I’d always assumed book 1 of a series would be, by far, the most difficult. Not only did I have to come up with the entire world of my characters, settings, etc…, I also had to decide exactly where to insert the reader. As I’ve mentioned before, I rewrote the entire beginning to The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren no less than 10 times. And I struggled with exactly how to handle that beginning.
Back when that was going on, I remember thinking, “I can’t wait for book 2. It will be like continuing from the first one. Easy Peasy.”
Ohhhhhh how foolish and naive a child of 37 I was.
While getting book 1 out was difficult, I’m learning that sequels present their own sets of challenges. And here they are (in order from easiest to most difficult):
5. Emotionally Connecting to Characters
Honestly, this one hasn’t been extraordinarily difficult. But it’s #5 on my list so it doesn’t have to be that hard yet.
And, easy or not, it’s extremely important to forge as strong (or stronger) a connection with your characters before beginning a sequel. The reader doesn’t want to feel as if they’re being ramped back up in to the characters. That’s going to happen with the plot, which is more than enough.
How did I reconnect with the characters?
Well, I think some of it is that they never left me. I get Blaize’s “essence” if that makes any sense. OMG that sounds so hokey and hippie that I’m shutting up about it now.
In a more tangible vein, I actually sat down and re-read the last few chapters of book 1 immediately before beginning book 2. It really helped a lot. Even though I knew what happened, re-reading clued me in on exactly where the characters’ emotional states ended so I knew where to pick back up.
4. Keeping Things the Same Yet Different
People like reading sequels because they (the people, not the sequel) are already invested. Those readers have a pre-existing connection with the characters and sense of nostalgia about the world. It’s important to maintain that and give the readers the feeling of “Ahhhhh, it’s so good to be back.”
However, the sequel also has to be drastically different in terms of the plot it delivers. I remember reading an article about how a sequel can’t just be a continuation of book 1. It has to provide a different experience. Otherwise readers get bored. That makes perfect sense.
Merging those two worlds can difficult. Where do you draw the line between fresh and nostalgic?
Fortunately, book 1 has always felt more like a prequel to me than an actual book 1. It’s definitely not, but that’s how I’ve viewed it from the beginning. I’ve always thought, “It’s what happens before everything happens.” Book 2 is where things will really explode. So I feel lucky in that, outlining book 2, I can already see it’s very very different in terms of experience. But the readers will still be taken back to Sanctuary, which establishes that nostalgia (I hope!).
(SIDE NOTE: I wasn’t going to include an image for this item until I saw that Same Yet Different is an actual board game! How badly does everyone wanna play it right now? I know I do!)
3. Thinking About Character Growth
I remember being seriously irked while reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I found that I didn’t like Harry near as much. He was annoying and temperamental. I can’t remember how many times I actually said, “OMG Just shut up!” – Yes I was very invested :). And I wanted Harry Potter from books 1-4. Then I realized he wasn’t a kid anymore; Harry was 15 and that’s how 15-year-olds can act.
I do think that the transition from “perfect Harry” to “teen Harry” was a bit sudden, but it’s clear Rowling was putting an effort into character growth.
Writing book 2, I can see how hard that is. I like Blaize and Molly the way they were in book 1. And it’s easier to write them that way.
But I can’t. Molly is 7 now and there’s a difference between 6 and 7 year-olds.
The same with 14 and 15 year-olds. Whoa. I just realized Blaize is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’s age right now. Do I have to make him annoying?
2. Dealing With Stupid Timelines
I started writing book 1 back in June of 2013. It went through multiple rewrites, edits, rewrites and all that fun stuff (including rewrites). The novel officially released on October of 2015. In case you’re bad at math, that’s almost two and a half years. In the grand scheme of things for first novels, that may not be considered too bad.
Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury with the second book.
According to many sources, if the second book isn’t out within 1-1.5 years of the first, sales can be drastically reduced. Nobody likes waiting for sequels, and it makes sense that anticipation can dwindle as time goes on. I TOTALLY gave up reading the Wheel of Time series because I got so tired of waiting for book 3,387,925 to come out.
Sadly, that puts a lot of pressure on authors. And I naturally worry I may end up delivering something that doesn’t feel as solid. But there’s definitely a ticking clock in my head.
1. Eliminating Damn Plot Holes
With the first book, you’re establishing the world, characters, and initial conflict (go Oxford commas!). That gives the author a lot of leeway and flexibility in their writing. Honestly, things that could potentially be plot holes can be shrugged off with, “Eh, I’ll find a workaround in a later book.”
Well, this is the later book. And all those loose threads dangling in the first book not only have to be tied up, they have to match in terms of color and thickness… Is this a good analogy? I think I’ve already confused myself. What was I talking about again?
Anyway, there are things I left unexplored in book 1 that suddenly need exploring. And they have to be explored in a way where people aren’t left thinking “WTF”? My biggest fear in this entire trilogy is the idea of leaving a gaping plot hole. It’s actually something that’s kept me up at night. So it gets the pleasure of being #1 on my list. WHEEEEEE!
(SIDENOTE: This meme about Beauty and The Beast cracked me up! I’d never thought about that before.)