So last week I talked about how every fantasy book seems to have a sequel…and if you need to write a sequel, here’s a collection of the some of the worst problems that I see.
First of all, I think any first novel should be a standalone. But if you have a larger storyline in mind, make it a standalone like Hunger Games. Answer your main story question.
Let me say that again: Answer your main story question.
This is a problem I’ve seen with a lot of new series. They bring up a problem and don’t answer it in the course of the book, because they “need” a sequel. THIS IS WRONG. It completely ruins the arc. Just don’t do it! For example, if it’s a paranormal romance, we need to know what kind of creature the romantic lead is, and why they’re where they are instead of in another realm, or planet, or dark forest somewhere. You cannot leave that for the second book. And yes, there is a bestselling book out there right now that does this.
Also, make sure the stakes are high enough in the second and third novel. Granted, if they already saved the world in the first novel, this will be hard to do. But what would be more important than saving the world to your character? Is there someone who, if you’ll excuse the cliché, means “more than the world” to them? That would be raising the stakes. And what a great chance for character development, to see how they deal with pressure closer to the heart.
Another thing you need to be careful about is the world-building. If you built the world correctly in the first novel, there will be clues planted there that can be expanded on in the second novel. Shannon Hale does this really well in her Books of Bayern series. The plot for the sequel should not come out of nowhere. The foundation should have already been laid in the first novel. On the flip side, don’t write your first novel assuming you will get a sequel…it’s not a guarantee. But a well-written novel will always have ideas and concepts the can be spun into full fledged books. A sentence here, a comment there…these are the kind of things that you can use to support an entire second novel.
The hardest part of a novel, I think is the character arc. If your first novel was written well, then your character developed throughout the story, transformed into a (hopefully) better person. This is the starting point for your second novel…which can be difficult. You have to keep the same tone as the first novel, but you can’t take your character back to square one. It’s necessary to find something that the character can continue to develop into.
And the most important part of writing a sequel: Don’t recycle your plot. If it took the entire first novel for the two love interests to get together in the first novel, don’t break them up in the first chapter of the second novel and make us watch them get together again. If we wanted to see them get together again, we’d reread the first one. Love changes, develops, grows…there must be something more creative that you can do than break them up and make them fall in love again. Apply this to whatever the plot of your first novel was.
Does this sound hard? It should! A sequel should be hard to write. You already have characters that you can’t mold to your every whim, you have certain rules you have to stick to, and you have a tone you have to match. It has to be more exciting, more daring, more creative than your first novel, which was previously the best thing you were capable of writing. A good sequel is not just a way to get more money out of your fan base. It’s a necessity that grows from a character whose story isn’t quite finished.
Oh, and have fun. (That was implied, right?) You get to live through new adventures with your character!