Sequels are a bitch to read and an even bigger bitch to write. Writing a successful sequel is a painful and delicate balancing act that all authors struggle with. It’s so hard to write especially when you don’t know your audience directly; it’s like a comedian walking into a stage completely blind to what audience he’s going to get. However the comedian has one advantage the author doesn’t; the comedian can change tactics as soon as he understands what his audience likes.. the author is blinded the entire time, hoping against all steely logic that their frail belief in themselves will pull them through in the end.
Writing a sequel is a huge struggle. Reading it as well. An author finishes their first book with a sigh of relief, it’s done, their story has been brought from their magnificent mind to the page in front of them. The hard part is over right? Haha! No. See in the first book to any series there is usually a pattern found in each, unless the author decides to take a unique path, even then some key elements are always going to be there. See, the first book is kinda of like the opening narration in a movie, it sets the scene and brings an ignorant audience up to speed. So, in every first novel there will always be these elements
- Introduction of setting – whether it is set in Forks, the Shadow World, Texas, or Australia an author will always have to visually (meaning through sensory writing) create the world in which the story is set, this is a particular challenge for fantasy writers as they have no familiarity or google to use as a cushioning, they have to not only describe the locations to acclimate the reader but also to introduce foreign cultures, words and items. Those poor brave souls. Without this the story is broken and essentially lost, environmental ground is essential.
- Introduction of characters – this seems pretty standard, but imagine if you walked into a movie and saw a film that introduced no characters or their backgrounds or anything about them. Trying to figure out what the hell is going on with the people and the plot would be hell! Especially, dear god in a mystery. We as an audience need to know each and every character who plays a role in the story at least to a small degree; this not only establishes our connection with them but also places them in the story we’re understanding and gives us some expectations for the perspective we’re reading through too. Knowing the characters allows for a smoother transition of plot and change, familiarity with at least one element is key. That way we’re not overwhelmed with new information ( Maze Runner I’m looking at you).
- Establishing at least a modicum of extended plot. Don’t get me started on novels that don’t do this (guaranteed flop). Any successful novel established the people and the world they’re inhabiting, but they also have to at least bring in some form of an extended plot, whether it be an enemy hat just won’t die/ give up (Voldemort), multiple enemies that just keep causing problems (Twilight) or a big lead up to one big show down (Star-crossed) there needs to be a lead up of some kind. Without this connecting the two books together than the transition between minor stories leading up to the ultimate conclusion is fail and at risk of failing. One very good example of this being achieved successfully is the City of Bones (Mortal Instruments ) Series.
Now, the second novel is the kicker, you can careful plan out all the elements above beautifully in the first book and still flail in the sequel. It all comes down to the first chapter. In this almighty chapter the Author has to do one of the most difficult things known to writer kind (besides world building in a sci-fi/fantasy, or creating tension in a horror story); summarise the previous story without loosing the audience. This is incredibly hard to do as they have to walk and incredibly thin line between engaging and boring, one, which many people fail. They have to re-engage the reader in the story as if its been awhile since they’ve read the first, as jumping into the next plot line without it can be hell. However, here’s the main issue, they also have to be brief and smooth about it, lest they bore those who only just literally put down the first book. This is the hard part of this process, where exactly is the middle between these two polar opposites o having a completely fresh memory and a hazy well loved one? I can only begin to guess, I doubt anyone actually knows for certain.
Personally, and this is purely from readerly experience a i have yet to take on the art form of a sequel; this is the best method to work through this tightrope between success and failure.
The subtle approach: (title’s making sense now huh?)
This approach is pretty straight forward, and i find it works really well and allows the story to flow better. Basically, avoid the word and info dump at the beginning of the book like the plague. that spells death for your novel, especially if someone has just put down the previous instalment. The best way is to take it easy important plot device-wise in the beginning. Instead, I suggest placing your characters in a fairly ordinary set of events / social situations to re-acclimate to the book itself, as well as the characters and overall tone. then, through the interactions between other characters and perhaps objects, dot in some review and some memories. This then brings up the events of the previous book without the info dump and makes sense instead of having to wade through pages of rehashing of what’s just been read or is familiar. it’s really exhausting. This also allows a slow build up to the books climax and allows for smooth transition between stories and current issues. In my opinion this really is the best method to employ for both writer and reader. Believe me, i know how tempting the info dump is, you just want all the nitty gritty out of the way to get to the good stuff. I sympathise completely. I’ve screwed up several good drafts due to my impatience and I know it’s going to happen again, so really I can’t blame anyone for doing this, I can only advise that we support each other into not doing this and screwing up the story.
If you have any other ways that the mountainous trail of sequels can be conquered, please feel free to let me know 🙂
Until then, as readers, can we all just agree to give an Author a break if they find themselves doing the info dump? it’s seriously hard to write a sequel and they don’t need any pressure from us…
Til Next Time,