."

The new story takes place in 1955 and revolves around an old carnival attraction they used to have in America, the carny fighter who would take on locals. If the locals stayed with him long enough, they might earn back their five bucks and some more besides. But these carny pugs knew all the dirty tricks, and it was usually the hayseeds who ended up on the canvas.

Jimmy just wants to have a good time at the carnival with his girl, Ruby, and his bulldog, Steve. He's not looking for trouble. But sometimes trouble finds Jimmy Gallagher.

I started writing these stories because there's something in me that wants to know Jimmy Gallagher, what makes him tick. And that's my preference as a writer and a reader of series. I want to go a little deeper each time.

So who is your favorite series character? Is this character basically the same from book to book? Or is there significant change going on?

If you're writing a series, do you have a plan for the development of your character over time? Or is it more a book-to-book thing?