A series sounds like an excellent idea while you're writing book one. Then, along comes page one of book two.
I thought I was the only one who struggled over book two. Then, I finally 'fessed up to friends who also write series, and was shocked to learn my pain was nearly universal.
So, why is a second book harder than the first?
I have a few theories.
1. Book two should be like book one, but not an exact copy.
Creating something that is both like and unlike something else is harder than it might first appear. As you make decisions about what will carry over from book one (characters, plot structure, settings), you create a recipe that you can later follow in books three and beyond. You ask yourself: How much will I change? How much will I keep the same? Rather than diving straight into imaginative creation, you have a seemingly endless list of decisions to make. The trouble is that critical, decision-style thinking isn't great for drafting. Instead of diving in and gaining momentum, you're stuck, stuck, stuck at the beginning.
2. Book two needs a compelling arc that compliments the arc in book one.
If your character has grown through the first book (and we hope that she has!) it can be difficult to move forward. Say your character's internal conflict was a need for more confidence, which was gained in book one. Then, in book two, you may not want to take her through another growth sequence focused on confidence, as it may feel too repetitive. Plus, if she needs an entire new adventure to gain the confidence she needs, that reality can make the first book's arc feel less significant.
3. Handling basic exposition without boring your reader can be challenging.
Nearly all of your readers will have read book one, but you can't assume they ALL have. In book two, you need to give your reader the key information he needs. Still, you don't want to spend pages repeating everything you already wrote in book one. So, you have another set of questions to answer. How will I provide important information? What's important? How can I tell the reader about important information in a different way than I told them in book one?
If writing a sequel is that challenging, why do so many writers do it?I think we fall in love with the world of our stories. Writers fall in love, and so do readers. We don't want the story to be over when book one is through. Finding ways to create new adventures in familiar worlds with familiar characters is a worthwhile challenge.
The most important thing is to know that if you're struggling with book two, you're not alone! Find ways to split up your process so you have space to think and make decisions, and also have space to simply dive in and draft. Be patient with yourself. Try to gain perspective. Think about the series books that you have enjoyed. Would you have wanted the author to stop after book one? No way!
So, take heart, and keep writing. Enjoy the process. In my experience, book two often ends up being even stronger than book one.
I'm curious. Have you ever struggled with a second book in a series? Do you have any additional theories about why book two is often more difficult than book one to draft? Share them below! I'd love to hear your thoughts.