Some stories refuse to be told in one novel. Whether you plan intentionally to create a plot that requires multiple volumes to be told or you realize there is enough material to create a new story about your characters, writing a sequel is a tricky business. A sequel must deliver on the promise that the new story will be just as or more satisfying to the reader than the first novel. If it fails to do so, read-through to any successive novels in that series will drop. Or, if it’s not a series, writing a less-than-stellar sequel will leave your readers disappointed with a story world they previously enjoyed.
Given the high bar that sequels need to clear to be successful, it’s important for writers to do their homework to get it right. Here are three things to consider:
1. Set New Stakes
Ever notice how frequently sequels fail to improve on the original plot? Often, this seems to happen because the sequel attempts to deliver “more of the same, but different.” The reality is, with a sequel you enter an already-established story world. Readers don’t want to see the characters make the same journey they made in the first book. They already went down that route in book one.
Remember the movie The Hangover? Somehow, in the sequel, the characters all do the exact same things. While the movie may have had a few cheap laughs, it in no way compared to the humor of the first. Sequels need original plots that operate within the confines of that established world. The characters can’t make the same mistakes they made in the first book. Characters can’t forget all they learned (or should have learned), either—their character arc should reflect the growth they made. Want to learn more about raising the stakes in your narrative? Check out this article: Raise the Stakes – What Makes Readers Care About Your Story?
2. Kill Your Darling Characters
Often, we’re afraid to let go of the wonderful things we’ve created as writers. If characters serve a purpose, they are worth keeping. But including characters in a sequel simply because they worked well in the original novel isn’t always necessary. Don’t be afraid to let a character go. Or (more frighteningly) don’t be afraid to kill a beloved character if it serves your new plot.
Building on this, you should also consider peeling back the layers on your existing characters. Some of the most interesting sequels involve showing a villainous side to a character readers previously thought of as good, or vice versa. If you can successfully give a character a new dimension (think, Darth Vader announcing he’s Luke Skywalker’s dad)—your readers might be thrilled.
3. Identify the Magic in Your Sequel
The most important part of writing a sequel is to figure out what the magic to your story is. Is it your story-world? Your characters? The thrilling, nail-biting plot? The emotional journey? Or perhaps the romance?
Whatever it is you feel truly makes your original novel compelling (and your reader reviews will probably reflect this)—that’s the magic you need to build on. If your book one is beloved for the hair-raising terror you evoked in your readers, you’ll need to deliver similar chills. Easier said than done, of course, but again—don’t just attempt to pick up where you left off. Raise the stakes and give your readers more, but better.
At the end of the day, remember: you’re the one who created that magic in the first book. If you did it once, you’re capable of doing it again.