Sequels don’t always meet expectations. Yours can.
Many sequels don’t compare to the original, and this applies both to books and movies. Sequels are interesting and worth the read, but readers might find themselves putting a bookmark in more often along the way. The only thing really driving them forward is the desire to find out what happens to the character(s) they already know more than the love for the plot and book, itself.
The reason most sequels reach this point isn’t because the writing is bad, nor is it because it didn’t need a sequel. The reason sequels fail or lose an audience is because they are, simply, extensions of the original. An audience wants something new, and another book about the same adventure with the same characters, the same setting, and the same problem raises a question: Why couldn’t they just win in the first book?
Yes, everyone loves sequels. I love sequels. This is because everyone can re-enter the world they just learned about and interact with the characters they just met. You may think this contradicts what I stated to be the problem, but this isn’t so. This is what makes a reader want to trash bookshelves looking for the sequel (Don’t really do that. Love your bookstores.), but what encourages them to continue are several different things that you may want to consider.
Why do they open a book?
Characters, unique plot, and a good theme. When you get involved in a story, everything is new and exciting—kind of like a relationship. Twitterpation.
When you pick up the next book, you want that same excitement. As a reader, you feel like you’ll get it because of the twitterpation you felt in the first book. You might have a plot that has yet to finish, too, so that naturally draws you in.
However, when the only thing drawing the reader in is what they know, the twitterpation goes away. This doesn’t mean the plot is dull and shouldn’t be used in the first place. What it means is your second book is missing what the first book already had: new subplots.
Before you can dazzle your reader with the new ideas that may or may not be swimming in your ears now, let’s start from the beginning.
Consider the main plot
- What happens in the sequel?
- What problem arises to make the plot last another novel?
- What new characters will you introduce (if any)?
- Why are these new characters important? What makes them necessary?
- How will the sequel end?
- What problems/situations might you be able to expand on for subplots?
You know, normal plot stuff. That will get you started. You don’t have to outline it if you are a pantser and work out the hard stuff later. But at least consider this because you should already know most of this from the first book.
How is this book different from the first?
You have a plot, characters, an idea for a possible problem, and probably the ending. But think about it. How many sequels have you enjoyed as much, or almost as much, as the first installment? Your sequel has to have something different. One thing that caught your readers the first time won’t have the same effect in the second one. Yes, they love it, but the purpose of picking up another book is to learn something new, as well as to finish what was started.
Think of what caught their interest the first time:
- character growth/decline
- fantastical approach
- major plot twist
- aesthetic value
- unique world
This list can go on, but there will always be one unique thing in every book that hooks a reader and fills their eyes and mind with that paper-flipping frenzy. Your job is to trigger that ink-shark in them, and it’s not easy to do in a sequel, but then again, was it easy in the first?
How do you make it unique?
When you consider books like Harry Potter, the idea of a sequel quickly increases the level of excitement. Harry Potter had a similar plot throughout (go to school, get in trouble, fight an enemy). However, the plot isn’t the only thing that caught a reader’s attention. Every installment had new things for us to discover: rooms, magic, secrets, people, games, and many other pieces in the hidden world of magic.
New things make it interesting. In your sequel, it’s not enough to have the same characters everyone loves. We’ll read the book again if we have to, but if you give us the same idea, what are we going to do with it? Learn from it?
You don’t have to kill off one of the main characters, though I’m not condemning it, but you do need something unique. There are several things that encourage people to write a book, and those same things can help you write the second.
If your character helped create your first book, let him or her or it create your second.
(NOTE: Some sequels don’t involve the first story’s character at all. Lucky for you, you’re starting from scratch anyway, so you might have an easier time with this.)
What made your first book unique? What did your character do? Why did your character drive the book forward? How? When you find that reason, enhance it. What would be different in the second book? If the character met a love interest in book one, maybe book two introduces a secret with that person, a problem, or a separation. Maybe the past returns for a surprise. Perhaps the main character must come forward with something they had previously refused to acknowledge.
Is your character a different species, and that’s what makes them unique? In book two, introduce something new. They’re a new species; are there other species this character has yet to discover? Secret powers they have yet to discover? Hunters? Prey? Skills?
Introduce a new problem that either halts their growth, turns it around, or enforces a new growth, which means to introduce new, unique obstacles to overcome.
If you built a world, you obviously know what makes your book special. DUH. The world. If it’s set in a non-fictional era, your audience will likely be seeking your book for its history, so this won’t apply to you because you’ll want to retain the credibility of the world you’ve written out as relative truth.
Your world is awesome, and your readers will know that in book one. In book two, however, your world can’t just be awesome. It has to be incredible. Unlock new things in your world that we didn’t get to see or learn about in book one. Yes, this may mean you have to save pieces of book one for debut in book two. You can’t spill your guts about the world and expect your reader to be equally excited when that’s all there is to know. We live in a world where “new” is necessary and “more” is great. Don’t expect your world to constantly impress, because eventually, even the most impressive things lose intrigue.
We’re coming full circle. We started with the plot, and we’ll end with it. You still have your main plot. Hopefully, you’re able to consider new things to attach to it that will allow this plot to move slower without slowing your story or move it quicker if necessary.
Any new subplots must return to the main plot. Don’t get distracted. You could accidentally create a main plot from a subplot, and you can’t do that without first finishing the main plot. To create a subplot of a main plot is to tell the reader that book one was a giant prologue.
Return to your plot and finish it. If your sequel is your last, make sure all questions are answered.
End With A Bang?
The ending isn’t why a reader reads. It’s the adventure. A reader reads for the same reason we live. We don’t live to die. We live to experience life for what it is and what it can be. So how you end it is up to you.
The most important thing you need to remember, instead, is that you need to filter things in your first book. Save the best for last. Don’t force everything on your reader in book one if there’s another coming. Save some goodies if you can. Introduce new things if you can’t. Create new problems and ways to solve it. Consider more growth. More friends. More enemies.
And enjoy surprising yourself.