Beyond the Words Episode 17: Planning for a Sequel, with Kathryn Berryman

Beyond the Words Episode 16: The (Optional) Happily Ever After, with Brantwijn Serrah
August 18, 2017
Beyond the Words Episode 18: The Dialogue-Description Balance, with Alan Baxter
August 31, 2017

Join Holly as she talks to Erinland author Kathryn Berryman about the amount for foreshadowing needed, and how to best set up a sequel to your works. Includes a review of “Erinland” by Kathryn Berrman at the end.

To purchase a copy of Erinland, click here


A sequel is one of those things that may hit you out of nowhere. You reach your final battle, and your character suddenly drops a bit of info you’ve never heard of before.

“Luke, I am your father,” anyone?

Now you realise that your book is a lot bigger than you realised. You’ve slogged your way through fifteen – twenty – fifty – two hundred thousand words, only to find out the story has more to tell. What the?

So, what do you do?

You have two paths you may lead here. I’ve worked both – on the same story, no less – so I can tell you right now, there’s more to planning a sequel than realising you have further to go on the story.

After all, if you have further to go, you could just keep writing.

Think back across your story. Are there places you could slip in a few hints, where you can see a small detail suddenly very clearly? Maybe that prompt for sequel planning isn’t coming from as far out of left field as you thought, ey?

If you can’t think of any places, put the book aside for a week or so, and then come back to it. Do you see places now? A conversation with the parents’ old friend suddenly alludes to more than just high school pranks? The villain’s actions are suddenly hiding a far more nefarious plot underneath?

Those are the most subtle forms of foreshadowing, utilised by authors such as JK Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Phillip Pullman. When reading back over these authors’ books, it becomes easier to see that they had been setting up the battle in the last book, from the time you cracked open the first.

Voldemort’s destruction at the hands of Lily mirroring the same at the hands of Harry. The end of Narnia at the end of The Last Battle echoing its creation in The Magician’s Nephew. The daemons and their role in the wider universe of the His Dark Materials trilogy.

These are subtle foreshadowings of sequels. But what of the less subtle – more, hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-brick- kind – that doesn’t so much as hint at sequels and things undone, as drop them in your lap and expect you to keep up.

JRR Tolkien. Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. KA Applegate’s Animorph books. Sherlock Holmes. Herodotus’ Histories. The Iliad.

These works don’t set up sequels – they’re one story broken into many different pieces, that, while each completing a three-act story such as those we have covered up to today on their own, combine together to create a single story structure that develops a character’s arc, in a longer form than that of their individual pieces.

Think about it. By the time Frodo and Sam break away at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, they’ve completed their own three-act story of that book – but they’ve only just begun their journey. You know they have – the end goal has been dangling in front of them (In the distance? Around Frodo’s neck?) the whole time. The story’s not over yet.

By the time The Two Towers finishes, Sam and Frodo have separated, and they’re almost there – just over the hill to Mordor – but they’re not there yet. No, they’ve completed the second act – they’ve been tested, and found unfit. They’ve trained, and they’re about to strike back with all they’re worth. They complete another three-act structure in the Two Towers, but they’re still not at the Return Home of the overarching plot, are they? No, there must be more…

And so, by the time The Return of the King declines into its HEA, you have the great, final battle, of both the single book, and the trilogy. They’ve reached the mountain, they’ve destroyed the ring, the army is defeated, and all Frodo really wants is to return home.

As you can see, the plot of a brick-to-the-face obvious sequel is one of the more easy to view things, and seen from start of the series to the finish. In the more subtler forms, such as Harry Potter, the true reason for all of it, for the whole series, is not really given to the reader until the end of book 5 – and the revelation of the details, of exactly what is happening in the world around them to cause the plot to take shape, are revealed as your read. It’s not so simple as takes ring – travels – destroys ring in its offering of sequels. No, you don’t have a true and clear destination in mind, not even after book 6 has been closed and you pick up book 7. Sure, there’s an idea – defeat Voldemort – but there is no how, where, when, why. You drop the One Ring in to the volcano of Mordor, Sauron is destroyed, so let’s travel to the mountain and get kicking ass.

And so, after all that explain, how does this relate to your book?

The two forms of series and sequels – obscure and subtle, versus blatantly obvious – have different hallmarks. Has your character’s quest ended, or is it only beginning? And was it obvious from the very beginning that this quest would take a long time to completes, or is it a case of things popping up as you go, building the bigger picture for your readers in hindsight, until it suddenly comes together in the final book?

The choice is up to you, your writing style and, most importantly, your plot. Don’t be afraid to go down either path – but be aware that, were you to attempt mixing those two forms, you’ll end up with a Twilight saga – something that worked perfectly well with a trilogy, thank you very much, but you just had to tack on another book that doesn’t fit so well in the overarching story line.

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