Amazing Stories

So You Want to Write a Sequel to Your Novel…

angry writerCongratulations, you published the next great SF novel and it is a whopping success. Now you are wondering whether you should write a sequel. Before you do that, check out this list of common issues found in many series. Just to be clear, I am not signalling out any specific work or author. This is just some problems I have noticed over a lifetime of reading. With that in mind, let us begin:

1) Lengthy RE-introductions

I know why authors do this. Perhaps it has been a while since the first book came out or else you don’t want new readers getting lost. Heck, even big fans might forget why this secondary character is important or why this location strikes a deep emotional chord with the main character. In the right amount, a re-introduction acts as a proper tutorial or refresher course for the reader which makes the rest of the story easier to follow.

The problem happens when authors dedicate entire chapters reminding us who all of these point of views characters are. Personally, I find it insulting to the reader’s intelligence. This is the Internet Age. If we can topple governments with Twitter, we can use Google to look up anything that confuses us. There are entire wikis dedicated to SF universes where a reader can get reacquainted with a specific person, place or thing. Furthermore, if you really are worried about someone reading it out of order, why not slap a big “BOOK 2 OF THE SUCH AND SUCH SERIES” on the cover and make it clear when promoting it that it is a sequel. That way we don’t have to slog through a lot of backstory to finally get to the meat of your novel.

2) It’s All Middle

I am going to jump mediums for a second, so stay with me. Long ago, I went with a group of friends to see The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It was the same group I had seen Fellowship with and we were all really excited. Flash forward to the end and we are all exiting the theater, fully entertained, except for one of us. I asked him why he was so morose and he gave me an intriguing answer: it was all middle.

A good story needs a beginning, middle and an end. This is especially true if you are going to write a trilogy. The last thing you want is for the second book to be nothing but a set-up for the next one. There is a difference between a cliffhanger ending and bunch of loose threads. One will keep the reader yearning for the next book to come out, the other will just annoy them and likely earn you a bad review on Amazon. Make sure you actually have a story ready to be published and if its too long, don’t be greedy and split it. A lot of movies have been doing that and it hasn’t gone over well with everyone. If it is a good story, people won’t care how long it is.

3) Zero Character Development

As time goes by, people change. You are probably not the same person you were 10 years ago. I would bet you are not the same you person you were a year ago. This is fundamental and applies both to real life and fiction. So you can guess why I find it really annoying when characters are exactly the same person they were despite the traumatic and life-changing events the author put them through.

For example, lets say you have a character who is a stereotypical southern good ol’ boy. Your doing some social commentary, even if it is a little cliche, so you force him to work with someone who is black or Jewish. There is the inevitable scenes where we see he is a bigot, but throughout the story he learns an important lesson that just because we are different, we are all still human. Your redneck character ends the story a more tolerant and open-minded individual. In the sequel, however, you throw all that out the window and introduce to someone who is gay and the whole cycle starts over again.

Now I realize racism and homophobia are not mutually exclusive, but you would think something would be different about the character. That he might approach his dealings with this other character from different angle, based on the lessons he learned from the last book. People and characters will change and the decisions they make in the future will be influenced by the lessons learned from the past. Remember in the sequel to apply this fact.

4) You Are Not Writing This Book for You Anymore

This final point is especially true for debut authors. Its great that your first ever published work was a hit. Now you have fans (and a publisher) who want more. They want to know what happened next to their new favorite characters. And you are the only person who can give it to them.

But should you? You wrote that novel because you had a story to tell. You wanted to get it out of your head, onto paper and into the hands of complete strangers. You put a lot of yourself into that work and if you don’t have anything left, don’t your creations deserve the Grey Havens? The last thing you want to do is write something just because someone else told you too. If the spark is not there, then the sequel you produce will just be a disappointment. Why not instead write something new? Sure there will be a few disappointed fans, upset you didn’t give them what they wanted, but that’s life. Be a little selfish, it’ll do wonders for you and your work.

7 thoughts on "So You Want to Write a Sequel to Your Novel…"

  1. C E Martin says:

    I also have to debate the xzero character development- there are some characters who’s rigidity is the story.

    Doc Savage never changed after book 1, Man of Bronze. His 120+ books aren’t about his arc through life but rather howmsuch a character deals with different situations. A sort of What if-? series.

    In The Destroyer series, now numbering 150 books, a spin iff series and several novellas, Remo changes at a glacial rate. He can go ten or twenty books and never change. It’s a very slow arc- if you can even call it that. His Little Fatner, Chiun on the other hand, NEVER changes. He’s the same, entertaining anti hero that in my opinion carries the series.

    And that’s what a series like Tarzan, James Bond, etc is about- a particular character or characters thrust into different situations. Somewhere along the way, authors have forgotten this and turned series into literary soap operas where the main feature is the effect on the characters. That’s like making auto racing more about the wear and tear on the cars than about the race itself.

    1. Marilynn Byerly says:

      The zero-growth character hasn’t been popular for over thirty years in fiction. All the characters you mention are far older than that.

      These days, most readers would find a new zero-growth series the equivalent of watching a Pac-man game with little emotion vested in Pac-man, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde.

  2. Matt, love the article. Great points. I get frustrated with a series when they are just middles. Unfortunately many have five or six novels that comprise the middle. UGGGHH!! Normally I stop reading those. One or two have managed to keep me hanging on.

    The other mentioned above is the formula. One famous science fiction author talked at length about how he had discovered the formula and just replayed it every novel. I think the series he referred to had twenty plus novels that were all copies.

    But in fairness some people like sameness. Romance novels have formulas. Many people love to watch television sitcoms that have not character development and just the same plot played again and again.

    Look forward to the sequel article. ;P

    RKT

  3. Marilynn Byerly says:

    Recently, I’ve read two sequels that have had a different flaw. They spent the first 60 pages cleaning up after the big finale of the first book and resetting characters so they’ll be ready when the real plot begins.

    Minor unresolved problems were answered, characters discussed their relationships after such a great change, and the lives and careers that had been changed because of the first book were reordered.

    All of this could have been handled with a few comments to another character or something simple like that instead of putting the book at a dead stop for a good chunk of the beginning.

  4. Good points all. I recently had my first novel out and was wondering what to do for a second. I have an idea for a story that would focus on a secondary character in a different situation. As a movie critic I can be heard complaining about sequels that are simply the first story told again, only louder. However when I actually started work on a new novel, I put the sequel idea aside and am currently working on something new. If the sequel idea was good it’ll still be good should I get around to writing a third novel.

    1. “As a movie critic I can be heard complaining about sequels that are simply the first story told again, only louder.”

      That is a great point. You sometimes see books that are like that as well. O well, I will touch on that in the sequel to this article 😉

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