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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Challenges of Writing a Sequel

When I first set out to write my debut novel, I hadn’t planned for there to be a sequel. I wanted to write a standalone book. But as I plotted it, I realized I wouldn’t do the story justice if I threw in the big court trial at the end. It wasn’t part of the character arc at that point, and I wanted to make the most of the trial. The only problem was I had no idea how I was going to do that. But I didn’t care. I only had to worry about writing the first book. I’d worry about the sequel later if the book was ever published.

Not a problem. At least it wasn’t one until after I’d had written the book and had no idea what was going to happen in the sequel. I knew there had to be one. There were a few unfinished threads left hanging that called for a sequel (and my publisher agreed). Fortunately, I found the idea for a story from watching the news while on vacation. TIP: If you’re going to write a book with a possible sequel, figure out where book two will go while you’re still writing the first book. It will make your life simpler later on, especially if you need to introduce a few threads in the first book.

I learned a few things other things while writing the sequel. Or rather, I hit a few problems with my sequel. By the time I was editing the second book, the first one had already gone to production. I realized the trial date I had identified in the first book would no longer work in book two, and it was too late to have it changed in the first book. Let’s just say there was some creative reworking of the sequel to work around the issue. TIP: If you’re planning to write a sequel, before you publish or query the book, make sure you have a loose outline planned so that you know if you will have to change the dates in the first book. It’s a lot easier to do that before the book is published. And figure out the sequence of events on a calendar. That would have saved me a lot of work. I would have seen that I was trying to squeeze in too much in a short period.

Another challenge of writing a sequel comes from forgetting minor details in the first book and turning them on their head in the sequel. I realized after book two had gone to production that I had messed up a small detail, but fortunately the sentence was able to be reworked. I wasn’t worried, though, if it hadn’t been fixed. I had a plan B if I wrote a third book to the series. It wasn’t until the ARCs had already gone out that I remember another place in the book where I had made the same mistake. Fortunately this mistake, as it turns out, is going to work to my advantage in the next book in the series. I couldn’t have asked for a better mistake. But yes, it would have made things easier if I had reviewed my secondary character’s backstory while writing the second book. TIP: Keep detailed notes about everything, including things pertaining to your secondary characters, and review them frequently.

A final challenge you have to worry about deals with readers remembering who the characters are and their role in the story. Some readers will have recently read the previous book. Others read it when the book came out and don’t have time to re-read it. You have to be careful not the bore the first group of readers by rehashing everything that they’ve just read. But you also have to give the other group enough to go on so that they don’t get frustrated and abandon the book. TIP: Have beta readers who recently read the first book read book two, as well as the betas who haven’t read the first book in a while. This way you can get both perspectives.

When reading a sequel, what kinds of things frustrate you that you wish the author had considered when writing the book? If you’ve written a sequel, what kinds of challenges have you faced?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website. She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

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