How often have you finished reading a book only to sit back and ask, “Will the hero recover from his bullet wound?” or “Now that Dick and Jane have found each other, will they get married?” or “Now that Jack is rich, what will he do with his money and his life?” So many good books leave the reader wondering what will happen to the characters in the future.
As an author, how many times have you finished and even sold a manuscript when you discover your mind is still working on extensions of the plot? Frequently, I have one of the characters pop into my head and tell me what they would like to do in the future. Then another character will pop into my head to tell me, “Ha! He’s not good enough. If you write me into a future book with him, I will show him a thing or two.”
It is not very often that a book is finished with nothing else to say about the future. Even if all of the characters are dead and buried at the end of the book, there are heirs, friends or others who may wish to tread the stage of your future books. Readers will occasionally demand a sequel, or at least wish there was one. Some writers aim for sequels because they create readership.
The risk in writing a sequel is that an author who has poured his or her heart and soul into a book may not have anything meaningful to use for another book on the same topic or with the same characters? Many young authors have set out to write a trilogy only to find they have run out of fresh material before the end of the third book. Like marathon running, writing a sequel, a trilogy or a series requires the author to hold a pace that can be sustained.
In my case, I have never set out with the intent of writing a book and a sequel. In some cases, I have been guilty of leaving some subplots open-ended so that I have the option of writing a sequel at a future time, but me plan to write a trilogy? Remember, I am a technocrat, not a literary giant.
I wrote my first book length manuscript out of grief. A close friend had died of ALS and in my mourning, I sat down at my computer and drafted a story about her. I chronicled her valiant fight against this devastating disease, and gave her a prince of a fellow for a husband. It was all fiction, but I felt I was allowing her to live on in fiction with a better husband than the bum she had married in real life.
The average life expectancy of an ALS patient is 3.5 years so she dies in her husband’s arms. I was satisfied with the story and felt I had given a literary tribute to my friend. Certainly writing the story had helped me work off my grief.
The book leaves a charming widower. Suddenly the nurse who had taken care of the patient popped into my head to remind me, “Hey, I’m a beautiful widow. Your hero and I flirted a little in book 1. In fact the patient even suggest we might want to court after her impending death. Can’t you give love a chance?”
Suddenly, I was driven to write book 2 about the patient’s widower and the widowed nurse. Again, the topic of ALS is part of the plot.
Book 1 had involved a high school student who took the ALS patient on as an independent study project. Supervised by his father, a doctor, he had followed the last three years of the patient’s life. Suddenly he was knocking on the door of my virtual office and demanding, “Twelve years have passed and I am now a neurologist. I was inspired by that patient I observed. I volunteer to be the subject of book 3.” So I gave him a beautiful girl to fall in love with and then had him diagnose her with ALS.
I did link the books to the previous book(s) and never ran out of fresh material. Those three manuscripts are “drawer novels”. They were good practice, but are not good enough to publish as they are. As a retired scientist, I never thought it in me to write a trilogy, but there on my hard drive are three manuscripts that compose a trilogy.
More recently, I stood at the finishing line of the Texas BP 150. It is a charity bike ride from Houston to Austin. My adult children ride it every year. Just a few days previously, the Boston Marathon had been bombed. Inspired by the similarity of large crowds at the finish of an event with thousands of participants, I wrote A Dangerous Bike Ride.
In A Dangerous Bike Ride, Richard Tracy is a retired detective who runs marathons in his old age. His adult children egg him into riding because a marathoner should be fit enough to ride 150 miles. During the event, Richard meets Mary Beth, a beautiful woman almost his own age. Her passion is bicycle riding. They are both widowed so sparks fly. They pledge to see if their new love can grow and then cross the finish line together. Moments later they are engulfed in a large explosion. Mary Beth disappears and Richard must use his skills to find and rescue her. It is a stand alone novela that ends with Mary Beth deciding to move to the town where Richard lives. They both hope to marry in the spring. Since they share a common love for gardening, the desire to live out their days gardening together.
In the process of self publishing the novela as an e-book, someone suggested that writing a series could draw me a following. This assumes book 1 is any good. As I pondered what to write for a series, Richard and Mary Beth charged into my virtual office. “We are tired of being engaged. We want to get married. We have retirements to live out together.” I was inspired to write the Richard Tracy series.
In A Dangerous Bike Ride, Richard was out of his element, but Mary Beth was doing her thing, bike riding. It occurred to me that book 2 should have Richard following his passion to run a marathon. I placed him running a marathon in a rugged wilderness preserve while Mary Beth cheeres for him. Each time he passes her, she uses her mountain bike to get a few miles up the road where she can cheer him again. Eventually he fails to run past her. Now Mary Beth must find and rescue Richard. The manuscript for Gone Running and Gone is undergoing preparation for publication as an e-book. I expect to have it out in the fall as book 2 of the series.
My proofreader likes both of these books and can’t wait for me to give her the manuscript for book 3. Unfortunately, book 3 is only a concept in my head. I have told her that Theodore, the dog who lives next to Richard digs under the fence now and then. When Theodore digs up a human bone, Richard becomes a murder suspect. My what trouble two retirees can get into tending their garden.
In order to make the series viable, I felt it necessary to fully involve the main characters, Richard and Mary Beth in all the books. Their marriage in book 2 helps to add glue to the series. They have interests in common, but also each has his or her own personal interests. Everything must fit together, and each book must have a fresh main plot.
Having read some trilogies in literature class that did not entertain me, I am reluctant to suggest that any beginning author set out to write a trilogy, but if your characters demand an encore, write book 2 (and 3 and 4, etc.) O’Brian, wrote a series of over 20 books about Captain Jack and Ship’s Surgeon Stephen. One book, Master and Commander became a movie. Keep writing as long as your muse keeps sending characters back to your virtual office.
Reynold Conger is a retired scientist, engineer and teacher. He writes for entertainment, his and yours. Visit his website www.ReynoldConger.com to learn about his books. The latest book, Reducing Medical Costs (At the Cost of Health), a medical thriller, explores the dangers of letting government bureaucrats take over the health care system.