The Sequel Game

Hi, everyone!! NaNoWriMo’s halfway over, it’s less than a week till Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations are popping up all over the place. (Like, why? I’m a HUGE fan of Christmas, but I draw the line at getting a tree before Thanksgiving.)

At the end of this post I’ll have a little tip about NaNoWriMo, but first, I need to talk about something. One thing I’ve noticed about the writing world is that there is a plethora of advice floating around on the Internet. Everybody wants to tell you how to write a book. Which is great, because there’s actually a lot of really great advice out there… how to structure a plot, how to develop a character, how to add in backstory, how to do worldbuilding…

But one thing I’ve noticed that nobody can explain is that most of the writing advice I’ve ever seen is for either writing standalone books or the first book in a series.

What do you do with the rest of the series?

The first thing you need to realize about sequels is that there are different kinds of series. Probably the most common type is where each book picks up where the other one left off – think A Series of Unfortunate Events, or the Harry Potter saga. The other kind is where all the books are related, but you can honestly start anywhere and read them in any order because they don’t relate to each other much. The Nancy Drew series is a good example. 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we need to look at the very first thing you’ll come to when reading a sequel – the beginning. (duh.) In a first or standalone book, you’ll want to introduce the reader to the main character, give them a reason to like them/root for them/get emotionally attached to them. I’ll assume you’ve heard all that a million times and don’t need a reminder. 

It’s different with sequels. In a sequel, the reader already knows the main character, and they must have cared about them enough to pick up the sequel. It’s a good idea to restate a few basic facts about the protagonist – especially if it’s a series like Nancy Drew, where you don’t know which book the reader will pick up first.

The next point is backstory. It’s difficult for me to give advice on backstory, especially for how to handle it in sequels, because every series is structured differently. Unless the main character’s backstory is a mystery and a central part of the plot, you’ve probably already shared most of it, if not all of it, with the reader.  In sequels, we don’t need to be reminded of all the details. Just go over the main stuff.

And this makes sense, because people naturally think about the important parts of their past. Like in Harry Potter we learn in every single book that Harry is an orphan because his parents were murdered by Voldemort. That’s important. The fact that Dudley bullied him is not quite as important.

Plot structure is the big one. Of course each individual book should have its own climax and everything, and the main character should have a character arc. But in a series, this is multi-faceted. The series needs to have a plot structure as a whole. There should be one point where we reach the climax of the whole series. Like an individual book, the series should have a definite turning point somewhere around the middle. The same idea applies to character arcs.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to writing sequels… there is SO much more to think about! Real quick, let me give you a survival tip for NaNoWriMo…

If you’re behind (like me), you need to find a way to get those words written. What I’ve done is set a timer for thirty minutes and start writing. Don’t do anything else. Don’t check Facebook, don’t look at Harry Potter memes, don’t do the dishes or fold the laundry. Just write. At the end of thirty minutes, check to see how many words you wrote.

Then, take a ten to fifteen minute break (maybe it’s finally time to fold that laundry), then do it again. Write for thirty minutes. Don’t think about all the typos you’re making, don’t think about how stupid the scene probably sounds, just write.

You can keep going with that cycle for as long as you want. Usually what happens for me is that I get more and more words written every time. Sometimes I can even get up to 2000 words per hour. It’s a very exciting way to see your word count grow!

That’s all I have for now (I should probably get back to my NaNo novel…). But let me know in the comments if you have any advice to share about writing a sequel. And best of luck to you if you’re doing NaNoWriMo!

Have you ever written a book series?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

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