Do’s and Don’ts of Book Sequels

dos and donts of book sequelsBefore you even start writing that book sequel you need to ask yourself, does it have the potential to be even better than your first? If you can’t answer yes to this question then put down the pen, pencil or laptop, it’s not worth spending the time and mental anguish to write. You don’t want to go through all that effort if the sequel can’t wow readers. You’re better off starting a completely different book.

So what does it mean to have a better second book? It doesn’t simply mean expanding on the first story, though there should be some of that too since that’s what makes it a sequel and not a whole separate book. We can all think of a sequel that did that, just seemed to repeat itself in different words without offering anything new. A sequel should have a killer idea, a phenomenal plot, a standalone story that would let it hold water all on its own. Someone should be able to pick up your second book, without having read the first book, and absolutely fall in love with it all on its own merits.

Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t build on what you’ve already written in book one. In fact, you should absolutely include character development and larger theme progressions, this is also important in a sequel. But there should be a plot that gets resolved within the second book that makes it intriguing, even separate from its prequel.

I can give you an example in the YA series that I’m currently writing. My protagonists are a group of seven teens who must overthrow a tyrannical group that’s using mind control to subject the people of Earth. That’s my large, all-encompassing theme. There are a lot of main characters so I wanted a chance to give readers a chance to know each of my main characters more intimately. That would be really hard to do with just one book and seven MCs.

That’s when I decided to make it a series and give each of them their own book, that way you’d see some real character development through the book that is focused on them. The whole series, my heroes and heroines are working towards this very large goal. Then within each book, as they look for a series of tinctures that will help them overthrow this clandestine group, I focus on one of the characters more than the others. If I had just stopped with my larger theme, that would be just one story, spread out over seven books. If people were to pick up my second book, they would be coming into the only story somewhere in the middle of it.

It becomes a balancing act of staying true to the larger plot line that carries through the whole series and the separate book plots that make the books complete enough that someone could just read the sequel if they so desired. It can be rather difficult to do but it’s necessary if you want your sequel to work.

That’s why I went a step further with my series and gave each person their own little mini-story within the scope of the whole series. For instance, one of my character’s father goes missing and her story is about the discovery of what happened to him. Along the way she discovers much more than she sets out to discover and makes some really great friends along the way. Another of my main characters is obsessed with power and control. She sets out with a plan for her life that gets turned upside-down when she discovers that her autonomy, when she turns 18, is just illusory because all adults are being controlled by this group of tyrants. She has to figure out what she is willing and unwilling to give up to find the power she craves so desperately.

Each one of my characters has their own challenge to face. Each book will (hopefully) be able (I’m still in the process of finishing the series) to stand on its own as an exciting read, in and of itself.

You may be wondering, since I haven’t yet completed my series, how I can be offering advice on writing sequels. Though this is my first novel series that I’ve written, I have been a voracious reader for as long as I can remember. I’ve read many of the classics and many, many (did I say many?) contemporary books. I know when a series works and I know when they don’t. Reading, reading, reading, it’s what makes a good writer a great writer. I’m not claiming to be a great writer, that will be for history to judge. But I’ve read enough good and bad sequels to be able to tell you what you need to write a spectacular sequel. Because this world needs more exceptional sequels.

The advice given here and the examples I’ve given are based on my experience as a reader and writer. But I will also tell you that all advice must be measured against your own experiences and understandings. If it can’t withstand such scrutiny then it’s not worthwhile advice.

And as a last thought that may just totally be subjective to my own personal preferences. I also believe you should throw in a number of “inside jokes” into your sequel. If you’re writing something serious, then just make “inside references” instead. J These are like a super, secret handshake that not everyone will know about. It’s like an acknowledgement and feels like a reward to those who read your first book. I know it may seem almost sacrilegious to some, but there are people who read a sequel without reading the prequel (gasp!). So you want to be sure to let everyone who took the time to read your first book know how grateful you are for their support. These little touches (some people call them Easter eggs) are a great way to do that.

For those of you who have written sequels (or like me, you read A LOT) what are some do’s and don’ts that you’d like to share? Drop them in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

Until we meet again.