Previously, we looked at some of the challenges of writing a multi-part series. Now a few tips on how to incorporate them.
1 – Study the masters
By that I mean writers whose series you read and love. Movies and TV series fall into this category, but since authors can’t rely on visuals, book series are particularly helpful in demonstrating how to update readers in each new volume. How does the author handle the reintroduction of characters, for example? Carry over events from the previous book? Deal with the passage of time? Regardless of the genre, you can learn a lot by analyzing other writers’ works, not to copy their ideas, but to emulate their techniques. I can’t overemphasize this.
2 – Review your synopsis
Do you write a synopsis for every book? You should, even if you don’t follow it exactly. It can even be written after you’ve finished the novel and kept as a summary of the story.
A good synopsis will feature the protagonist and the primary characters. It should cover the key plot points and steer readers toward the climax. Use this as a guide for what information should be updated or repeated in your next book. Also consider what will transpire in the newest novel. Anything relevant to the plot should be included. You can plant the seeds for a plot line that will develop in a future volume as well.
3 – Create a folder for organizational charts/files
Creating a place to store character bios, floor plans, timelines, synopses and other details is helpful when writing a book, but it’s essential when working on a sequel. Lots of interrelationships between characters? Chart it. Need to know what the town you invented looks like? Map it. Your character’s office? Diagram it.
You don’t want to describe morning sun streaming through the bedroom window in book one and watching the sunset from that same window in book three. You also need to remember how old your protagonist is, whether Joan is his first or fourth ex-wife, and if Harry is his uncle or his barber. You can create an electronic folder, or file hard copies instead.
4 – Build on what you already have
If you get stuck when writing a sequel, reread your earlier book(s) to see if something there can be used to launch a new plot point. A scene in my first book inspired a mystery subplot that I introduce in book three and will complete in its sequel. I realized what happened could be interpreted in more than one way and was amazed by how well that scene pointed to the culprit. The unexpected turn surprised my beta readers – they didn’t see it until the final reveal, but it made sense to them because I’d laid the groundwork.
If you’ve ever had a reader come up with a fascinating interpretation of something you’d written, something that you never saw that way, then you understand how this could happen. For that matter, some writers have gotten inspiration from readers who’ve had questions about a plot point in an earlier book. If one of your readers asks or suggests something useful, run with it and see where it leads.
5 – Move the story forward
You don’t want to rehash the same old business in each new installment. Characters have to develop – marry, divorce, give birth or lose loved ones. They’ll have personal and professional triumphs and setbacks. People will enter and leave their lives. These elements can be integrated as backstory or put up-front and center, but they must be there.
Those organizational files/charts that I mentioned earlier will become invaluable in keeping your overall journey on point, intact and moving along. If you don’t have a good idea of where the saga will eventually end, then you should sit down and think about it. You don’t have to have a precise path for the character’s journey, but you ought to have a destination. Then, with every installment, check to see how far along that path your protagonist has traveled.
Writing a good series is challenging, but rewarding for readers who love them. I know I do. Part of the pleasure of reading each sequel is following the characters’ lives along with them in each new book. It’s like a reunion with old friends, for that’s what they’ve become.
What challenges have you found in writing sequels? Do you have any tips to share?
10 thoughts on “The Art Of The Sequel – Part 2 by Miko Johnston”
Another really good post on sequels–a good sequel to your last post! I agree with all you said, and consider your post filled with excellent suggestions and reminders.
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Thanks, Linda. It’s really a challenge, so different from writing a single novel.
Both of these posts offer such good information, Miko. I’ve never had enough material to tackle a sequel, but I’ve saving your posts as reference in case I ever get the urge. One stellar example of a skilled sequel/series writer is Michael Connelly with his Harry Bosch series. Connelly always orients the reader with just enough backstory but it never gets in the way of the current storyline.
Getting that balance between enough and too much is so critical, and hard to do sometimes. Most writers who work on sequels cite balancing that backstory as the toughest part.
I do study other author’s books over and over. When I don’t think I’m being descriptive enough in the narrative, yet I don’t want to get flower and wordy, I turn to Rex Stout. If I think a clue is to “in your face”, I turn to Agatha Christie, a master of subtlety. If I think my sentences are too long, I go back to Rex Stout to reassure myself that long sentences with lots of commas can work. The rest of your advice is stuff I follow as well, and it’s a great reminder to see it here in writing.
Stout and Christie are both masters at their craft. You chose well.
I write a Timeline for every book or short story. You don’t want to have 28 hours in a day and you want to know who is where and when. It also works as a summary since it contains every movement and character’s actions. I also keep a Chronology of my main character for the books that have sequels. I plug everybody they meet into it, their birth date and other particulars so everything holds together. These two items have been invaluable. And I keep a Character Sheet with a brief bio (10-20 words) about characters so I know who everybody is as I write. Again, these are invaluable. Writers will benefit from this info. Good post.
Thanks, GB. You inspired the timeline suggestion. I confess I haven’t always followed my own rules, but I will now. Don’t think I could write a fourth book in my series without all that information stored in an easily searchable place.
Miko, this is so very helpful. I am currently writing a Lottie sequel, so your organized system is very helpful – better than my stacks of post-its!
You really can’t ‘wing it’ with when writing a series. You establish history with every book, which can’t be changed.