Welcome Urban Fantasy author Hillary Jacques! Hillary has been a Book Country member since 2011, workshopping THIS IS DALTON and BROKEN IN. Her new book, CARNIEPUNK: RECESSION OF THE DIVINE, will be out in December and is published by Simon and Schuster. Hillary shares advice on sequel writing.
Writing a first novel is like going on a carnival ride in a foreign language. Even when you think you know what’s happening, there are these moments of pure discovery where you round a corner and find a ghost town or a nemesis long thought dead. It’s almost magical. And then comes the sequel.
Writing a sequel isn’t as simple as getting in line for the ride again. Nope. The author boards, ticket in hand, but instead of bumping along a familiar set of tracks, there are all these considerations to deal with. Details, development, and continuity. Half of them have been explained before, and the other half have changed. So what do you do?
It’s important to pay attention to both the chronology of your series’ world and the amount of time that’s going to pass between book releases. If the sequel picks up the next day and it’s going to be published in two months, then soldier on. If it’s a longer stretch, remember that a lot of life passes under a bridge in the course of a year, both for readers and for your characters, presuming they’re not literally mothballed between books.
For main characters, their voice and actions, the “catchphrase” of the character should be enough for readers. The late Maya Angelou has that wonderful quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Unless it’s vital to the character, height and eye color aren’t what makes this person resonate with the reader. Style, nuance and choices do.
For side characters who’ve made appearances, they’ll need a paragraph or page, depending on their presence. An influence, say someone from the past who was alluded to but is only now appearing, will require more.
If your world has intricate dynamics, such as those of a dysfunctional family, power-hungry city, or a system of science or magic, it is always best to show. I’ve heard the advice that stories should start with action, and I sometimes disagree. I don’t want a barrage of flash-bang events the same way I don’t want to read pages describing machinery or the layout of a battlefield if I don’t know who’s fighting for what. Give the reader a reason to care before you roll that out.
Show us the scientist half mad with despair over a sick child and I will read all day about her experimenting towards a cure. Make me yearn for the frightened loner to find sanctuary, and I will follow her for miles through the snaking streets of her coldhearted town. The beauty of the sequel is that your readers are already invested. So the introduction doesn’t have to be as robust or as subtle as a first book. We’re there, man. We’re hooked, ready for the next adventure!
However (!) just because you’re writing a sequel doesn’t mean you get to skip the drudgy (totally a word) parts of the story, namely the structure. Even a book that doesn’t stand alone benefits from a beginning, middle and end, from rising action and resolution. Does everything need to resolve? I suppose that depends in part on where you’re at. Is the series contracted? Have you sold two books but want to set up a third? Have you resolved your Big Plot Issues so now it’s time to set up a new, multi-book arc? Even in a standalone novel, it is impossible to resolve everything. Or, it should be. You’d have either a very short or very unlikely book if you resolved everything.
So keep an eye on structure, on providing both satisfaction and a reason to read on.
Bookends Come After
Writers seem to start one of two ways when it comes to connecting the sequel to the book that came before. Either they build this massive bridge between the two, plopping the reader down on one end so that, by the time they get to the meat of the sequel – the story actually being told – there can be no doubt as to where they are and what came before. The other tactic is to write in media res, starting “in the middle”. This is when the author’s full of the steam generated by a fresh page and a burning plot. And if it takes a few jumps to get from Book A to Book B, then it’s up the reader to take the running start.
Both these techniques are fine. Whatever it takes to get the book written. But afterwards you’re going to need to go back to look at the road signs. Are they clear? Are they so long that the reader will only skim, then jump ahead, or put the book down altogether.
Use your critique partners and beta readers. Ask people who haven’t read the first book to try the sequel. Familiar readers will address continuity. New readers will point out info-dumps that made their eyes glaze over. Combine the comments, whittle the background details to the minimum, then smooth it out over the first few chapters or as needed. You might be surprised at how much of the background is the author reminding him or herself, and how little is actually required for the reader to follow along.
* Other than shoot the hostage. That’s a last resort, trooper.
About Hillary Jacques
Hillary Jacques is an Alaskan author of speculative fiction. She enjoys travel, small plate dining and action movies. She’s worked jobs as diverse as carnival vendor and federal contractor, and every setting has spawned a story. Her story “Recession of the Divine” is featured in the CARNIEPUNK anthology and her urban fantasy NIGHT RUNNER series is published under pen name Regan Summers. Look for a new installment, coming Fall of 2014! Connect with Hillary on Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Website.