What does it take to write a sequel? Amalie Howard shares her experience on writing a sequel. Check it out below!
No one ever ever tells you that writing a sequel is hard. Like really, really hard.
First of all, I have to preface this post by saying that I loathe cliffhangers. I don’t mind small cliffhangers after all the major plot points have been resolved, you know, to whet your appetite for the next book in a series. However, I absolutely abhor those books that just end, and then you find yourself turning pages to the end, being confused, going back to re-read the last ten pages because you’re convinced you must have somehow missed the resolution, and then curling up in a corner with cushions rocking back and forth with a handful of cookies muttering to yourself about cursed cliffhangers.
So when the time came for me to write my own sequels, it was a daunting prospect. Because expectations. And those things weigh a ton. After all, with a sequel, you need to write a whole new story, roughly a hundred thousand words, with the same characters in the same world, and not repeat stuff you’ve written before. You don’t want to disappoint readers waiting breathlessly for that second book. Or worse, write a “filler book” that is meant to lead up to the last in a trilogy. That’s a total sell-out move. Fillers make me want to break things. I was lucky, I guess, because a few of my series were duologies. A relief on the one hand, and yet, so much added pressure to make that closure super satisfying.
Let’s address handling the same elements from book one to book two. Readers come back for a sequel because they want more—more of the same characters, more of the setting, more relationships, more challenges, MORE. And you, as an author, have to deliver. While making the story different. No one wants a remake. Unless it’s Star Wars. Then you can remake until the cows come home. But let’s pretend your book isn’t Star Wars, even though, inside, you hope it is. You have to work. And plan. And re-read Book One. And outline. And re-read again. And then write. A story board can help with keeping track of details. I use post-its or an excel spreadsheet, but many people like programs like Scrivener. Do what works for you.
Character growth is essential in a sequel, and that has to come from what your characters have accomplished or achieved in Book One. Unless your main character loses his or her memory (beaten to death trope), you have to work within the parameters you have built. Your readers went with you on a journey in Book One. Don’t devalue that by taking the easy route and erasing everything they’ve co-braved your hellfire for. Unless you’ve consulted with JJ Abrams and your memory loss hook is genius, brainstorm another route. Work with those brilliant, flawed characters you’ve created, and then ruthlessly throw your darlings to the wolves.
Let’s talk The Almost Girl and The Fallen Prince. In Book One, Riven was a soldier. By the end of her journey she learned to come to terms with what it meant to be human. In Book Two, I knew I had to springboard off that growth and take it a step further. To do this, I had to put her into situations that would test her mettle and push the limits of her newfound sense of self. In a similar fashion, I wanted to put Caden—the new king of Neospes and her love interest—into challenging situations of his own, forcing him to find a balance between his heart and his political strategy. My dependable hero from Book One is forced to face some serious issues. Growth has to push the character forward. Yes, there can be setbacks, but overall, everything should be moving your story to a new place.
Next, honor your rules. You’ve built an amazing world with structure and rules. Uphold those. They are still the cornerstones of your sequel. If you start breaking the rules you created down without good reason or undermining them, your readers will revolt. So change rules judiciously and with valid reasons, otherwise the world-building will start to unravel. In The Fallen Prince, I introduce a new pocket of civilization within the rules of the desert world I’ve built, however it’s an anomaly because said colony uses an extinct resource. Without giving away spoilers, I had to make the existence of this new society make sense within the established rules of the parallel universe. If Book One is set on a desert planet, you better be sure if Book Two is underwater, that they’re space explorers, or time jumpers, or something that you’ve already set up in the first book. Otherwise you risk alienating your readers.
Finally, your sequel has to make sense. If it’s not a sequential story, then it’s not a sequel. That’s a companion novel . . . which is a whole other beast. Give your readers what they are salivating for—characters they’ve connected with set in a world they love with a whole new adventure to look forward to. And write the end. You owe them that.
Here are a few pointers:
- Write an outline
- Brainstorm a different and fresh plot
- Go for higher stakes
- Flip things upside down
- Introduce new characters
- Deliver a great villain
- Maintain consistency and style
- Adhere to rules
- Repeat the story you’ve already told
- Be afraid to kill your darlings WITH VALID REASON (think George R. R. Martin)
- Cliff hang (cliff teasers are okay)
- Go off into left field (making it too difficult for readers to connect)
- Make your sequel a set up for Book Three. Just don’t. Been there, done that, and it didn’t end well. Plan to write the end and make it a satisfying conclusion. Your readers will thank you.
Amalie Howard is the award-winning IndieNext author of Alpha Goddess, The Almost Girl, The Fallen Prince, the Aquarathi series, and the Cruentus Curse series. Her debut novel, Bloodspell, was an Amazon bestseller and a Seventeen Summer Read. She is currently working on Dark Goddess, the sequel to Alpha Goddess, which will release from Sky Pony Press in Spring 2017. She lives with her husband and three children in Colorado.
Amalie Howard’s Books:
Seventeen-year-old Riven comes from a world parallel to Earth, a world that has been ravaged by a devastating android war. As a Legion General, she is the right hand of Prince Cale, the young Prince of Neospes. In her world, she’s had everything: rank, responsibility, and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to rescue his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.
Armed with the mindset of a soldier and racing against time to bring Caden home, Riven must learn how to blend in as a girl in a realm that is the opposite of all she’s ever known. Will she be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?
Riven has fought for a hard-won peace in her world, and has come to shaky terms with who and what she is—a human with cyborg DNA. Now that the rightful ruler of Neospes has been reinstated, Riven is on the hunt for her father in the Otherworld to bring him to justice for his crimes against her people.
But when she receives an unwelcome visit from two former allies, she knows that trouble is brewing once again in Neospes. The army has been decimated and there are precious few left to fight this mysterious new threat.
To muster a first line of defense, her people need help from the one person Riven loathes most—her father. But what he wants in return is her complete surrender.
And now Riven must choose: save Neospes or save herself.
In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.
Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.