Leave Room for a Future: Characters and Plot

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

I have been reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver series. I read The Giver when I was in junior high and really enjoyed it and only recently saw that it is part of a series. The Giver was published in 1993 and the second book in the series, Gathering Blue, wasn’t published until 2000.  I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that Lois thought that she would ever be writing more books as a continuation of The Giver.

This got me thinking about how unpredictable publishing can be. A character or story can be hated or loved by the readers and it’s the response of the readers that often dictates what is written by an author in the future.

We all hope our characters will be so loved by readers that they will be begging us to write more books about them, and this may seem like a wild dream, but I believe it’s best to be prepared. Make sure you like your characters and that you leave openings in your story for future ideas to sprout. 

I doubt Robin Jones Gunn ever thought she’d still be writing about Christy Miller and Todd Spencer 25 years after the first book, Summer Promise, was published. Her characters spoke to the readers and became so real that many fans–myself included–consider them friends.

And Agatha Christie ended up writing more than 40 Hercule Poirot stories. I read that some readers have done a timeline of her stories and estimate that Poirot would have been 150 years old at the end of the last book. This is a sign of a character that has been extremely well-loved in an unexpected way.

If you are writing fiction, could you see your characters in future books? Have you left enough questions in your book to spark ideas for future books in a series?

As a reader, what are some long-lasting series that you have enjoyed?

42 Responses

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  1. In my last work, I definitely and intentionally left two leads for future works … I don’t know if anyone else would love my characters, but I do … I’m not ready to say goodbye to them just yet. 🙂

    I haven’t read Robin’s work, but you have my curiosity up now. I saw the movie The Giver this year … that was interesting! 🙂 I didn’t know it was part of a series.

    I just read Love’s Reckoning by Laura Frantz … I loved it and it slayed me and I loved it and it slayed me. I love Silas and Eden. I think the series may just involve their children … but I would like to read more of Silas and Eden. 🙂 Do any of you know if there are more books involving those two? I’ll admit, the Scottish accent totally reels me in. 🙂

  2. Melinda Ickes says:

    Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series was one I enjoyed.

    As for my own writing, I would have to be very intentional not to leave questions or to develop a character so completely that there is no room for them in a second or third story. I tend to write about very broken characters in complex situations, and my stories always have at least one thematic or mystery thread that lends itself to a follow-up story. Whether right or wrong, or neither, I don’t know, but I struggle to write a true standalone. Go big or go home, I guess. 🙂

  3. Kathy Cassel says:

    I loved the Giver. The movie is good but they changed A LOT of things while staying pretty true to the message. I’ve just started reading “Gathering Blue” which is supposed to be the next book but has a different set of characters and a different kind of society. I’m having a lot of trouble getting interested in it. After Giver is Gathering Blue, The Messenger and then she brings them altogether in The Son (or so I have been told).

    • Rachel Kent says:

      I am just starting The Messenger now. I did enjoy Gathering Blue, but it isn’t nearly as good as The Giver.

      I felt the same way about the movie. The book is so much better, but the movie was all right.

  4. Lori Benton says:

    Not only can I, I have in many instances started a file for future sequels, spin-offs, or loosely connected stories. It will be interesting to see how many will be written.

  5. Actually, it’s my husband who has several ideas about sequels to my WWI story!

  6. So far, I’ve written 2 books. The MC’s in each are brothers, but are as different as night is to day. There is mention of a third brother in each, but I don’t know what has happened to him. Yet. The third book is drafted, and that will involve Tsi’tnaginnie’s (sit-nah-jin-ee) daughter and how she runs away and ends up in the home of her uncle, only she has no sweet clue he’s her uncle because she lies like a rug, and her long lost Uncle Natanii changed his name.
    Who knows what happened to Uncle Ahiga.
    Seriously. WHO KNOWS?? Can someone give me some ideas?!?!?!
    And slavery and adoption are out. Think 1865 Navajo history.
    Feel free to look it up, I’ll wait.

    I LOVED Love’s Reckoning. And yes, Shelli, the series continues with their offspring. Buy Kleenex from Costco, that’s all I’ll say.

    Lori Benton’s upcoming The Wood’s Edge is the beginning of an EPIC series!! GAH! I loved it!! 98 Dairy Milks out of 5.

  7. David Todd says:

    I wrote and self-published my first baseball novel, thinking that was the end of this. One of my friends wrote me and said, “Oh, you’ve set this up so well for the sequel! Will [the protagonist] reconcile with his girlfriend? With his parents? What will happen in his career [as a major league pitcher] as a result of that climax scene? And will those Mafia bad guys ever be brought to justice?”

    That floored me because I hadn’t planned on a sequel at all, but I could see how I had indeed set it up for one. I’ve since written and posted that sequel, and the only review I have of it says it’s better than the first one. Go figure. Now this friend is asking me to write a third book in “the series”, but I don’t see it.

  8. I love spin-offs, and that’s always in the back of my mind as I create characters and plot lines.

    If I can stretch back in time a bit…Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys are favorites. It’s interesting to know that Little Women was originally written as two books but later were combined into the one we know today.

  9. Rachel, I purposely wrote my first ms so that it could have a sequel(s). My daughter has already told me that I must keep two certain people together or she’ll be mad. In the meantime I completed a prequel since I was curious about my main protagonist’s past. My daughter wasn’t so sure she wanted to know. But she gave me her approval after reading it. I’m not allowed to give her spoilers–so it’s fun to watch how she reacts. I appreciate her honest criticism and praise.

    I envy writers who have a following that loves their characters as much as the author does. It’s my dream. And as far as my daughter’s wishes–she’ll have to suffer some plots twists before she possibly gets what she wants.(She loves the Christy Miller series, and I’ve read a ton of Janette Oke’s books.)

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  10. Sheila King says:

    From my days as school librarian, I can tell you: kids love series. “The Giver”, however didn’t pan out. Kids adored the original book and were less than “meh” about the others.

    Here is my series prediction, though not about books. They announced that “Downton” will end next season. I think they will do a next gen series about the kids of downton just in time for them to go to WWII and then they will do their kids in the 70s when all old manor houses were sold off for taxes. I don’t think Julien Fellows is done yet.

  11. Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    Good point, Rachel. It does seem like she thought The Giver was complete and when I read it, the book felt complete even with so much mystery and possibility left at the end. It does seem like a good way to go.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      I absolutely love the mystery at the end of that book. It was perfect and lovely and I am interested in finding out more, but at the same time almost don’t want to know what happens next because that ending was so good.

  12. **News from Barbara, Andrew’s wife, they won’t have internet at home until May.
    Please continue to pray for them, she said things are getting more difficult.

  13. I can’t NOT do this. Whenever I develop a character, a new story explodes in my head. I have to resist the urge to dump it all into one novel and so I promise myself that character’s story will have a book of it’s own. I have two series and will be beginning a spin-off series by this fall.

  14. Iris Hill says:

    I’ve been writing historical romance novels set in the Roman Empire around AD120. In the first, the father of the romantic lead’s best friend helped him make his decision to become a Christian. I hadn’t planned on a sequel, but it started writing itself in my mind while I was finishing the first. It picked up the story of the father and followed the machinations of his evil son and the transformation of his daughter and his good son into believers. The legacy of the son’s evil choices plays out in a third story of the conflict between two grown-up grandsons and in a fourth story about rescuing the granddaughter from her father. So a character who played a critical but short role in one novel set the foundation for three more storylines about the children and grandchildren of that first character, and two more are already swirling in my head. I had no intention of making a series of stories about various members of one family, but I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe where the characters are real people. The next story spontaneously starts developing itself before I finish the current one. Minor characters unexpectedly transform themselves into leads, but isn’t that how real life works, too?

    I like Agatha Christie’s continuing characters, too. I especially like how Miss Marple derives such deep understanding of the twists of the human mind simply by knowing life in a “quiet” country village.

  15. After I had some people read my book they were wondering if I was going to make it a series. I said, “No.” I just felt it was a story that was told and over and done with. I could have stretch my first book into two….but again, I felt it would have weakened the storyline. I like the way it is! I have other stories to tell and really want to move on. Is that bad????? I love my characters…they are truly endeared to me, and the readers. But sometimes things just need to end.

  16. Susan says:

    I have every intention of writing a sequel to my novel and left a few subtle and some not so subtle carrots dangling. I was feeling quite smug until one of my editors suggested a series, not a sequel, which will take the story in a whole new direction. The dangling carrots would still work but I’m not sure im ready to write a series. How can I not be ready? Obviously need to talk to that inner child

  17. Ellen Stumbo says:

    I believe you are right about Lowry not planning to continue as a series because her acceptance speech for the Newberry medal sure sounds like it was a stand alone book and you were not supposed to know exactly what happens, or you were supposed to believe whatever resonated with you in the story (for example, my husband and I have different interpretations of what happened to Jonas and Gabe).

    “The Giver,” has always been one of my favorite books. I have read all four books, and the sequels are so unrelated to “The Giver,” that I really struggled to like them. She introduces a magical world that is not present in the original book, and the main character does not seem to be the same character, he deviates from what we knew of him.

    So, here is the thing, I loved the movie. I might actually like the movie a little better than the book for one small detail: Jonas is older in the movie. I have read the book at least 10 times and I always felt that a 12 year old would not really “get it,” no matter how many memories he received. Having a child getting closer to the 12 year mark and having worked with many, many 12 year olds, that maturity is just not there yet. Every time I read the book I felt like, “How did a 12 year old carry such responsibility.” In the movie Jonas is “graduating” (so he is around 17) and I felt an older character could carry the story much better. I never questioned how a 17 year old would be aware of what was happening in his community and push for a change, even risk his life.

    Okay, I will stop now, I don’t get to “talk” to a lot of people about my favorite books 😉

    Maybe next you can use “The Book Thief” as an example, or “Orphan Train.” I have lots to say about these books (Like how exquisite Markus Zusak’s writing is and how the movie was not even close to the book, or how Christina Baker Kline created a story who’s characters helped me understand my daughter -who we adopted – and how my heart broke for my own daughter).

    And this, this is why we write. Stories are powerful.