How to Write a Sequel that Slays
Writing a sequel is an entirely different entity than writing the first book in a series. With a first book, you have all the newness and excitement of introducing fresh characters and settings. And while there is an entire canon of advice and articles dedicated to writing a book, most of that really applies to writing the first (or only) book in a series.
Sequels come with their own set of challenges and rules. I wrote my first sequel last year after writing plenty of first books and it was definitely a different kind of beast to tackle.
Never fear, I’m here with some tips to get you through this. After all, people love series and if you’re a fantasy or sci-fi author (and want to make money), they’re practically a requirement.
To be clear, we’re going to be talking about a series that follows the same characters and overall plot through every book, as opposed to a series of interconnected standalones where the characters change in each book and just reference ones from other books in the series.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- Reviewing your original story
- Establishing a connection with your original story
- Writing a good sequel
Review the Original Story
First thing’s first. Read your original story. Especially if it’s been a while since you’ve done so. You’ll be amazed at the things your brain forgets despite the fact you read that book eleven million times before you published it.
Take notes of the characters you plan to include in the sequel. Some of them might not make it into book two because you’ve changed the setting. (They might come back for a later book though.)
Think about how your main characters changed in the first book and how you’ll continue their progression. Consider their goals and motivations—have they changed from the first book? What new ones do they have?
Then look at which plot points you’ve left unresolved (hopefully on purpose) that you now plan to address. Then decide what new plot points you want to introduce. This could include new characters, new conflicts, or even a change in setting.
And remember, while each book in a series should have its own story arc, your series should also have a story arc that sits above those and spans across every book.
Once that’s done, you might want to write a rough outline of the key plot points and scenes. Or you might want to be like me and totally wing it. There is no wrong answer here.
Establish Connections between Sequel and Original
This might be obvious, but it’s important to establish a connection with the first book and your sequel. Otherwise, why is it a sequel and why are you even reading this article? While you’re reviewing your original story, here are a few things to think about.
Establish a connection between the first and second book by mentioning key events from the previous novel. Since it might have been a while since your fans read book one, this helps immerse your reader in the story. Use this sparingly though—you don’t want an entire recount of the first book.
You might be asking, how much is too much? In this case, use the same rules as you do for worldbuilding and giving backstory. You want to give your reader just enough information from book one to ensure clarity within a particular scene. Don’t reference past events that have no bearing on the current story.
I hope you left some unresolved plotlines in book one because now is the time to continue or finish them. One of the keys to writing a successful series is to leave readers wanting more. This could include continuing a romance or other relationship, resolving a cliffhanger, or continuing a character's arc.
Of course, you spent lots of time making sure your readers fell in love with the characters in book one. So make sure you bring at least some of them back, or your reader is going to feel a little cheated. Sometimes not every beloved character will make it into the sequel, but your main characters definitely should.
In general, keep the same tone and themes throughout your series. If you wrote book one in a conversational first-person style, then continue that. If you’ve got themes of love and family in your narrative, then try to bring those in again. You can add new ones too if you like, but you want to give your readers a sense of continuity between books.
Tips for Writing a Strong Sequel
Have you ever heard the phrase “second-book syndrome”. It’s where an author’s first book was super-duper amazing and then the second book falls kind of flat. Maybe it’s the pressure. Maybe it’s exhaustion. Maybe it’s a combination of a lot of things, but it’s common enough that it has a name.
I don’t want to worry you though, because there are ways you can avoid the dreaded second book syndrome and ensure your sequel is just strong, if not stronger, than the first book.
Setting up Book One
Look, this might be too late already if you’ve already published it, but keep this in mind for next time. A strong sequel often comes from how well you set up the overall story arc and potential future events in book one. By dropping hints, clues, mentions of characters, and other Easter eggs, you’re building an overall picture of your series.
You should also be teasing any plotlines that are left unresolved in book one so you have something to anchor book two and beyond.
Where you Start
While it can be tempting to simply pick up where the first book finished, think about some other options. Maybe it’s a new setting or it’s a few months later.
Your sequel’s first chapter should still adhere to the same basic rules of any opening chapter. Make it dynamic and exciting. Make sure something is happening. And make sure you’re giving just enough backstory not to confuse or overwhelm your reader.
Increase the Stakes
With every book in your series, increase the tension and conflict by raising the stakes. A good series brings in more and more drama with every book to keep your reader hooked.
Think of The Hunger Games as an example. In the first book, Katniss just wants to survive the games. By the end of the first book, she’s become a symbol for the rebellion. And by the end of the series, all of Panem is at war with the capital, fighting for their freedom from oppression.
Introduce Something New
Whether it’s a character or a setting or something else, give your reader something new. If it feels like just a continuation of the same story they already read, then there’s nothing compelling them to keep flipping the pages.
Think of Game of Thrones—almost every book in the series goes on to introduce us to new characters and settings, which in turn increases the stakes and offers up new plot points.
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is a good example of this where she keeps things fresh by setting each book in various timelines and locations, meaning her characters must adjust to each new reality.
Keep Doing What Worked
As important as it is to make things fresh, don’t lose sight of what made people enjoy book one in the first place. Gather feedback on aspects that worked for your readers and do more of the same in the sequel. This will likely have more to do with the themes, tropes, and “vibes” of your story than actual plot points.
For example, in the sequel I’m working on, readers loved the mysterious second POV whose reason for existence doesn’t become clear until the very end (on a painful cliffhanger). So I kept that concept going in book two with a new set of characters who are telling an alternate, but relevant, story on a second timeline—the reasons why won’t even be totally clear until book three, but the hints are there.
After reading all that, I hope you now have the confidence to go forth and write that sequel. Sometimes the most important thing is simply ensuring you have continuity between each book.
That’s where Dabble can help you make the most of your series. By tracking your characters, worldbuilding, and other relevant points in the Notes, they’ll all be right there ready for you to access when it’s time to write book two.
Try it for free right now for 14 days and see for yourself.
TAKE A BREAK FROM WRITING...
Read. Learn. Create.
While the terms "story" and "plot" are often used interchangeably, they are actually two distinct elements of narrative, and understanding the difference can be a useful tool in your storytelling arsenal. You’re going to need some of both to create a compelling book that’ll have your readers coming back for more.
Editing. That tricky little step between drafting and publishing. Okay, maybe it’s not so little. Actually, it’s kind of important. I’ll even go out on a limb and say it’s actually the most important part. And the limb is very short. But where do you start? You’ve got all these words and now you have to take your messy first draft and make them actually readable. You know editing’s a thing, but you’ve probably heard there is more than one kind of editing. One of the most comprehensive is known as content or development editing. This is often the first kind of editing any book sees and, for new writers, can be a valuable step in honing their craft.
We tend to give a lot of thought to our characters when we’re writing. Their likes and dislikes. Their appearance and disposition. Hopefully their wants, goals, motivations, flaws and all the things that make them feel like real people. But how much thought do you give to actually introducing them to your readers? A strong introduction to a character can help make or break that character and the way your reader perceives them. So what’s in an introduction, anyway?