Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Evolution of a Sequel

When I wrote my first published novel, The Dark Lady, I gave no thought to writing a sequel. I had disposed of a serious villain and solved some of the heroine’s more serious problems. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, and most of my writing is seat-of-the-pants. I tend to break the rule of writing that says you should create elaborate back-stories and histories about your protagonist even though you may never use all that information. So when readers started approaching me at Cons and asking when the sequel was coming out, I had to put my brain into gear.

One of the first questions I faced was, am I doing just one more novel, or creating a trilogy? Deciding I could come up with enough ideas for two, I next had to avoid the dreaded "boring middle book" syndrome. How many times have you picked up a book, discovered that it is the middle epic of a three-parter, and found out nothing really happens for the next three hundred pages? The author is saving all the excitement for the wrap-up, and you will have to buy another volume or give up. My next problem had to do with who would turn out to be the new evil villain. I had built up a large cast of characters in volume one. I decided that logically I should chose someone the reader might be familiar with, but throw in a surprise or two.

I had to break from my pantser mode long enough to jot down a number of sentences, each one representing a possible chapter. I find once I start this process, the ideas come fast and furious. When I spoke to my editor about my idea for sequels, she suggested I complete both manuscripts and submit them together so she could see how the story flowed. Fine with me, I just had to write two complete novels all at once.

One of my pet peeves about a series is picking up a book that looks interesting and discovering it is but one of many. Do I want to go back to the start of the series, or put it back on the shelf? To at least partially solve this, I do the delicate balancing act of trying to write the beginning of each volume in such a manner that I provide sufficient information and background for the reader to become involved in the story without having to have read the previous book. The tricky part is doing this without burying the reader in an avalanche of information. You have to be subtle.

I wrote the first book, while not in the first person, by only getting inside the head of the main character, and only following her around in the story. I wanted to remain consistent in my format. This meant I had to come up with a way of describing what was going on elsewhere. In book two I used the device of having the Queen read various reports from across the land, allowing the reader to get some idea of what was going on in other parts of the realm, or in neighboring kingdoms. In book three I get inside of the head of one other character at the start of each chapter. Do you back yourself into a corner sticking to a particular point-of-view?

The last piece of advice I can come up with, when looking at sequels, is if you don’t enjoy writing this extended version of your tale, stop and give yourself a shake. If you don’t find it interesting, chances are your readers may not either. If you are bored, take a good look at what you are writing. Perhaps you need to approach the story from a different angle, or with a new, unusual character. I was fortunate. In my case the protagonist was relatively young, still in a difficult situation, and surrounded by a large number of characters, any one or more of whom could be turned into the main villain of the tales. I enjoyed writing the extended versions, now if they can only survive the editing process...


The Dark Lady - February 2012
Housetrap - December 2012
Knight’s Bridge - March 2013
The Queen’s Pawn - April 2013
Dial M for Mudder - July 2013  
House on Hollow Hill - Sept 2013
Hounds of Basalt Ville - Nov 2013


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Some authors know they will do a series, such as Nora Roberts, who takes the family apart one sibling at a time. Others find that followup question dogging them when they think about a character who has become part of their own family.

In my "three penny mysteries,' I found myself with Penny, the main character having two adventures related in the same book. Then in the sequel, one more, with an opportunity to tell a funny tale that she wasn't mature enough in her early unmarried state to have been a part of.

Big Mike said...


Had a similar situation with my novels Forgotten Children, Final Solution and Blind Consent. Readers emailed me on when the sequel would be released. Problem is, I love creating new fictional worlds and characters. Finally one day my publisher asked, "Think about a part two for Final Solution" so I did, and it was fun. Got sequels working on two other stories now.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Nikki said...

I had lots of titles and scenarios for sequels to Framed (Still Life, Moving Pictures, Glazed, Oil & Water, etc.), but no plans. Then I got requests for more stories, set to work, and a hit a wall. So I think I'll try, as you suggest, writing it from one character's POV instead of several, and doing a bit more plotting. Many thanks for the encouragement!

linda_rettstatt said...

I've had people ask if I'll ever write a sequel to Shooting Into the Sun from Lexie's point of view--her story. Readers fell in love with that secondary character and want more. I should really consider it. Thanks.

Liz Fountain said...

Love the idea of readers asking for more.... I look forward to the day when that "problem" comes my way!

I'm looking for inspiration for this year's NaNoWriMo. Maybe I'll think about a sequel from a single character's POV - why not?