Marueen Doyle McQuerry's joined us today to discuss the often daunting process of writing a sequel; two lucky winners will be receiving a copy of THE TELLING STONE!
Writing a Sequel: 5 Things to Think About
When I sold the The Time Out of Time series to Abrams, I’d already written the entire story and envisioned it as a trilogy. But Abrams wanted the three books put into two. What? How would I take my carefully written trilogy and restructure it so that it made sense as two books? One of the big decisions was where to split the narrative. Editor Howard Reeves and I went back and forth. The story changes location from the U.S. to Scotland. It covers more than a year in life of the characters. Some of the best and most obvious stopping places would make for books of unequal length. This forced me to consider questions about sequels that I hadn’t given much thought to before. What makes a sequel work? How do you balance the adventure and risk equally? Below are 5 things I believe every author should consider when writing a sequel.
Episodic VS Continuous
Is your story a continuous journey over time, a journey in which your characters age? Think Harry Potter. Or is your story episodic, one more adventure in the never ending world of middle grade? Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If it is a continuous journey, you have to pay attention to how time as well as events will change and mature your characters. You must seed the first book with things that come to fruition in following books, and you must think about story goals. Every character wants something. In a continuous series, what the character wants must be large enough to carry that hope and risk over time. It must take the arc of the series to reach your character’s desires.
Whether the rumor is justified or not, everyone has heard it. You know the one…the second in the series, either book or movie, rarely lives up to the first. Why? In the first book everything is new, the characters, the premise, the stakes. To combat that perception, the second book has to up the stakes for the characters the readers have already come to know, and hopefully, love. The risk to them personally must be greater.
I took a risk with The Telling Stone. A major battle occurs in the first act, just about 30 pages into the story. I also put the characters at greater risk. Timothy had been removed from the action at the end of book 1 to help his mother. He left his sister enchanted and trapped by Balor. He left Jessica at the Market alone. Now he must find his way back on the eve of a great battle. Jessica is alone and believes she is solely responsible for her friend, Sarah’s, safety. And Sarah, well she may never be free again.
This is one of the trickiest lines to walk. How do you thread in material from book 1 for readers who begin with book 2. The Telling Stone has a short prologue, which is a risk. However, it is the only time in the two books that we enter the antagonist, Balor’s, POV. Instead of an information dump, the reader watches what he does in the dark when no one is watching, learns what he wants and realizes this character should be feared.
Dialog is your friend when it comes to threading crucial information from the first story. The goose woman reminds Jessica of “a terrible deed” she once committed. Nom recounts his ordeal when he was trapped and held in a cage by the Animal Tamer.
Ask how much information the reader needs to become involved in the story of book 2. And then thread just that and no more into the story.
After Beyond the Door came out, I often asked readers during school visits who their favorite character was in the story. Jessica, the bully who had the greatest transformation, was the winner in most every case. That bit of information informed one of my choices for the sequel. I started the book in Jessica’s POV. Both books remain most frequently in Timothy’s POV. Readers identify with the POV character and would feel cheated if that changed, but changing up the POV to allow readers a peek inside other favorite characters can keep interest building in a series.
The greatest indicator of readers’ satisfaction is character arc. We like to see how our favorite characters overcome all their troubles in a story, and we expect those characters to change as a result. In a series, you have to think about the character arcs in each story and the character arcs over the entire series. In Beyond the Door Jessica went from being a bully who made Timothy’s life miserable to a friend. By the end of book 2, she is actively working to help other people even when it puts her at risk. She’s humble, except for occasional relapses, and is given the gift of a healer, the antithesis of a bully.
By the end of book 1 Timothy’s bravery is no longer in question. He’s risked his very life for Jessica. By the end of book 2, he’s grown into his new title of Filidh. He’s discovered who he was meant to be.
The Telling Stone came out yesterday. If you want to discover if the stakes are upped, you’ll have to read Beyond the Door first. But if the story works, you’ll be able to read it as a stand alone as well. What are secrets to sequel success?