Danie Ware is the author of Valkyrie, “Recruit” (in the Vivisepulture anthology edited by Andy Remic and Wayne Simmons), The Mumbling Man, Cure. Her latest books, both published by Titan, are Ecko Rising its sequel Ecko Burning.
by Danie Ware
So. You’ve crafted your masterpiece, and seen it really happen. You’ve lived the awe, the terror, the magic, the disbelief. You’ve known people that have read your story, and (even better) enjoyed it.
Then the big red reality bus crashes through the wall – you’ve got to do it all again.
Sequels are hard. Years of blood, sweat, tears and tea to write one, then you’re expected to write another in four months flat. In the plus column, you’ve learned about how the industry works; how to edit, copy-edit, proof-read. Yet likewise, that new clinical insight raises a lot of questions, and can make things more daunting than just throwing your heart at the laptop screen.
A sequel is a tempering. No, I don’t mean toys out of the pram, (though we’ve all done that at some point and scared the cat), I mean using your new knowledge to look at your ongoing story as a whole unit, and to craft something better than the first one, even in the time allowed.
With that in mind, a few guidelines for writing that sequel…
Whether you’re writing the next book in a series, or the next book in a trilogy (just for example), your story needs to welcome new readers. This is a chance to expand your appeal; when you begin, imagine that readers are coming to it fresh, without necessarily having read the first one. You need to draw them in by introducing them to the characters and world – and by giving them enough information to pick up both the story, and the backstory.
Keep the story going.
As well as drawing new readers in, you have to offer immediate appeal to the ones that have the read the first book. At the opening, pick up a thread from where you left off. Whether it’s a character, or a place, or a plotline, offer something that links the story to where you left off, and that instantly gives your readers that sense of familiarity.
Characters that follow on.
Once you’ve picked up that individual thread, you’ll need to open it out into a full storyline. Pick up the ongoing lives of your characters, not only how they travel from A to B (or from B to C, as it’s the sequel), but also how they’ve learned and changed, how they’ve grown. They’ve been places in the first book, their relationships and attitudes have shifted – so it gives you a fantastic opportunity to build on this, and let them grow still more.
Develop your world.
As well as the characters, you’ll need to think about how your world has changed. Again, whether you’re writing a second book or the second part of a narrative, your world needs to expand and/or develop as your characters do. Perhaps they reflect each other. If you’ve set your first book in a small town, are you now going to travel beyond its borders? If your world is being attacked or assaulted, what effects has this had? Has it encountered new people, new life? Open your doors a little more – and let the reader see!
As your push boundaries, you need to up the stakes. Bigger bosses are inevitable, (and an easy win), but you can face the world itself with larger issues. You can challenge your characters with wider political and emotional situations, and with changing relationships. And hey, give them bigger weapons. You know, because you can.
And – maybe sneak in a surprise. Got to love that sting in the tail.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure that your plot develops smoothly, and is consistent with the first book. Keep spelling, grammar, names consistent (you have a copy-editor for that, just in case), and your history and geography, and make sure relationships don’t do wacky social jumps.
Make sure it’s a story in its own right
I’ve talked a lot about continuation – but you also have to be sure that the book can stand by itself. Even if it’s part of an overall narrative, make sure that it has a beginning, a middle and an end. If your audience has to wait a year for the next one to come out, you don’t want to leave them hanging for that long!
No matter how much you’ve learned about the mechanics of the book-writing process, no matter how many blog posts you read or forums you belong to – never, ever lose the art of throwing your heart at the laptop screen. Whatever you’re writing, do it with passion first, and rules second.
That’s where the magic is.