There was a time when I didn’t even consider the problems of writing a sequel to a story. The writing I was doing was going so slowly I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish. But finish I did and I now have not one, but two completed books to try and get published. It feels pretty good.
Still, the two books are not related to each other; they’re not the same genre and weren’t even writen for the same age group. But now, I’m plotting out my third book which is a sequel to my first. So chronologically, it will be the second book of my first series. Clear as mud, right?
Still, this leads me to the subject of today’s post: writing a second (or third, or forth) book in a series. It’s a simple enough problem to understand, I suppose. The author almost always has the backstory firmly planted in his mind when he or she writes. Somehow, that backstory comes out in the writing to provide depth to the characters and make the story itself more compelling. But what if the backstory for the story is an entire separate book?
I have read series that can be picked up in the middle and read forward without ever starting at book 1 and I have read series that you MUST start with the first book or you’re immediately lost. So what’s the right answer?
For me, I think that there might be a very real possibility that my second book is picked up before my first for a few reasons; my writing has matured, I know my characters better and so on. What that means for me is I must write my second book with enough of the history from the first that readers can follow along and not get lost after the first page. Little things like: how did the characters meet?, what have they done before?, how did they get here? must all be answered somewhere in the story or the continuity from the first book is lost.
Is this an easy proposition? Not really. Granted there are simple ways to do it: have the characters talk about the first book to the current time, but that is really just inserting a synopsis of the first story and not very exciting. That’s certainly one way to go, but I would submit, not really a good way. I’m going to take a different path.
In the timeframe of my second book, two years have passed where the main characters have essentially been in exile on opposite sides of the country. They have been patrolling the frontiers of the kingdom to prevent invasion. During that time, they haven’t seen what’s going on in the kingdom itself.
Paena, my female protagonist, finally meets up with Kalten, the male protagonist. They spend an evening catching up. Paena tells Kalten of the devastation she has seen while traveling across the land to meet up with him. She relates the things she has seen to what came before. Instead of telling the story of the first book, she provides hints of what has happened before, since both she and Kalten lived it and know the events deeply.
They also meet up with an old colleague as they leave the kingdom on their quest. This too is done to add some ties to the previous book. Keep in mind, at no time do I tell any of the previous story. I only give a flavor of what’s happened before. Hopefully, that flavor is enough to get those readers who skipped the first book to go out and read it.
Are there other ways to do it? Of course. I’ve seen writers use flashbacks to great effect for one. Another method is to prolog the story or use dream sequences. I don’t think any of those really fit what I’m trying to do, so I’ll stick to what I’ve got. The readers can decide if I did it right.
So that’s my challenge and, if it’s not already, will be yours one day too. I guess it just means that I am moving closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a professional writer.
Now to get the first book into print.