Sunday, May 11, 2014

On Writing a Sequel

When I wrote Deadwood, it was a standalone. The story was resolved at the end, and I didn’t see how it could continue. Some readers asked if there would be a sequel, and the answer was no.

Martin Cruz, from Deadwood (Credit: Shawna Tenney)
Then I found another story for Martin and Hannah. I had other projects before it came to the surface, and it simmered for a long time (nearly burning dry and setting off the fire alarm along the way). But now, with the Spencer Hill Middle Grade release of my debut approaching June 24, my thoughts have turned back to the world of Deadwood and my 12-year-old characters. I want to be in their heads again, and at last my Deadwood sequel moving off my story-ideas list and into a work in progress. and not just another item on my story-ideas list.

It's a new mystery, not a part two, a duology, a trilogy, or a series. It's fun to be in the world of Deadwood again, and so familiar seeing it through the eyes of Martin and Hannah. But I'm finding a new set of challenges.

I went looking for some sequel wisdom, and here are four rules I found.

1. "Plan ahead of time."

Miss Literati - How to Write a Sequel the Right Way "Though some can get away with creating a sequel at the last-minute, it may be a better idea to plan ahead of time." Oh well. Too late for that. Hopefully I can keep my threads straight.

2. "Guts are mandatory."

Caragh M. O'Brien, Writing the Second Book: Not Any Easier -  Caragh O'Brien, author of the brilliant Birthmarked trilogy and upcoming The Vault of Dreamers, didn't started planning her trilogy while editing book one, so she was able to avoid writing into a box -- but she still had a lot of work to do in creating new challenges for book two. Guts were mandatory for everyone too: "In fact, my earliest draft was such a mess that it frightened my editor, Nancy Mercado." The published book, however, improved on the first.

Hannah Vaughan, from Deadwood (credit: Shawna Tenney)
3. Don't let "back story and infodumping take center stage."

Lydia Sharp, On Writing Sequels -  Lydia Sharp (Twin Sense) talks about writing and reading sequels -- specifically, the sssue of backstory and infodumping. How much do you need? How do you remind both readers of the first of what has happened without beating them over the head? I've decided that while  drafting, I'll backstory and infodump my heart out. I'll include it all now, then edit out what isn't necessary. Easier to delete some things than not write them at all...

4. "Don't let acute sequelitis happen to you."

Nathan Bransford, All About Sequels - Nathan Bransford, former agent and middle-grade author of the Jacob Wonderbar books, says that Acute sequelitis means being too attached to your characters and world so that you write a sequel to a book when no oide dreams of a massively long series when the first book in the series doesn't work out."

As a writer approaching release of my first book, point number four is a little touchy, so I'm going back to number two -- Caragh's advice. Now that I think about it, I'm one for four on this list.

Guts may be mandatory, but nothing else in writing is.

From reading or writing sequels, what advice do you have? I could use it...

About Kell Andrews:  Kell Andrews writes picture books and middle grade novels. Deadwood, her middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a cursed tree, comes out from Spencer Hill Middle Grade in June 2014.


Kristal Shaff said...

I just wrote a sequel to my Emissary book. Boy, is it hard. When I was first coming up with the plot, I though of series that did well, and others that didn't. One thing that I noticed is that a good sequel didn't rehash the same plot. In many times, it gave us something else entirely. Take the Lunar Chronicles for instance. There is an overlying plot, but each book ends up having a new protagonist even. I've enjoyed each book a little more, because it is a new story layered with old. Instead of stretching the old out until it is too thin. I think having a new mystery for Martin and Hannah is a great idea.

Laura Pauling said...

Congrats on the upcoming release!!!

I've noticed a lot of sequels lately don't have the summary at all in chapter one. When I'm completely lost, I end up putting book 2 down. What I'd love to see is a one page summary of book 1 at the start of book 2, as part of the front matter. This way, it doesn't needed to be included in the first chapters and readers that need it have it right there. :)

Kell Andrews said...

Kristal, I wish I could say I was at the end like you but I'm still at the beginning. You actually made me think a lot -- I have to make this surprising.

Laura, I've seen those kinds of recaps in a few books -- I don't know why it's not done more often! It's much less klutzy than integrated infodump and less confusing, even for readers who have read book 1, but maybe a year or two ago.

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Okay. Number three is a huge deal to me... I am being told I am not giving *enough* backstory! It's so hard, as the last thing you want to do is annoy your readers. *sigh* And then I read Laura's post and am glad my editor is like, "HEY! It might have been a while since they read book one... you need to remind them!"