If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know that now I’m working on Mad Rush, the sequel to Timber Point. Before I finished writing Timber Point I knew I wanted to make it into a series. For two reasons: I had so many ideas of how Shawny Daniels could get herself in trouble. And the second book kept pestering me. It wouldn’t allow me to write anything else.
When this happens it’s a good sign that you should write a sequel. Do not write a sequel because you don’t have any other story ideas, or it’ll show in your writing.
So I got to work…
Sequels and series are a crap shoot. Some readers love them, some hate them. But if you feel you need to write that sequel– go for it. Just know, it’s hard, it’s time-consuming, and at times makes you want to rip your hair out. Plus, come publishing time, an editor might tell you you’ve gone the wrong way with the story and you’ll have to either re-write it or trash it.
If that happens was the time wasted? No. I don’t believe that. Whenever we are writing and creating we are strengthening our craft. How can that be wrong?
So I took the challenge. That’s just who I am. No mountain too high. No goal unachievable. That’s me.
I had only one problem: I never wrote a sequel before. And I had no idea how. I asked myself, How do I go about it? Where do I start? How do I explain the first book without repeating the plot in the second?
These were all valid questions that I needed answers to, so I researched and researched and researched before I ever wrote one word. I also did something that’s totally unlike me. I wrote a mini-outline. I know, I know, I’ve always said I’m a pantser through and through, but when you read the rest of the post you’ll understand why.
First, every book in a series MUST be able to stand on its own. Not everyone reads them in order. Sometimes book two or three captures a reader’s interest and they start there. Then, hopefully, they’ll go back and buy the books before and after that one. However, for those faithful readers who loved your original story, the second book better knock their socks off. If it doesn’t there’s no reason for them to read book three or four, or whatever the case may be. You’ll also end up with reviews like, “Book two was okay, not as good as book one, though.”
These are the basics elements of a sequel:
- Do not use flashbacks to tell what happened in book one.
- Book two must stand alone and be a great book without anyone ever having to read book one.
- Book two’s plot must twist and turn much more than book one to keep the faithful reader happy.
- Your protagonist must conquer another flaw.
- Book two must come out shortly after book one. Timing really is everything.
- Book two’s plot must logically flow from book one’s plot. The sequel should always stay true to the first book.
- Book two should surprise the reader.
Let’s break it down.
When you start book two– your hook– don’t tell the reader what happened in book one. Boring! Instead, show them like I did in Mad Rush.
Here’s an excerpt: “I rubbed the scar on my throat, glanced at the white lines on my arms made from the knife, and recalled the madness of that night.”
Say no more. Leave the reader wondering what happened that night. By doing so, you’ll keep your reader turning the pages to find out. Drop breadcrumbs, hint at what occurred. This way, not only will you keep your faithful reader happy, but your new reader will hopefully go back and buy book one to read the story behind the sequel.
The second point above is self-explanatory. You can’t have book two only work with book one. It has to be its own entity, so if read out-of-order it still makes sense.
Twists and turns: You must create a plot that sucks the reader in without repeating the first book’s plot. Not easy, I know. Here are some ways to do that. You can create conflict between your characters, a love triangle (depending on your genre), a double-cross situation. Whatever the conflict, make it great. Try to outdo yourself. Try to take that first book that you lived with, nurtured, loved, and now top it.
Another flaw for your protagonist to overcome. Yes, you still need to have a “story” in your story. This part I didn’t find too difficult since my protagonist is such a flawed human to begin with. And really, you shouldn’t find this hard either. If you wrote book one properly your protagonist hopefully didn’t only have one flaw. That’s not very realistic. And hopefully she didn’t overcome ALL of her flaws in book one. That’s not realistic either. She could’ve hoped to overcome them, but in actuality only conquered one or two. That’s much more human. In book two, use the flaws she didn’t overcome as your main flaw. Or, maybe she mastered her flaw in book one, but in book two falls back into the same bad habits. Of course, you could only get away with that once. Come book three you’d really need to put your thinking cap on.
Your plot in book two must logically flow from book one. This is where many writers fail. In book one if your antagonist dies, you can’t logically have him return from the dead. Unless you’re writing a zombie book. Then it’s perfectly acceptable. For those of you who aren’t, keep reading. Everything about the story, including plot, setting, characters, must ring true for the reader. If it doesn’t, the author is putting the reader in a sort of limbo. So don’t go changing the setting, the characters, the underlying story. Readers come back for book two because they’ve missed the world you created for them. Don’t go changing it on them now.
Your plot must twist and turn… Okay, here’s where it gets tricky. Your faithful reader loved book one so much that they couldn’t wait for the sequel. When it came out they were the first to buy it. It happens, just stay with me. Remember that big bomb you dropped on them at the end of book one? Now you have to drop a grenade or nuclear weapon. *groans and moans from the audience* Hey, I didn’t write the rules. It is what it is. Don’t panic. No one ever said writing a sequel was easy. As a matter of fact, no matter who you speak to they’ll probably tell you how hard it was. And it is! But this is also the time for you to get really creative and see how many ways you can drive tension forward and twist the plot into knots.
It’s fun to think of different scenarios that get your protagonist in trouble. It can also be maddening.
There are other elements that make up a great sequel, but honestly, there just isn’t room. I’ll visit this topic again in a future post so keep stopping by.
I hope this helps someone who’s been thinking about writing that second or third book in a series.
If anyone has ever written a sequel I’d love to hear from you. What did you find most difficult?
For those who haven’t, do you want to try it? It’s a very rewarding and interesting experience. It shows you where your strengths are, and where you need improving. But it also forces you to do better. I think that’s always a good thing.
Today I’ll leave you with this. Hopefully you’ll get a chuckle out of it like I did.