WHAT'S A COMPANION NOVEL?
Today we're talking about companion novels, and it's not at all because I have a companion novel of my own available . . . Pfft! Nothing to do with that whatsoever . . . This topic was actually requested by one of my patrons over on Patreon, Tylor. He is considering writing a companion novel himself and he wants to make sure he's on the right track. Because of this, I am answering your top 10 questions all about companion novels right now.
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Number 1: What IS a Companion Novel?
A companion novel is a story that has the same timeline as an existing book by the same author. Typically, the main character in the first book becomes a secondary or background character in the companion book. In other words, the companion book takes place at the same time as the first book but follows a different character. For example, The Savior’s Sister is a companion novel to The Savior's Champion. Both books take place during the Sovereign's Tournament, but The Savior's Champion follows Tobias Kaya and The Savior’s Sister follows Leila.
Number 2: How Does a Companion Novel Differ From a Sequel?
A lot of people confuse companion novels and sequels, but they are very different types of stories. A sequel’s timeline takes place after another book's timeline, whereas with a companion novel, the timelines are the same. TSS takes place at the same time as TSC. Thus, it is a companion novel. However, TSA–the third book in the series–takes place after the Tournament. Thus, it is a sequel.
Number 3: What Are the Typical Executions of a Companion Novel?
There are three different types of companion books, at least that I've seen personally. These are not official titles, so please do not quote me, I am just generalizing.
The first is what I refer to as the “intellectual” companion. The “intellectual” companion is one that analyzes another book. It's not necessarily a piece of fiction, but it is written to be read alongside that book.
Next, we've got what I call a “superfan” companion. This is when the same story from an earlier book in the series is being rehashed by another character’s perspective. The key here is that while we're following a new character, we're reading the same story. Outside of the perspective, there is no change to the story whatsoever. The reason I call this the “superfan” companion is that these books are typically released when a particular series has a huge fandom and they want more content. It doesn't matter that they're reading the same story; they're reading it through the eyes of the love interest.
Lastly, we've got what I call the “other side of the coin” companion. This is a novel, usually mid-series, that reveals a completely new story that is happening alongside another story. Character A is battling demons in Book 1, but at the same time, Character B is escaping the underworld in its companion novel. Both of these stories overlap, possibly significantly, but ultimately they are different stories that need to be told in order for the series to be understood. TSC follows Tobias as he tries to escape the Sovereign’s Tournament. TSS follows Leila as she tries to undermine an assassination attempt.
Number 4: When Should You Release a Companion Novel?
If you're writing a “superfan” companion novel, which as I already mentioned is essentially
a retelling of the same story but through a different lens, those are typically released at the end of a series. It's additional content for those who love the series and want a little somethin’ extra. If you're writing a companion novel that tells a new story from a different perspective, then you should release it whenever it makes the most sense within the series. These types of companion novels typically come out mid-series because they provide additional content that helps the overall series to make sense over time.
Number 5: Can a Standalone Have a Companion Novel?
Absolutely! This is actually really common in certain genres. For example, the romance genre. This means the author creates a series where each book takes place at the exact same time but follows a different character falling in love. If you've written a standalone but you're not quite ready to let this world go, you could easily write a companion novel following a secondary character–now the main character–as they experience their own personal journey.
Number 6: What Are Some of the Best Practices for Writing Companion Novels?
Tip Number 1: Keep the timeline tight. A companion novel follows the same timeline as another book, so you have to make sure those timelines match up to perfection. Character A was in the garden on Wednesday in Book 1. Guess what? Character A needs to be in the garden on Wednesday in Book 2. The easiest way to do this is to have Book 1 open while you are writing that corresponding scene.
Tip Number 2: New perspective means new voice. You are following someone new in this story and that means the voice is going to change. That doesn't mean you have to completely change your writing style, but the storytelling is going to be altered at least slightly. Tobias is a laborer; his voice is more informal. Leila is a queen; her voice is more precise.
Tip Number 3: This is a new book, so it should feel like a new book. Readers should notice the difference in the storytelling right away, whether that's through new scenes they haven't yet read, new characters they haven't yet met, or new conflicts they haven't yet experienced. A lot of people assume companion novels are for fan indulgence, so this is a pivotal step if you want to prove the naysayers wrong.
Number 7: What Are the Pros of a Companion Novel?
Pro Number 1: Necessity. If an additional point of view is necessary in order to continue your series, then a companion novel has to happen.
Pro Number 2: Backlog. A companion novel is another book to add to your backlog, and a beefy backlog is an asset to an author. The more books an author has, the more opportunities they have to rake in new readers.
Pro Number 3: Points of entry. Giving a reader multiple points of entry into a series is a great way to expand your audience. Examples of different entry points are spin-offs, short stories, prequels, and of course, companion novels.
Pro Number 4: Fan appreciation. If you have a large fandom that is crazy about your story, a companion novel will soothe their insatiable hearts. You are giving them another taste of the cast they love and they will live for it.
Number 8: What Are the Cons of a Companion Novel?
Con Number 1: Repetition. As I mentioned, some companion novels offer no deviation. No new scenes, no new characters, nothin’. Super fans may not give a shit, but some readers are gonna wonder, “What was the point of this?”
Con Number 2: Beating a dead horse. If there's no story left to tell, then there's no story left to tell. Leave it alone and write something new. The horse is dead, move on.
Number 9: What Are Some Common Mistakes People Make When Writing Companion Novels?
On the topic of beating a dead horse, let's kick it in the ribs one more time. The most common companion novel mistake is writing one that offers nothing new. No new scenes, no new faces, no new dialogue, no new subplots. If you have a large audience and people are excited about the content, then this may not matter. But not everyone has a large audience, so in this case, writing a companion novel that offers nothing new may feel redundant and self-indulgent.
Number 10: Do I HAVE To Write a Companion Novel?
No, you don't! There are plenty of series out there that don't include companion novels whatsoever. This is often because only one perspective is necessary, or it's because each book within the series offers multiple perspectives at the same time, so companion novels aren't necessary. No one's putting a gun to your head. Write a companion novel only if you need to.
So that's all I've got for you today!
A huge thank you to Tylor for requesting today's topic! If you'd like the chance to have a video dedicated to you, or if you want access to tons of other awards, check me out on Patreon! You get early access to videos, I have an exclusive writing group, we've got a monthly Livestream, we get signed merch! It's awesome! Do it! You can join here.
Have you read a companion novel before? What did you think?
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