Finishing a novel is great accomplishment, and it’s always exciting to move on to a sequel. Following up a successful story with a continuation has its own dangers, however, and you may find yourself getting confused, wandering down the wrong path, or simply facing writer’s block. Don’t worry. These are all normal, and a few simple rules can help you reclaim your novel.
Remember What You’re Writing
A sequel depends on your first book. Readers want the sequel to continue the phenomenal characters, plot arcs, and voices you employed in your first story. Although we’ll get into the dangers of getting lost in nostalgia in a minute, remember where you’re starting. Judge how your sequel changes how readers will approach the first story when they reread it. Figure out what unfinished arcs or tantalizing threads of character development the last book left you to start with. These will all give you a nudge in the right direction.
Progress Your Characters
Past success cannot build a future. Readers want characters who feel real, and real people grow and change. Use your sequel to follow your characters into a new stage of their lives. How did the finale of the last book change them, and how will that change affect their personalities, habits, and decisions?
It’s easy to take this too far, of course, leaving readers with unrecognizable characters they struggle to recognize. Make sure your character progression makes sense. Don’t make changes just for shock value. If a character’s progress doesn’t make sense to the reader, your sequel will fall flat.
Introduce New Elements
So far, we’ve only talked about revisiting and revising your old creations. Now it’s time for something new. Take your characters to new places, introduce new obstacles, and even expand your character list. Have some cool city, character, or plot device that fell on the cutting room floor during the editing of your first novel? See if it will fit here. Just because an idea doesn’t fit where you first place it doesn’t mean it has no part in your story.
Keep in mind that plots can change, too. Remember what your audience expects when they pick up the sequel to your earlier work, but feel free to get creative. If your first book was an epic quest, restricting all the action to courtroom politics is probably a bad move, but that doesn’t mean you have to make the sequel a carbon copy of the first. Those are errors on opposite ends of the spectrum. Look for new directions for your characters that still deliver the action, character development, or romantic moments the first book in the series delivered.
Raise the Stakes
Although this isn’t a pattern that can go on indefinitely, a good way to set up a sequel is to build a greater threat. If your heroes saved their town last time, maybe they’re protecting the country. If characters had to wrestle with their old demons to find themselves, throw in fresh obstacles that threaten their newfound stability. Change your villains, and keep in mind that higher stakes don’t always mean they are physically bigger. They may threaten your characters more directly, assume power in ways your characters aren’t equipped to counter, or simply boast more nefarious aims. If your readers mutter a curse under their breath when they realize what the characters have to face, you’ve done your work well.
Remember how excited you were to write the first book in this series? You should be just as excited about the sequel. Don’t push yourself too hard to reinvent the wheel. The groundwork is already laid out for you. All you need to do is continue down the path you cleared. See if you can surprise yourself. Dig deeper into your own work and look for buried treasure. A sequel is an opportunity to make all the books in your story stronger.
Treat your work with the same patience you used for your first novel. These rules will help guide you, but only you can write this story. Work hard, have fun, and follow your characters beyond the conclusion.