Writing a sequel? Should be a piece of cake, right?

I am in the midst of edits on the sequel to XVI – TRUTH. I have been, for the most part, writing on this book since my agent search began, way back in 2008.
It wasn’t until after I gained representation and XVI went out in the world looking for a home, that I realized I needed to STOP writing the sequel. Why? Because I had no idea what a potential editor might want. It would’ve been a shame to have written an entire book that I would need to scrap if my vision and the editor’s vision didn’t mesh.
Was that a good idea? Uh… yes.
After XVI (and the unwritten sequel) sold and the edits on XVI were done – I started writing in earnest. Well, as in earnest as I could, considering I was wrapped up in pre-publication promotional activities.
Did things change from my original XVI to the final product? Most definitely. Which made me uber-glad that I waited to finish the sequel. As it was – I pretty much threw out everything I’d written earlier and started fresh.
The challenges to sequel-writing (as I am learning) are many. Let me note a few:

1. You can’t change horses (or space-ships) in mid-stream. If you don’t have certain slang or technology in book 1, it had better not show up in book 2! Unless, of course, your characters are scientists and are inventing new technology (not so much new slang! Lol)
2. How much time needs to elapse between the end of book 1 and the start of book 2? This going to be dependent upon your editor’s vision (and, of course, yours!) – but, you have to be sure to allow enough time to pass for things to happen that can (and probably should) happen “off-camera.”
3. Then there is possibly the biggest challenge of all – not info-dumping on your readers! Many will, hopefully, have read your first book but they will need a bit of a refresher. But dousing them with a blow-by-blow of previous events is not the way to go. It is a very fine line to tread – including enough, but not too much.
Sequel-writing is definitely not for the faint of heart. You have to tell a new story – you can’t just rehash the same thing with a different villain or someone new to be saved. The story should be able to stand on its own – while inviting the reader to seek out other books from your same created world.
Enough said on this for now – since only my editor and my readers will be able to tell me if I’m successful in practicing what I preach. And… since I’m busy editing TRUTH, I’d best get back to it!
Oh – I did want to ask though… what do you feel are some really good multiple books? What sequels worked for you?


Andrew Fukuda said...

I'm working on the sequel to The Hunt so I can definitely relate to a lot of the issues you mentioned. It's also encouraging to know that my struggles are nothing new or unique, but something all authors working on a sequel have to wrestle with.

This might be a little old school, but I find myself thinking a lot about the original Star Wars trilogy (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) a lot. For all their faults (e.g., ewoks!) each episode of that trilogy offered something new yet continued the story arc very well.

Leah Petersen said...

This post, and Beth's recent one on sequels are so timely for me right now. And so TRUE! In some ways it seems it should be easier, since the worldbuilding and characters are already developed. But in many ways, that almost makes it harder, because you have less freedom to change things that aren't working with this particular plot.

And there's just no option of saying 'eh, this just isn't going to pan out' and chucking it to start something else.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm struggling with this too right now, but I find that part of my problem is I keep thinking of things I'd like to adjust in the first book. Nothing huge, but a bit more character description or a touch more foreshadowing. It's hard to leave that first book alone (it's going into typesetting soon) and focus on the new one!

Although they're obvious, I think The Hunger Games and Harry Potter are both great examples of ways to continue a series, and they each cover the three challenges you mentioned.

Jenni Merritt said...

What a great post! Thanks for letting us in a bit on the "joys" of sequel writing.

I do have to agree with Marissa and say Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Though the third Hunger Games book was a bit too slow for my persona liking, I think they did great in rehashing without too much hacking.

Keep up the awesome work! Can't wait to read it :)

Julia said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

And - I totally agree, Andrew - the original Star Wars trilogy was great at continuity & new stuff!
And, yes - Leah - It's hard to not want to revise the 1st book (even after it's published!)

ChuckEye said...

Late to the thread, but if you'll accept films (like the original Star Wars trilogy) as examples, I've always been fond of the progression in the Alien series.

In the first movie, you had a field of eggs of unknown origin. One goes through its lifecycle. (Egg, facehugger, chestburster, alien.)

In the second movie, they played with the idea of "what laid those eggs"? So a queen was brought into the picture.

In the third film, they explored the idea that the mature alien somewhat took the shape of the chestburster's host... So depending on if you watch the original cut or the director's cut, you had an alien mashed with either a dog or an ox.

In the fourth film they turned everything on its head, but still without having to retcon the first three.

Each was able to build on the previous without having to make any significant backpeddling.

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