I’ve read that writing a sequel can be a challenge. As I near completion of the rough draft of the second novel in a trilogy that I’m writing I’ve found that statement to be an accurate one.Yes, you’ve got a foundation upon which to build, but what do you build on it? That’s a question that I’ve asked myself repeatedly over the last six months or so, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Familiar But Not Identical

When writing a sequel you want a reader to feel a sense of familiarity with the world without it feeling like a repeat of previous events, or something that has been altered beyond all recognition. This means that even if your dealing with the same characters and locations, what they are doing and what is occurring around them must be different. At the end of the first book in the trilogy I’m writing the Knights were forced to defend the city of Etna from an invasion that did major structural damage. When you’re reintroduced to Etna in the second book this damage is not only present, but the main protagonist comments on how the damage has altered the social dynamic in the city.

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Bring Lingering Problems To The Fore

In the first book your protagonist had a clear problem to contend with and it was easy to set about how it would be dealt with. But once the dust settles and the last word read, what then? What new problem will be faced in the sequel? Chances are the first book didn’t conclude in a shower of rosebuds. Look for loose threads or minor problems that weren’t important in the first plot and place them center stage. In the second book of my trilogy the protagonists main problem is forging an alliance between humanity and the dragons, but she must also deal with lingering issues from the first book–resentment against the Knights and individuals grabbing for power being amongst them. What was once minor issues in the first plot can enhance the plot of the second and flesh it out, giving you more to work with.

Maintain the Key Elements

This may sound like a repeat of my first point, but its not. Key elements are the things of the first book–such as character personality and writing style–that readers affiliate with and act as the links in a chain that connect a series together. Have a beloved character whose known fear of heights causes funny moments for the group? Include it. Does the protagonist constantly make sidesplitting comments full of wit? Don’t let the riverbed dry up there. Whatever your characters do and wherever they go you need to identify the key elements that defined the first book and include them in the sequel and subsequent books thereafter. Otherwise, readers are going to wonder if the two books were written by two different people.

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I know from first hand experience that writing a sequel isn’t easy. But if you stay true to the spirit of the first book, build upon it rather than copy, and push the plot in new and unexpected directions, you’ll steer your sequel into calm waters.

Disclaimer: I do not own the imagery used in this blog post and have no claim to it.

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