Sequels Week: Lessons (so far) from Writing The Forgetting Curve

I didn’t start out writing Memento Nora as part of a series or trilogy. It wasn’t until well into the revision process did I even come up with the idea for the sequel.  And it’s all my editor’s fault.

She asked an innocent question about the ending. Would Nora believe her mother?  (Hopefully that's not too spoilerish.)

So I started The Forgetting Curve with that scene in mind.  And the first version was all about getting the characters back to the same point (and farther), just by a different route, as they’d gotten to in Memento Nora. In other words, could they become the same people—(spoiler alert) if they’d forgotten everything they learned the first time around? [<--highlight to see this bit.]

Thank goodness my editor wasn’t buying that idea. Literally.

That journey had been told, for better or worse, in Memento Nora, and the characters and story needed to move on to a new level in subsequent books.  (My words, not hers.)

So I revised (and am still revising). The overall plot (the outer story) hasn’t changed too drastically, but the way it’s being told has—and it’s good thing. I think.  New characters have come to the forefront to tell this piece of the story, which has meant a lot of work, but hopefully it’ll be worth it. The inner story isn’t a rehash.

Other important things I’ve learned (so far) in writing this sequel:

  • It’s much harder to write book 2.  Book 1 is the story your editor fell in love with enough to buy.  And now she (as well as everyone else who’s read the book) have their own expectations about what should happen in book 2. It’s not a bad thing to surprise people, but just be aware that others will have preconceptions about this book. Plus you’ll need to write and revise it much faster than you did book 1 in order to get book 2 out within a year. Hand holding time is over.

  • Don’t assume the reader has read or remembers book 1. You need to strike a balance between new story and back story (aka book 1). (But do not go overboard on the back story!) The reader needs to be pulled into the action of the new story while being brought up to speed (just enough) on the old one. 

  • You need to deepen the overall (outer story) stakes.  Besides revisiting characters and a world hopefully your readers like, your reader will expect more out this book. It needs advance the storyline in the grand scheme of things.
 I'm sure I'll be learning many more important lessons with this book. 

Anyone else have lessons learned to share? Or, as a reader, what do you like to see in a sequel?


Veronica Rossi said...

Thanks for a great post - I needed to read that!

Linda (Cat) said...

Interesting! Loving the sequel talk.
The 'would Nora believe her mother' question is similar to what I asked you in our interview, that's funny. Seriously, I'm still thinking about that! I can't wait for the second.

Angie Smibert said...

I know, Cat! You were the only one who asked me that.

Benjamin Jones said...