I was going to title this ‘The Joys of Writing Sequels’ but thought it a bit silly. Maybe it would imply that writing a sequel would be easier than writing the first story, when that’s usually not the case.
I’ve often heard it said about film trilogies that the second one always sucks. But does that apply to novels? Is Book Two always going to be doomed???
I’m in the process of writing Book Two of my Middle Realm trilogy. It’s not the first ‘sequel’ I’ve written (or started), but it’s the first sequel I’m writing specifically for publication.
Book One — The Page — is already available. This specifically applies to me, but I will be revising the first novel, which is easy for me to do because Kindle versions can be edited anytime.
Once Book Two is ready to be published (I think only on Kindle this time), I can use the new batch of covers my sister made me (and they’re so badass!) and market both novels much better this time. Still learning how to better self-publish.
Anyway, back to writing sequels….
1. Have a plan
It’s important to know ahead of time if you’re writing a standalone novel, a spin-off, a trilogy, saga or really long series–even if you’re making it up as you go along. Standalone novels require that all loose ends be tied up before you get to the last page: no cliffhangers.
But if you know the story can continue, you’ll need to plan out all major plot points–and not just from the first book. This is why a lot of writers use outlines–even for standalones. You can’t have a 400-page novel but then a 50-page sequel because the last plot points were resolved faster than you expected.
Depending on your publishing methods, once your story is out there, you can’t take it back, so plan everything. Preferably before the first manuscript is even finished.
2. Is there a point?
Sequels in any medium shouldn’t be a cash-grab. Quality is sacrificed and in the end no one is happy. If you planned a sequel–or realize later that there could be one–you need to ask yourself a question: Do I need a sequel?
Will the characters need a sequel? Did something big go unresolved? Is it important to the story-universe and lives of the characters?
These questions should be asked not long after the first story is complete. Regarding The Page, I knew I could have a sequel for it before I’d finished two-thirds of the first. I planned events in the first book that I knew could cause a chain-reaction stretching into a second and third book.
Knowing ahead of time gives you an advantage. You can plant the seeds.
So if you didn’t intend a sequel, but then realize you probably can, try to realize this before you’re finished with the first.
3. Everything must connect
There are many book series out in the world. One of the most famous ones is the Harry Potter series, made up of 7 novels (not counting Fantastic Beasts, that Quidditch one, and Tales of Beedle the Bard).
One of the advantages J.K. Rowling had was the structure of her story. It followed Harry as he grew up. Each book was about one school year in his life, and it would be seven years until he completed his education (the last year is optional).
We all know that this series took a lot of planning. She’d created a different world with its own rules, its own physics. Rowling kept track of multiple characters and how they would all evolve throughout the years.
More importantly, the events of each book carried significance into the next book. Harry’s life didn’t start over every book. The events of last year always weighed on his mind when he started the next year. Not only is that a lot to keep track of, it’s a lot to remember.
Now… the joys of writing sequels…
1. Most of the hard work is done
The world has been set up. You’ve established the rules, the backstory, the characters. Now you can focus more on the plot itself and the characters that drive the story.
If you have an outline already, then it probably won’t be too difficult following the plan now that world-building is done. Just meet all the checkpoints, keep yourself on track
If you don’t have a solid plan for the sequel, now you can play around with the consequences of the first book. Or put in a time-skip, jumping ahead to some years later. The sky’s the limit here.
2. Get more creative
My personal approach to planning sequels is ‘How bad can it get?’ This might be a sadistic take on storytelling, but I’ve personally enjoyed stories where things get worse, where it gets personal for the protagonist or other characters.
You can take the time to explore the world of your story, or put the spotlight on a different character. Maybe tying up one loose end creates an entirely new problem for your characters to solve.
Look at series’ you’ve enjoyed–whether it be books, film, or television–and see what the sequels did. You could get inspired and find what will work for your story.
3. Planning is different
As far as I know, I haven’t read a series where there are only 2 books (I’m sure some exist, and if you know any, please comment them below). I’ve read trilogies and series’ with 4+ books.
As I’ve planned a trilogy, writing the second book has brought on a new type of planning. Book 2 has its own issues, but it also has a larger plot that came from Book 1 and will end in Book 3.
Book 2 is the connecting story. It won’t stand entirely by itself. This might be why some people believe that the second of any trilogy is the bad one. It is dependent on the first and third, but it shouldn’t be the weak link.
The plot that bridges all 3+ books must remain strong. Outlining or keeping notes is very important by this stage in your writing.
One thing I should’ve mentioned earlier–but will leave here–is this:
By sequel-time, you should already know how the entire story ends.
Like me, you might have more than one ending in mind–and this is completely fine. Even if you’re following a plan, a story can still take on a life of its own. Just make sure you keep up and keep track because you still want to make sense within your story.
All in all, I find writing sequels to be fun. They’re still a challenge, but with planning, they can be manageable and rewarding.
If all goes according to plan, my next post should be about one of my favorite trilogies: The Chaos Walking Trilogy.