10 Best Tips For Writing A Sequel
Today I am breaking down my 10 tips for writing an effective, entertaining, juicy sequel! Through my research, I found out that different writers have different definitions of what a sequel is, which I found...odd. So I’m gonna keep shit simple. According to the dictionary, a sequel is a publication that continues the story or develops the theme of an earlier publication, and that's what we're talking about today!
You guys probably know that I am currently writing the sequel to The Savior’s Series, The Savior's Army, so now felt like a good time to cover this topic. Maybe once I'm done with TSA, I will have even more tips to share. Who knows!
Now, let's get into my 10 tips for writing a badass sequel!
This video is sponsored by NovelPad. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: Plan Ahead
I know you pantsers aren't gonna like this, but let's be real, you already don't like me anyway. It's SO much easier to write a series when you plan it out ahead of time. I'm not talking about the minute details. I'm talking about overarching themes, character arcs, the main plot points and goals for each book within the series.
Give yourself a general guideline for how each book is going to progress during this series. I have known many, many writers who complained that they wished they could go back to Book One and change some things while they were writing their sequel. If you plan ahead, you don't gotta worry about that because you probably had the sequel in mind while you were writing Book One.
Number 2: Use The First Book to Your Advantage
If you know what's coming in a sequel, that means you can plant seeds in Book One. This means teasing a particular event that won't occur until Book Two, which will make readers even more eager to read it. It also means foreshadowing conflicts that will occur in Book Two. That way, when these conflicts arise they won't feel out of the blue or shoehorned in.
You want each book to stand on its own, but the stories still need to be connected. There should be individual strings that weave them together. Create these connections by preparing for the sequel in the first book and giving the readers an idea of what they can expect.
Number 3: A Sequel Is Its Own Story
You guys have all heard of sagging middle syndrome, which is when the middle of a novel feels boring and pointless. The same can be said for many sequels within a series, especially if we're looking at a trilogy. Book One has a goal. Book Three has a goal. Book Two is just some in-between shit.
In order to avoid this, the easiest thing to do is make sure every book within the series has its own structure. That means each book in the series has an inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. (If you're unfamiliar with structure, I've got two videos all about it. You can find ‘em here and here.)
Basically, yes, there is likely an overarching goal throughout the entire series, but the sequel still needs to have its own individual goal. This will make the story feel relevant and necessary, it'll up the stakes, and most importantly, it'll make sure it's not some boring in-between shit. It actually serves a purpose.
Number 4: Resist the Urge to Summarize
“But Jenna, what if readers are starting on Book Two and they have no idea what happened in Book One?”
That's their own damn fault! If they didn't want to be confused, they should’ve read the books in order! That said, I'm only being slightly facetious. It's a good idea to remind readers what happened in Book One if only for grounding them in certain situations, but you don't need to summarize the ENTIRE first book. Simply remind the readers of important events from Book One as those reminders become necessary. If your character is on the run from the law, remind the readers why they're on the run from the law. Boom, ya done! You don't gotta give an entire recap. Just bring up the points if and when they matter.
Number 5: Don’t Regurgitate
Sometimes sequels are essentially a regurgitation of the first book. In Book One, Prince Felix has to save the land from a fire dragon. In Book Two, Prince Felix has to save the land from an ice dragon. Wow! Completely new stuff! Get it? ‘Cause one's fire and one's ice?
What I'm trying to say is, there needs to be a new story here. Yes, there will be similarities to Book One because it's a sequel. You'll likely have a lot of the same characters and some overarching subplots and themes. That's to be expected. But you still need to deliver a new book! Something with stakes you haven't yet explored or characters they haven't yet met. All in all, the plot shouldn't be a mirror of Book One. If they wanted the same story, they'd just read that book over again.
Number 6: Don’t Be Afraid to Work With What You Got
This may sound contradictory to the last point, but hear me out: there are few things more annoying than reading a sequel and thinking, “Wait. What happened to that one character? Or that one subplot?”
You can't completely abandon concepts from the first book without warning or explanation. If your main character has a sister in Book One and then suddenly there's no mention of her in Book Two, people are gonna notice, so consider that when you're writing a sequel. Are you introducing a new character to play a role that your MC’s sister could easily play? Ditch the new character and let the sister play the role! And if a concept or character doesn't have enough meat to be worthwhile in that story, see if you can fix that. That means either providing a logical reason why that character or concept is absent (for example, the sister went away to boarding school), or it means giving the character or concept a greater role.
Yes, it's important to keep things fresh, but don't entirely ditch everything you've already got. Remember, people are reading the sequel because they loved Book One.
Number 7: New Character Arcs
Your characters should not be the same people they were at the start of Book One. Remember, shit happened! They likely changed and that should be reflected in Book Two.
Now, I'm not recommending you completely betray their personality. Things have to be reasonable. But you need to take into consideration the natural progression of their character arc. What happened in the first book and how will that realistically change them as a person? How will that create new internal struggles? New traits? New ways of thinking? Think of it as writing one smaller, mini character arc per book within a series. This will help to keep things interesting and engaging but also make it easier for you as a writer.
In The Savior's Champion, Tobias starts off in over his head and naive to the deceit of his realm. By the time The Savior's Army rolls around, he's not that guy anymore and his personality needs to reflect that.
You need to take into consideration the natural progression of your character's arc. What happened in the first book and how will that realistically change them as a person?
Number 8: Flip Shit On Its Head
Was someone a bad guy in Book One? Maybe in Book Two they switch teams. Did the main character's father supposedly die in a war in Book One? Maybe in Book Two, we learn that he's alive and just kidnapped by the enemy. Take something from your first book and dismantle the fuck out of it! Turn it into something readers won't expect, something shocking. This is another situation where planning ahead will work wonders because you can prepare for this flip in previous books by planting little seeds and hints.
Number 9: Don’t Betray Your Story
“But Jenna, you just said to flip shit on its head!”
Yeah, within reason! We can all think of a sequel where the character is so wildly different, we're just left scratching our head. In Book One, they're pure evil. In Book Two, they're like, “Just kidding! I'm a saint!”
Make it make sense! For example, if a character is going to switch sides, there needs to be a realistic reason for doing so. If someone flops from evil to good overnight, no one is gonna buy it. Certainly not the surrounding cast! Which is another point; if you DO flip shit on its head, the characters need to react accordingly. I've read too many books where a character does a fliparoo and everyone just takes it at face value. That's not realistic. People are going to be confused and skeptical. They are going to require answers. Keep things changing, keep things moving, but keep ‘em realistic along the way.
Number 10: Give Readers Something Ya Haven’t Given Them Before
There should be at least ONE brand new thing in this book. Something you have yet to include in any other book within the series thus far.
If you've never killed a character off, bitch now's the time! If you talked about dragons in Book One but never showed one, have a dragon swoop in. If your main character doesn't get to bone in Book One, guess what they might be able to do in Book Two?
This tip goes beyond death, dragons, and penetration. You also want to create new questions within this story. Every book within your series should create new questions. Hell, every chapter within your series should create new questions! The point of fiction is to keep your readers interested and entertained, and offering something new and different is the number one way to do this.
So that's all I've got for you today!
Writing a sequel is about continuing the story in a meaningful and exciting way. Readers need to experience new character arcs, relationships, challenges, and adventures! If you haven’t already, I suggest you seriously consider planning out the overall trajectory of your series. This way, you know where your characters are headed, where the story is headed, and how it’s gonna get there. That way, you won’t leave poor Prince Felix languishing in the teeth of a water dragon in Book Three. Get it? ‘Cause the first book was a fire dragon and the second book was an ice dragon? No? Okay, I’ll see myself out…
But before I go, what makes a sequel stand out to you? I’m talking about the most absolutely memorable one you’ve read! Let me know in the comments below!
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