Thursday, October 15, 2015

On Sequels

I have a problem. After writing a novel that I hope might work as a stand-alone, I get a request to look into sequels. Usually I have some idea of what happens next in the plot. My theory is that as long as the characters are still alive I can create a follow-up story. At the worst I can always focus on the lessor characters from the original tale if I’ve completely run out of ideas.

My problem, and where I would like to hear your thoughts, is to do with how much of a connection should you develop with the previous story. Do you assume the reader is reading the series in order, and recently, or should you assume you need to throw in a lot of detail from the earlier book to bring them up to speed?

Of course you want to avoid the dreadful “Info-Dump.” I turned “the Dark Lady” into a trilogy. Extending the plot was fairly easy as I had a young protagonist in a precarious position. I tried to gradually introduce enough backstory at the beginning of books two and three so the reader could keep up without getting bored.

I’m currently turning my second novel, The Queen’s Pawn” into a trilogy, having finished volume two and almost completed writing volume three. To connect books two and three I opened the final volume using and expanding the last scene in book two. I thought it was a good idea. Would readers complain I’m simply repeating myself for half of the first chapter?

There are several ways to bring readers up to date, or remind them of what has gone on before, without being blatantly obvious. I’ve used casual conversations between characters, letters they have received, and internal dialogue grumbling about past events. How much is too much? In both of the above-mentioned trilogies I had a fairly large cast. I tried to bring the secondary characters forward to the next book with enough hints to aid the reader as to what is going on and how they fit into the bigger picture.

Let’s face it, the author, who is quite familiar with his/her inter-weaving plots and complex character motivations could quite easily leave a reader in the dark when they jump to the next volume in the series. Some readers have the benefit of reading all three in a trilogy one after the other. Other readers may find a gap of a year or more between books. How does the author accommodate both situations without annoying the reader?

I’d be interested in hearing from authors and readers on how they solve this problem or how they feel about the way their favorite author treats the situation. Speaking for myself, and thinking of the complex Game of Thrones series, I tend to go back and read the previous book before I jump into the next when it finally arrives.


The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1) (as yet untitled volume 2 due out shortly!)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volume 1 to 7)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge


Olga Godim said...

To tell the truth, I dislike series that continue the same story line. I'm a proponent of a different type of series, where each novel has its own independent story line, and no back story is necessary. Often, such series are united by the same characters (think Poirot) or the same world with different heroes (like Mercedes Lackey and her Valdemar novels). That's how I write my own stories, but many writers continue the same story line from novel to novel. Some do it well, while others end each novel of a series in a cliffhanger. I think the latter gimmick is deceiving the readers. I hate it and I don't read series using this device. On the other hand, I might be in the minority here.

Ron said...

I read/write both types. I agree on the poor use of blatant cliff-hanger endings. I like clearing up most of the problems in the story, however I have been known to drop something new right at the end as a set-up for the next book.

With my Housetrap Chronicles series I use the same two main characters, but have a different story (mystery) for them to solve each time. When I bring back a character who has appeared in an earlier tale, I explain the connection.