Sometimes Authors are prompted to write a sequel. Perhaps the book they’ve written has been surprisingly successful. Perhaps they think they can pull the same trick off again.Did you know, for example that Joseph Heller wrote a sequel to Catch 22 and took 30 years to release it? Or have you even heard of Kipling’s Second Jungle Book?
Of course, it might be that there were always plans to write two or maybe three or maybe even five. So where do you start?
On the plus side, your world already exists.
On the minus side, your world already exists.
Let me explain. On the one hand, having your world fully formed can save a lot of time and energy. On the other hand, the limits are already set. Said world has to evolve and be reenforced by layering in the second (and 3rd etc). Challenging though it is for the author, it is highly rewarding to the reader. As Patrick Ness said of his Chaos Walking series, “I think limitations (i.e. knowing it had to connect, while also functioning fully on its own) can be liberating in a way, and a real spark to creativity. Harrowing, but fun.”
The cheat here, if you’re an SF writer, is to set the sequel in another place/world. Then you have the right to start all over again, but at some point it will have to mesh with your world from number 1.
In general, it’s a fine balance. Writing is hard, did I ever tell you that? Having one book written and published does not make the second book any easier. It certainly helps if you have an overarching plot. If the decision, therefore, to write a sequel is an incomplete thought, it can be a complete nightmare.
Stephanie Meyer admitted as much: “The first sequel I wrote to Twilight—Forever Dawn—was more of the same. I wasn’t planning a sequel any more than I was planning to write a book in the first place. Originally, Twilight had a more defined ending. But, when it was ended, I started writing epilogues. After I’d written three epilogues, all of them over a hundred pages long.”
So being a ‘pantser’ in sequel writing comes across as being intuitively wrong for someone like me who has a plan for a five book series. But I think the key to writing more than one book in a serial fashion is knowing what to hold back, whilst at the same time giving each book a book-worthy goal. This isn’t easy, but pretty essential. In reality, it is therefore vital to have your characters grow and have meaningful stories, as well as the core question which drives the whole series constantly there stuck up on your computer screen lest you literally lose the plot.
So with book two of the Artefact series, The Beast of Seabourne, out at the end of this month, and with the third, The Witch of Carpathia in its third draft, what lessons have I learned?
1/ It is daunting. Writing any book is difficult, but with a long series, it can be especially harrowing. However, everything is impossible until it is done. Work through it, hold on to that spark that stimulated you right at the beginning and you will get there.
2/ Editors and Beta readers will like some parts of your writing more that others. The mystery aspect, or the SFF aspect, or this or that. However, resist the urge to be too formulaic in your approach. Things happen to your guys and gals along the way which change their attitudes and feelings towards the underlying drivers and to each other. That has to be played out.
3/ Try and give each book a theme in your overall plan. Again, Patrick Ness tells us that he had a vague plan for Chaos Walking. A very vague plan admittedly, but one nonetheless. “I had general plot points before starting and over-riding themes (book one was “flight,” book two “tyranny,” and book three “war”), and I also knew that it needed to stand-alone and be about something on its own terms.” For me, The Beast of Seabourne is as much a book about trust and deceit as it is about the hunt for mysterious Artefacts.
4/ Allow some secondary characters their moment in the sun. This will deepen and enrich the stories. In The Beast of Seabourne, there is a character called Rowena Hilditch, a real cuckoo in the nest. She has already wriggled her way under a lot of readers’ skins in terms of the way my protagonist’s mother reacts to her. Good, I say. Since the whole aim of writing is to induce some emotive reaction in the reader, I’m all for that.
5/ Make sure the book stands alone. And for that you need to accept that all the backstory from 1 does not need to be in 2, or 3. Yes, the odd little sentence or paragraph has to be. But always keep in mind the old adage, those that pay attention will be rewarded. And use the story to plant stuff for later if there is a third.
6/ As a corollary to 5, as Janice Hardy says; Explain key info the first time it’s presented asking oneself, “Would someone who hadn’t read this understand what I was talking about from the context of the paragraph?” If yes, leave alone. If no, add a little explanation. “Little” is the key word here.
6/ Keep notes in preparation for the third.
7/ Finally, Sit down and do it.
(The Beast of Seabourne is released on 28th October from Spencer Hill Press)