So you’ve finally finished writing your book. The manuscript has been edited more times than you care to remember and now you can just sit back and wait for the reviews and fan mail to start rolling in. What do you do in the meantime? Sure, go ahead and update your author website, plan a social media blitz or write a press release.
But don’t stop writing! If only to ensure that you have an answer when someone says: “I loved your book! What are you working on now?” Once people have read your work and want more, there’s an expectation that you’ve always got several ideas stewing and simmering in the back of your mind. The reading public is voracious and they want to know what’s new on the menu.
I always read teaser chapters at the end of a book, if only to extend the time spent in that author’s world and storytelling style. It doesn’t matter whether the sample is of a sequel or a completely new story. What’s important is that the snippet serves to ease my separation from the story that’s just ended.
It seemed natural to follow suit with my first novel and add a teaser at the end of the book. Monkey see, monkey do. I had several other stories on the go but the sequel seemed the obvious choice. The logical choice. It took me a while before I realized that choice had also determined my next project by default.
I had hoped that the alien abduction or the global apocalypse story would come next but had not thought that far ahead yet. It wasn’t going to happen.
I dug out the sequel: an ugly first draft of Voodoo Mystery Tour that I’d written two years ago and hidden in a box. I chopped and twisted the opening scene into something that would say a bit about the story without letting on that I didn’t have a clear idea what it was about anymore. But the publisher was happy. I had chosen well.
Writing that teaser chapter had worked some magic on me. As much as I’d wanted to work on something new, now I couldn’t wait to play with those familiar characters from the first book and their brand new story. At the same time I dreaded tackling that two-year-old draft with its promise of endless awkward phrasing and boring dialogue. Yuck.
The sample chapter worked just the way it was supposed to and fans started asking about a launch date. If I’d been hoping for a break before easing into my next project I’d have been disappointed because I now had a new deadline, when I’d hardly finished celebrating the last one.
But I work well to a deadline and I rewarded myself by scheduling in several weeks to finish the first draft of my alien abduction story before starting the edits on Voodoo Mystery Tour.
Last week’s blog on editing was more for my sake than for anyone reading it on this website. It was to remind me that the end really does justify the means when it comes to editing. I’m twelve chapters into the edits for this sequel, and I might as well be writing it from scratch. Writing is hard work. Editing is even harder. The glow of inspiration is dimmed after the initial draft is splashed onto paper or computer and now the work of shaping the story and its world begins.
I found a character that I’d cut from the first book who no longer had a place in the story at all. I had to delete a couple of scenes and an entire subplot to erase his existence. He’s still causing trouble as he pops up in conversations that have to be completely rewritten because they make little sense without him.
Soon, when I’ve had a second or third run through, I’ll leave it for a few weeks to stew – maybe take a peek and see how that alien abduction is coming along – and then give it another quick once over before handing it to friends. Some of them read for pleasure and will fly through the manuscript, happy for another story in the lives of characters they’ve met and enjoyed.
Other friends have keen eagle eyes and go looking for trouble. They’ll let me know if there are holes or brick walls in my plot, or if a character’s behaviors and motivations are inconsistent with his personality.
You would think that writing a sequel would be easier than tackling a whole new story, if only because the world and characters are already defined. But finding something new for them to do can be difficult and it may be almost impossible to create a satisfying story if all conflicts were resolved at the end of the first book.
I wonder if other novelists find it more satisfying to write a sequel so they can keep favored characters alive, or to start a whole new story with its new discoveries and adventures. Either way, my point is to keep writing.
Just start that next project.
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
― Graham Greene