Ahhh, the “middle child”—overlooked, underappreciated, less exciting… at least, according to the Brady Bunch. Still, Jan Brady’s “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha…” struck a chord of truth with audiences everywhere. But isn’t that the case with all middle things? Even in writing, middles of stories and sequels are plagued with that negative connotation.
But when it comes to the second book of a trilogy, writers can’t afford to write a weak middle link between books one and three. No matter how stellar of a third book you have planned, readers aren’t likely to pick it up if the second book didn’t hold their attention. So just how do you make the second book in a trilogy stand out?
Build on Your Foundation
By the time you start book two, you’ve already established the characters, the general themes, the genre—in short, the story world. In fact, that’s part of what makes writing the second book so difficult. With a first book, you have a lot more flexibility. The second book has certain rules you must abide to. Make a book too different from the first and you’ll lose your readers. Make your book too similar to the first…(you probably know where I’m going with this)…and you’ll lose your readers.
What to do, then? Build on the foundation you have created. In general, readers want more from the second book. You can’t recreate the magic of the first book, so attempting to do the same things you did the first go-round will likely feel stale. But, say your readers really loved the twists and turns of your first book—give them even more twists and turns, but different ones.
Or what if your character fell in love? Breaking them up with that love at the beginning of book two to have them fall in love again—probably not the way to go. Instead, delve more deeply into that relationship. Have your readers feel that love move from young infatuation to more mature, selfless love.
Build, build, build. Take what you’ve created the first time and expand on it.
Create the Link
When writing a trilogy, you have to always be mindful of the role each book in the trilogy must play. Ideally, each book will stand on its own and tell a complete story. However, each book should play a role in the larger framework of the story the trilogy attempts to tell as a whole.
The role of the middle book, in many ways, is to create a link. Like a bridge, it has to be a strong link—one that will carry the weight of the struggles from the first book that must be resolved in the third. As a result, the middle book needs to build on the problems that have been created in the end of the first book. It then needs to create larger, bigger, and higher-staked obstacles and problems. Need help with that? Check out this article titled Raise the Stakes. Lastly, it acts as the set-up for the third book.
Make the Middle Fresh
In order to make the second book work best for you, it’s also vital that you make the material in it feel fresh. The best sequels entertain the readers because they present something unexpected and interesting. Be it a new character, a new (but not too extremely different) setting, or a new narrator—the possibilities for making your sequel unique in its own way are endless.
The second book doesn’t have to be the overlooked middle child. And, who knows, if paid enough attention to and nurtured…it could even be the book that readers like the best of the three.