May 4, 2011

Picking Up Where You Left Off

Or, the challenges of writing a sequel.

When I last left Nathan Shepherd, his life had changed drastically. He'd discovered secrets of the world and learned some hard lessons. It's safe to say he doesn't make it to the end of the book without taking a few knocks.

Now that I know the book is going to be published, I'm all the more eager to work on my next one and get as much done before I have to start looking at edits for the first. After all, something may occur to me while working on Book 2 that could improve Book 1. Of course, picking up where you left off can be tricky.

I've had the following things to consider while getting ready to start Book 2, current working title "The Silent Oath."

  1. The Passing of Time -  If I start up the very next day after the end of Locked Within, I'm severely limiting my storytelling options. Besides, does anyone really want to read about a character whose every waking moment is spent fighting monsters? No, that won't do. There needs to be a long enough break between books that the protagonist can recover from the events of the previous book, but also not so long that the reader feels like they may have missed out on important events in his life.
  2. Avoiding Repetition - I find it all too easy to fall into patterns. The last thing a writer wants is for someone to read their new book and think it feels like the last one with the serial numbers filed off. This means introducing new characters, showing how old ones have grown and changed, and coming up with new challenges for the protagonist that have a new sense of novelty to them, but aren't completely out of touch with what's already been established. Bring back the same villain, sure, but give him a new goal, new motivations, or some new tricks up his sleeve. Don't have Cthulhu show up just for a change of pace if the last villain was a vampire.
  3. Being Aware of New Readers - While every writer hopes that their books are read in the right order, there are going to be readers who pick up a book in the middle of a series, either because they can't find a copy of the earlier ones, or because a friend has recommended a later book as a better jumping-in point. So they need to be given enough information to understand what's happened before. However you don't want to dump too much repeated information on returning readers, either. It's a tricky balance, one I think I have yet to master.
  4. Escalation - Closely connected to Number 2, really. If you write four books where the hero takes on roughly the same level of challenge and is under similar threats throughout, it won't matter how good you are, readers are going to get bored. Especially true for a series with a planned ending, the reader needs to see the hero's ability and responsibility grow. A fight which would have left him near death in the last book should now be a bracing challenge. The new antagonist should be a grade above those who have gone before, as should the consequences for failure. This doesn't mean the hero ends up saving the world every book, though. Saving the world is a huge event. The scale of what could be lost is so huge that the reader will lose empathy, not least of all because if the world ends, then so does the series, and the writer is unlikely to go that far. Saving, perhaps, a hundred people, can easily be the climax of a book where the hero must now save just one loved one, especially if he is somehow responsible for their danger. As the story goes on, the hero must realise that his responsibility is increasing, and rise to match that challenge.
  5. Progression - Each book in a series must advance something. Whether it's the hero's plans to avenge his parents' death or an acceptance of the friends around him, something must be gained. But so too must things be lost. The story becomes a series of choices where the protagonist decides what things matter most and what he can sacrifice.
  6. Themes - Just like the first book should have had a theme, intentional or otherwise, so too should the sequel. This can be the same theme as the first, in which case it's likely that the whole series shares one primary theme. But it can be important to deal with other secondary themes as well. Where one book might be about sacrificing for the greater good, the next may be about learning to live with those choices and coming to accept a new life.
  7. Quality - We're only ever as good as our next book. Each time we write, we should be improving, honing our skills. I want to make The Silent Oath better than Locked Within. Better flow, better characterisation. I want to look at Locked Within on shelves or in people's hands and think "Yeah, just wait until you see what happens next!"
I suppose I should also point out that I want to get the ms good enough to actually be accepted for publication, too. ;-)


  1. Edits get pretty heavy. So it would be great if you get going on that second book. And congratulations on your acceptance!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.I'm now your follower, too.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  2. Congrats on your impending publishing. ^_^ Just keep in mind that changes to edits in Book 1 can and will affect Book 2... Good luck!

  3. I like your blog, enough so that I gave it the "Blog on Fire" award. Swing by my blog and pick it up anytime~

  4. Maybe just start writing and don't worry about all this stuff for now. See what story wants to be told.

  5. Ann: Thanks! I'm not sure what to expect during editing other than it taking up all of my writing time and then some, so the more I can get done of a first draft before it starts, the better.

    Misha: Thanks. And I will. Heck, even the ms I submitted was already very different from how the story was originally conceived in my head, so who knows what'll change.

    Write2Live: Wow, thanks! Will do.

    Karen: Yeah, that's what I think I'll have to do. I have the rough plot in mind, both external and internal challenges for Nathan. I guess I'll see what happens.

  6. Great post! I always like to look at escalation like an RPG game. You're MC has beat the last boss, gained some levels. Now it's time to overcome a greater challenge.

    I'm still working on the first book in my series, but I will keep all this in mind when I start the second.

  7. Oddly, Noree, that's not too far from how I tend to look at it, myself.

  8. I am enjoying your posts. I like how you write about what you are thinking as a writer. I am working on my first book and it is helpful to read what others are going through (through the writing process). Best of luck on your book.

  9. Thanks, Dawn. Hope yours goes well.