This morning, I was reading an article in Writer’s Digest, “Writing Sequels: 7 Rules for Writing Second Installments.” I was delighted to learn that I’m already doing a lot of what’s necessary to make the sequel of Beyond the Ghetto Gates (working title: Napoleon’s Mirage) a successful second novel with the same characters. Here’s a quick recap on the 7 rules and where I am with them:
- Don’t just pick up where the last story left off.
Check. We’re a half year later and in a completely different location for almost all of the characters.
- Give the reader something new.
Check. This is brand new territory for everyone.
- Make the stakes different.
Check. (The all-important “what they want” is different as well.)
- Play with expectations.
Check. (Not giving spoilers on this one.)
- Include at least one great new character.
Check. In fact, thus far, I have three new characters while planning to add a fourth – and I certainly hope they’re all great.
- Don’t be afraid to let beloved characters go.
Check. One has a cameo early on but that will be it. Another will, well, die. (No spoilers on this, either.)
- Identify what made the first book special, then offer more.
I’d love your help on this one. What made Beyond the Ghetto Gates special to you? What do you want more of? Add your thoughts in the comments, please!
However – I was looking for specific piece of advice and frankly, it wasn’t addressed in this listicle, at least not directly. My interconnected dilemma right now is:
- How much of a recap do you the reader need to give about the first book? What backstory is necessary for readers who haven’t read that first book?
- How much of recollecting the first will annoy those who did read that one?
- On the other hand, how much will make those loyal readers feel a warm-and-cozy sensation of reading about old friends?
To help me figure this out, I’m in the midst of reading as many sequels I can get my hands on to find some good (and bad) examples of this. Let me know if you can offer some titles! And I’ll add some thoughts about what does and doesn’t work in a later blog post.
But as I’m reading and thinking this through, I’m coming to the conclusion that the answer lies in what I’m calling forward momentum – which, frankly, synthesizes the seven rules above. It’s all too easy, I’m finding, to overload the new novel with flashbacks, recounting scenes from the previous book. I’m trying to avoid that, to give only as much information as a brand-new reader would need to make sense of the current book.
While there can’t be huge undefined and mysterious areas for a new reader, this has to be an entirely new book. The hope, of course, is that it is well enough developed to stand completely on its own while being satisfying enough to send new readers back to the previous novel. But it must, must, must be conceived of and written as if it is its own thing.
So I’m keeping the plot moving with new desires, new situations, new landscapes, new characters, new conflicts, new resolutions – while keeping true to my original two-book narrative arc and giving my familiar characters time and space to grow some more.
I would love for you to add any thoughts you might have on the subject in the comments – especially if you’d like to answer some of the questions I’ve posed:
- What made Beyond the Ghetto Gates feel special to you? What do you think I need to maintain in a sequel for the two books to feel like a cohesive whole?
- What are your thoughts about how much an author must recollect of the first book in a sequel? Is there a point when recapping annoys you?
- What examples of a two-book series do you suggest I should read as part of educating myself about this new literary territory?