How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

How to Write a Sequel That’s BETTER Than the First Book

We live in a world of sequels. In large part, the sequel is a rather modern invention. Jane Austen wrote no sequels to her beloved Pride & Prejudice (we had to wait until 1949’s Pemberley Shades for that). Dickens wrote no sequels, although his chronic serialization was, in its way, a precursor. And it took To Kill a Mockingbird fifty-five years to get its sequel.

Nowadays, however, we have sequels coming out of our ears. Better than that, we have prequels, interquels, midquels, sidequels, parallel stories, spiritual successors, companion pieces, reboots, and remakes. We love sequels. We love series. As readers, we love the opportunity to revisit familiar worlds and characters. We love getting to re-experience the same thrill an original great story gave us. As writers, we love all those same things–plus the commercial marketing opportunities that series undeniably offer.

Dreamlander NIEA FinalistThe world of the sequel is something I’m only just recently exploring for myself. Unlike about 90% of the writing populace out there, I’ve yet to write a sequel. But that’s about to change. I’m embarking on the new adventure of writing a totally unforeseen sequel to my portal fantasy Dreamlander

It’s fantasy, right? So why wasn’t I thinking of a series right from the minute I typed “The End” on the first one? I’ve always wanted to do a sequel for it. I’ve played around with sidequel and prequel ideas, since I was stumped for a good old-fashioned sequel after tying off the loose ends on the first one (how can you top stakes that threaten to utterly destroy two worlds? how can you send your hero back to a place he left only to prevent worlds-ending catastrophes?).

I’ve been waiting all this time for the idea that would allow me to move forward. Now that it’s here, I’m going to share some of the questions I’ve been asking myself to help ensure I write a sequel that’s not only as good as the first book, but–I hope–better.

Can You Outdo Yourself? (And What That Really Means)

The very first question you have to ask yourself when considering a sequel is, “Does this book have the potential to better than the first one?” In short, can you outdo yourself?

Sequels are notoriously weaker than their predecessors, to the point that exceptions to the rule (such as Pixar’s Toy Story 2) get extra press not just because they’re good stories, but because they break the mold. If you can’t outdo the first book, then why even bother writing a second?

How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

However, it’s extremely important to realize that outdoing yourself is all about coming up with a better idea, not a bigger and better version of the same thing you offered in the first book. You want to evolve your original idea, enhance it, explore it–rather offering more of the same, just because “well, readers liked it the first time.”

In Your Idea Machine, screenwriter William C. Martell expounds:

On an idea level, compare Speed to Speed 2…. The first film was made on a medium budget (a bus driving on the freeway, hitting an occasional car or barricade barrel of water)…. Speed 2 was an expensive flop…. Or compare The Matrix to either of the sequels… or Bruce Almighty to Evan Almighty. The first films have great ideas that work on their own without big special effects or casts of thousands or giant sets. The sequels all try to outdo the first, not by coming up with a great new idea, but by throwing money at a second-rate idea. Instead of being clever, they added more explosions and bigger explosions.

How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

Good sequels take the characters and ideas of the first story, and instead of retreading the same ground, they evolve these elements into something completely original. Consider Marvel’s Captain America movies or Brandon Sanderson’s ongoing Stormlight Archives series. The sequels are vastly different from the original stories. Why? Because they’re not simply switching out the villain and repackaging the same conflict. They’re building upon the foundation of the first and reaching for something new.

Do You Have Enough Story for a Sequel?

This is why it’s so important to evaluate whether or not you actually enough story to write a sequel. It’s not enough to really, really want to keep writing about these characters. You have to create an explosive plot in which they can move forward. This is why it took me forever to be able to do a sequel for Dreamlander: until recently, I had no story!

Why Are You Writing a Sequel?

Before deciding how to write a sequel, consider the following motivations.

Bad Reasons to Write a Sequel

  • Money: Yes, series are a much better marketing opportunity than standalones. No, this is not, in itself, a good reason to write a sequel. Don’t believe it? Please repeat after me: Phantom Menace, Phantom Menace, Phantom Menace.
  • Pressure: But everyone’s writing sequels! I need to write sequels too! Did Cormac McCarthy write a sequel to The Road? Did William Golding write a sequel to Lord of the Flies? Did Emily Brontë write a sequel to Wuthering Heights?

How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

  • Path of Least Resistance: New stories are hard. We have to reinvent ourselves with the changing process for each new book. Sometimes it’s just easier to keep writing the same ol’ thing. Note: I said easier, not better.
  • Too Much Character Love: It’s also hard to say goodbye to beloved characters. But just because it’s hard doesn’t necessarily mean the journey really isn’t over.

Good Reasons to Want to Write a Sequel

  • Passion for Characters and Story: Although love of your original story isn’t in itself a good reason to write a sequel, it’s still a tremendously important factor. If you aren’t still crazy about these people and their world, then you definitely have no business writing further about them.
  • Reader Interest: In itself, this is also not a reason to run off and write a series. But if your readers are entreating you for a sequel, that’s not only a sign that the commercial opportunity is there, it’s also probably a very good indication there’s enough meat left in this story to create some juicy ideas.
  • New and Interesting Ideas: And that brings us to the single best reason for writing a sequel. You have a shut-the-front-door awesome idea for a new story. If you’ve that, you’re golden!

What Should Your Sequel Be About?

How do you find a great idea for a sequel? If you’re dutifully trying to avoid rehashing the same scenarios in your new story, then what should you be writing about? Your first and best opportunity for making this book completely new and interesting is to focus the sequel on dealing with the consequences of the previous book.

Few stories tie off their loose ends perfectly. Even victories create consequences. Your character’s world at the beginning of the sequel will be completely different from how it was at the beginning of the first book. And, if it’s not, you have to ask yourself if that first book really ended the way it should have. (The possible exception, of course, being “episodic” sequels that purposefully maintain the characters in a basically static environment, with only the particulars of their new adventures being different. Mystery series are often set up like this).

What questions did your first book raise? If your protagonist fell in love, where is he in his new relationship? If he endured horrible events, is he suffering from PTSD, guilt, or physical ramifications? If he laid waste to New York City, à la Superman, then how is the Big Apple reacting to this mayhem?

How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

The best sequels are built upon initial books that progress their own plots and finish their own arcs in ways that allow the new ones to ask new questions while still maintaining the best aspects of the originals.

The second Captain America movie is completely different from the first one, largely because it shifts the timeline to sixty years later. The protagonist remains the same, but the situations he faces are completely different.

Sanderson’s sequel Words of Radiance maintains the same overarching conflict as its predecessor Way of Kings, but the protagonists have evolved to the point where their inner problems are different and more complex than previously.

How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

Where Will the Character’s Arc Go?

Even if you have the perfect plot idea, you still have to consider the inner path your protagonist will follow. Ask yourself:

  • Where will your killer new idea take your character?
  • What was his character arc in the first book?
  • Did he complete a change arc? If so, will this new book allow him to hold onto the Truth he learned in the first book and now follow a flat arc (such as we see in Thor: The Dark World)? Or will he be faced with a new Lie to overcome?

Thor Dark World Chris Hemsworth

  • If your character followed a flat arc in the original, will he maintain that throughout–as is often the case in “episodic” series?

The Inherent Dangers of a Sequel

In writing a sequel, you have the opportunity to create something that will delight readers. You’ve already convinced them to invest in your story world and your characters. Providing them a sequel becomes not just “another book” for them to read, but a personal gift from you to them.

But, inherent in your readers’ dedication and excitement lies the huge potential pitfall of disappointing them. Their very expectation means you have to offer them something above par.

You also have to be aware that, unlike with your first book, yours is no longer the only imagination at work here. The more readers like your first book, the more they’re going to spend time imagining your characters’ further adventures for themselves. It’s very possible that whatever they imagine might just be better than whatever you imagine (scary thought!)–or at the least, that they might prefer their imaginings to yours. (How many times have you watched a movie trailer, imagined an awesome story for yourself–and then been disappointed by the actual offering in comparison?)

To some extent, this is just one of those subjective aspects of storytelling that is completely unavoidable. You certainly didn’t please everyone with your first book, and you’re certainly not going to please everyone with the sequel. But it’s important to be aware of the trust your readers are putting in you and the high expectations they’re bringing to the table. Don’t let that scare you, but also don’t take their enthusiasm for granted.

Writing sequels is an exciting business. I’m absolutely giddy with all the juicy possibilities for Dreamlander that are flooding my imagination now that the gates have been opened. If you believe you have a potentially awesome sequel idea, unleash it! Pour yourself into creating a sequel that’s even better than the first book. Not only will your readers go wild, you’ll also end up improving your craft in ways you never imagined.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you written a sequel? What are your best tips for how to write a sequel that’s better than the first book? If you haven’t written one yet, would you like to? Tell me in the comments!

How to Write a Sequel That's BETTER Than the First Book

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. My second book isn’t a true sequel, i.e., the protagonist is different, and only one of the characters from the first story plays an active or dramatic role in the second story. She starts out as a friend and ends up being a villain, of sorts (not the typical villain; just someone with opposing interests.)

    I’ve written a few chapters and am currently plotting.

    I’m having to guard against writing the same story twice. As I’m plotting, I’m rejecting tons of ideas, usually because the incident or setting is too much like an incident or setting in the first novel.

    One thing that’s really important to me: the actual writing is better. Even my editor says so, although I can “feel” the improvement. That really excites me.

    The themes are definitely different, however.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We have to guard against that tendency to recycle ideas, characters, and plot lines even in standalone books. But it definitely becomes even more crucial in a series, or with related books, since readers are much more likely to notice the similarities.

  2. This is a great post. The advice about good and bad reasons for a sequel was particularly useful. My current WIP was imagined as a stand-alone, but now I’m reaching the closing stages of the first draft, I’m starting to see new plots, developments and character arcs. Your initial point regarding characters (especially the protagonist) dealing with the consequences was also illuminating.
    I was driving home yesterday and saw an unusually large murder (flock) of crows perching and alighting in a tree. It gave me the trigger for a new dark fantasy plot. Then I realised that this idea could be merged with my ideas for a sequel. It’s always interesting to see how the creative process unfolds over time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      For me, the best and most powerful ideas are always those that are the result of *merging* ideas. Only once I get two or three layers of good ideas will have something that’s really worth exploring. The world of a sequel already gives us at least one layer to start working with.

  3. This is great food for thought. I am always imagining ideas for sequels, prequels and alternative endings. With my last book, I even approached Jodi Picoult and Nancy Garden and would have approached Lionel Shriver if she had an email address, with the idea of a sequel joint writing venture where the mothers of our school shooters go on a talk show together. Naturally, Jodi and Nancy declined although Jodi did state that those moms need a support group.
    I have ideas for an alternative ending with it where the protagonist doesn’t turn the gun on himself after the school shooting but is captured alive. There would be court proceedings buy I would have my protagonist demand he be executed, (he’s only thirteen.)
    Thinking of sequels, my thoughts go to Ghostbusters II where the ghostbuster team is shunned by the mayor of NYC after they saved the city and they are reduced to being children’s entertainers. I thought that was a good beginning to the sequel.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      We’re so indoctrinated (for lack of an immediate better word) with happy endings, that we automatically tend to assume that everything works out for a story’s heroes after the credits roll. So it can be something of a shock to see the characters dealing with real-world consequences in the aftermath of the first story. The trick is to make sure the consequences are not over the top, while still allowing them to be larger than life in a way that can carry the second book.

  4. K.M. You know about my Schellendorf historical series. I actually wrote the third novel first (The English General). THEN I had to find out what happened to the protagonist after WW II ended, so I followed him to Nuremberg. But THEN I had to find out how an Englishman ever became an officer in the German army in the first place, so wrote the first of the series. Then I had to fill in a gap between WWI and WWII to show why he had stayed in the German army and why he accepted Hitler – why all of Germany accepted Hitler – as head of state.
    The bottom line for sequels in my case was a fascination of the main character as he developed on the page.
    As the character matures, he changes greatly over time.
    I think the series is fairly seamless.
    I wish I could dream up another main character as interesting as General Erich Bronsart von Schellendorf.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Extremely seamless. I would never have known they’d been written out of order if you hadn’t told me.

  5. This is a timely post, seeing as I’m nearly 20% through writing my first sequel, ever.

    Interestingly, rehashing old plot points/character arcs/etc never becomes much of a problem for me. My biggest weakness is that I can’t describe the story to others in a way that makes it sound interesting. I love the story, and I know that it’s full of awesome stuff, but I end up sputtering when I try to describe it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think that’s a pretty common problem, whether the writer is working on a sequel or not. I actually memorize a short, one-sentence summary of my WIP, so I always have something coherent to say when someone asks what I’m working on.

  6. I write series fiction, so it’s a given that I write sequels (though I’m thinking there’s something a little bit different between true sequels and series books developed AS A SERIES.) But I have a stand-alone book that doesn’t have all its loose ends tied off right now (getting ready to start editing next month sometime) and I’m developing a sequel in my head right now. It’s not necessarily going to turn into a series, but maybe a trilogy or a short series of 4 or 5 books? That’s not outside the realm of possibility.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As I’m staring down the gun barrel of a series spawned from a book that was intended to be a standalone, I can attest that there are major advantages to actually planning far enough ahead to realize you *are* starting a series. Makes moving in the story on that much easier!

      • 😀 I’d definitely agree with that. Because you can start thinking about the arc you want to create and how and where to plant things, which when you’re spanning a series, becomes more important since you have to time things just right.

      • I totally agree with you. I also wrote a book that was supposed to be a standalone book however it turned into a book series. The sequel was easier to write especially when I was focusing on returning characters from the original book. What made things difficult was flushing out new characters. My sequel was more like a second half to book one. It wasn’t until I was half way in the sequel when I realized that this novel is going to be a six book series.

  7. I think in series, and that’s what I write, but there are some crucial differences between series and sequels. Sequel implies the same characters, while a series generally follows a different character/set of characters within the same world (in romance, anyway, which is what I write).

    That said, I’ve written two sequels that are also part of a series. My debut novel, My Name Is A’yen, ended in a way that A’yen’s story wasn’t over. The revelations at the end meant there HAD to be a sequel, in addition to it being the next book in the series. There was no other way to tell the next arc of the story in anyone else’s POV.

    The third book, To Save A Life, was in the blurry place between sequel and series. I had two male romantic leads and two female romantic leads. Again, where #2 left off demanded I stay in A’yen’s head as the MC for another book. It was a challenge, but one I think I rose to.

    I knew when I wrote the first book it would be a series. But I didn’t know the first three would end up being a continuancy where it’s almost impossible to enjoy them individually.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There are two different types of series: those that are integrally related and basically continue the same characters and plotline from story to story, and then there are those that, like you’re describing, are essentially standalone stories within the same “world.”

  8. I currently have two completely different story ideas for books in the same series as the one I’m currently writing. I think it helps me to avoid the pitfall of sequels because the only thing that makes my stories part of the same series is that they take place of the same planet. Each story is completely different and the characters are each as unique as they would be if they were not in a series. The second book has a secondary character as one of it’s mains and several of the main characters from the first are briefly in the second, but the third is all completely new characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s fun. You get all the perks of a standalone novel while still maintain a lot of the benefits of a sequel.

  9. K.M. Thank you for your insights and information about writing. I follow you very closely on Twitter and try to glean as much as possible from your tweets. I started writing late in life and was very fortunate to be picked up by a publisher. I am not a trained writer. I am a storyteller. That is why I follow so many writers on Twitter. I am trying to learn as much as I can. You use the word protagonist a lot in your tweets. I did not know what a protagonist was until I looked it up in the dictionary. I thought you were using bad language for a while. I am growing.
    This article was very informative, and helps me with my story that I am working on. I have the first book published. However, I do not think it would be classified as a sequel. My imagination knows no bounds and my story of Archomai, will take three books to contain it if I can keep my imagination under control. Being new at this, I do not know when enough is enough, or I should just let it go and try to keep up. I have tried to follow an outline, which will get me started, but then I may as well throw it out the window for all the good it does. I have trouble keeping within the boundaries of the outline. New characters and situations will pop up and the characters themselves will dictate what is going to happen. It is a feeling of helplessness and exhilaration all at the same time. Just one word at a time until we reach the end.
    Thank you again for what you are doing.
    T. A. Cline

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Helplessness and exhilaration”–I think that sums up the writing experience about as well as any explanation I’ve ever heard.

  10. Now you fot me all excited and willing to write a sequel, particularly because you reminded me the best movie ever is coming soon: Batman vs Sueprman! And it will only be bested by Wonder Woman and Justice League, yay!

    I agree that you need to move on from the place you left your characters and have new thigs, that is the hard and scary part! :/ As I said, I prefer stand-alone books and I hardly finish series, but when it IS good, it´s the best! Exactly what the Leyend of the Guardian King made me feel (a series written by Karen Hancock). You don´t keep reading because there is a cliffhanger (like with the Hunger Games), since the first two books actually have an end, but because every book is better and offers something different, something that goes deeper in the lead character´s arc.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is a super-good point: the best series have us reading on, not because they’ve tricked us with cliffhangers and not even because they’ve done anything to pique our curiosity, so much as they’ve simply made us love the experience to the point that we want to keep *on* experiencing it.

  11. I totally agree! That´s why I love those books, but it´s very difficult to find other series with the same quality :/ Have any in mind?

  12. Great article, as always!

    How about books that are written as a whole narrative to begin with, Ala Patrick R. “Name of the Wind”?

  13. K. M. Fist off thanks for the great articles and ongoing comments. How my sequels developed: In my work life I wrote technical and training material, for fun my thing was mainly poetry. So when I started writing my novel the technical part and prose left too much unwritten and in critique groups I was asked to write more about this and that. Before I knew it, a 300-page novel developed into 900+pages so I decided to do sequels. I think the story, a paranormal Sci-Fi, and characters are perfect for sequels since it starts, in prehistoric times to the present and then travels to the future. I finished my first book and am working on the second as I send queries to publishers and authors. Each book can be independent of the others, and my question is: when I query, do mention that there are sequels? hoyecomova.com

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      When you’re querying, your first and foremost job is to pitch and sell the *first* book. If you can’t get agents sold on that, the rest of the series won’t matter. But definitely mention that you intend it as part of a series and that the latter books have been written (if they have been). Agents will want to know your intent for the future, and if the books *are* finished they’ll take that a good sign, since it means you’re able to finish books. If they buy the first book, then that’s time enough to share more about the sequels.

  14. Here’s one that took me by surprise. Thought I was writing one book. When it shoved over 800 pages and the sound of me screaming at my crit partners reached crescendo, I realized, nope. This is book I & II.

    Good news, bad news. The good, OMG, did I know where to bury the bodies. The bad, OMG, the so called break into Act III, hahahaha! Am on the third version of knotting down a real Act III/worthy climax on book One. Talk about retrofitting.

    Still, everything’s better with the road to Book III cleared.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      My WIP is turning out to be about twice as long as I wanted it to be, so I’ve had more than a few passing thoughts about dividing it into books. But structurally, that’s always a tricky proposition, as you’re discovering. Chopping up a story into multiple books involves way more than just word count considerations.

  15. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    Mystery series frequently use a more “episodic” approach, rather than a through plot line.

  16. I found this post very comforting. My current WIP was meant to be a standalone novel, but after I figured out a rough plot I realized it’s going to have some major consequences. For a little while I thought I could just wrap it up in an epilogue, but I think anyone who actually reads and likes the book might want to shoot me if I tried that.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The good news is readers love sequels! So you’re on a good path both commercially and socially. 😀

  17. Fantastic article, K.M.!

    One of the great, underappreciated methods for combating creative stagnation in ongoing series is to switch narrative models, a strategy employed by the Hunger Games, Rambo, and Bourne franchises, to name a few. On The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of the Dark Knight Trilogy, director Christopher Nolan discusses how he applied this approach to Batman:

    Batman Begins is very much a hero’s journey — it’s an origin story, it’s an origin myth — and so it has a sense of romanticism or theatricality that embraces that story model.

    “With The Dark Knight, in order to change the scale of the film, we went to a city story — we went to a crime epic. That allows you to look at all these different aspects of Gotham society. It suggests shooting on location, on real streets more. There’s a city-based socioeconomic idea behind the film that demands a different visual approach.

    “And then moving then into The Dark Knight Rises, we move into the arena of the disaster movie, or the historical epic: a film that embraces all of Gotham, all the humanity there — lots of different people encountering tumultuous events.

    “So, we chose to increase the scale not by sort of just blowing up the balloon, if you like, which sequels get into trouble doing, but by shifting genres.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks for sharing that! That’s a really good perspective, and honestly it puts the Nolan sequels in a new light for me. It made me “consciously” get some things about them that I’d previously only noticed on a subconscious level.

  18. Congratulations on your energy with the sequel.

    I’m working on a manuscript since 2011. Tonight I was brainstorming how to write a sequel to the story. So it’s funny to me to read your post this evening.

    At the end of the stand alone book I’m working on, the subplot over takes the MC’s goal. The subplot takes the MC by surprise but not the reader. This twist happens after the MC has obtained his goal.

    I’m hoping that the reader will want to know how the MC deals with this new situation.

    I want to know how he deals with it and so feel compelled to write that story. I have no idea what MC’s goal would be or even it book 2 would be better told from another characters POV. In any case I’m writing it to entertain my own twisted brain.

    A week ago I quit listening to the audiobook version George R.R. MArtin’s A CLASH OF KINGS. At the end of A GAME OF THRONES, I had to know what happened next because of the dragons. Cliffhanger Candy. Why did I quit book two? Because I was sick of the method Martin uses to keep the reader hooked and the rhythm of the prose. There are other reasons not pertinent to your post. I may get some rap for this but it’s my opinion. But mostly I was bored and even felt hostage to the bit of action and intrigue punctuated by rape, gory bloody head cuttings. Brutality. Cliffhanger

    Geese, it’s so brutal.

    Dialog, olive (food), gossip, brutality, cliffhangar = best selling series

    I won’t read anymore of Martin’s books.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ve yet to read Martin, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not going to like him either. Bloated series that go on and on forever are exactly the reason I’ve shied away from sequels for so long. I hope he proves me wrong.

      • Martin famously took inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire from The Lord of the Rings, but what he fails to understand (about his own work, no less) is the fundamental way in which those series differ: The latter is a closed-ended hero’s journey in the Joseph Campbell mode, whereas the former is an open-ended exercise in “postnarrative” storytelling — it adheres to an altogether different organizational model. And the thing about postnarrativity, which includes Lost, The Walking Dead, Orphan Black, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (among many others) is that “like a fantasy role-playing game, [it] is not about creating satisfying resolutions, but rather about keeping the adventure alive and as many threads going as possible. There is plot — there are many plots — but there is no overarching story, no end. There are so many plots, in fact, that an ending tying everything up seems inconceivable, even beside the point.” This isn’t an aberration, simply a new narrative paradigm, different in both form and function from the Aristotelian story arc, with correspondingly different expectations on the part of the reader. But, if a writer doesn’t condition his audience for the proper experience, you get the kind of backlash that befell both Damon Lindelof (Lost) and now Martin. So, in many ways, the whole point of Game of Thrones is that it’s bloated and goes on and on, hence the reason Martin can’t stop writing it no matter how often he promises to…

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          This is extremely insightful. Excellent, excellent points.

        • This is a revelation to me. I heretofore thought sprawling was the result of poor planning, “imagination deficits,” or “rear-end pulls.”

          We need to make post-narrativity a genre, stat. I do not want the sprawling tale where the threads get away from the author, the characters are static and story has no arc, and the plot is stuffed with filler just to keep the story going.

        • A role playing game is such a terribly bad example. RPG’s are close-ended stories. In fact, if there is an open-ended RPG, it would surely be universaly hated. Haven’t you tried palying an RPG? If you had you should know that they do end. You beat the bad guy, save the world from catastrophy, or save the princess.

          The TV and comics though has lots and lots of these so called open-ended stories, though for me its more of executive meddling. You know, the show was popular so they had to milk it and make the story longer and longer and longer still.

          One I know of is the Manga and Anime show Inuyasha. It was intended to end quicker but then it become so popular. The people might be seeing $$$$ opportunity and make it far, far too long. So long in fact that when they decided to end it people just don’t care anymore.

          In the end, these open-ended stories, to me, are not really open ended as you think. They just open as long as the authors keep it open. Soon though, they had to close it.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            This is actually one of the main reasons I generally find TV storytelling to be massively subpar to movies and books. The gross commercialism almost inevitably compromises the stories. As much as I love what Marvel is doing right now with its movies, I have a lot of fear that that same problem is going to spell the death of quality in the series.

  19. Thank you for this article. I’m in the process of mapping out a prequel for my trilogy-turned-novel (17 years in the making). I always enjoy hopping over to your site to glean whatever you’ve posted!

  20. My first novel was meant to be a stand-alone story. Not all the ends were wrapped up completely, but the main plot was because the protagonists attained their goals. However, readers have been asking me about the perceived lose ends, and it’s got me thinking about a sequel based on other characters dealing with the consequences – both good and bad – of the first book. I’ll be building on the first book, not doing a rehash of its plot and themes.

    I’m also starting a seven-book historical/fantasy series, and it’s a completely different process than writing my first book. I’m trying to weave in foreshadowing for the whole series as well as anticipate what the characters will need to do in book 1 to have the series conclude in book 7. It requires a lot more planning than writing a sequel to a book that was initially a stand-alone story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Seven books – that’s ambitious! In a totally good way. I’ve got some trilogies in my future, but that’s as far as my ambition takes me at the moment.

  21. Thank you for this encouragement! You’ve given me great ideas! I actually have a second book and I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it a sequel. Still more pondering to do, but you have helped to project me on a definite path!

  22. I hate to say this, but I think you may be mistaken.

    There were no Matrix sequels.

  23. You had me at Captain America. 😉 Great article. Thank you. I’m in the editing stage of book two and it’s a story that’s carried over from some consequences of book one. It had to be written, and it’s still going strong, although, I don’t like where some of the characters are heading for a third book. I’m a little worried in fact. Does anyone else ever listen to the ramblings of their writing minds and wonder if they’ve gone off the deep end of sanity? You know, ’cause we talk about ’em like they’re real . . . Haha Rachael’s talent, you ask? A good midnight ramble. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Writing scared is a good thing. But so is listening to our gut instincts. If you’re worried because you’re scared of the risk you’re taking, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But if you’re worried because you literally don’t like the direction the plot is going, that’s definitely something to pay attention to.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful advice. That’s a great distinction to make and one I’ve had to think about. I think it’s more a fear of the risks I’m taking than the plot itself. I have subplots carrying throughout the series which will eventually culminate into a final (as far as possible) book plot. Mostly I’m afraid I don’t have the gumption to write the hard characters. We’ll see. I’m not one to give up easily. 😉

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          You can do it! Really, gumption isn’t as hard as we sometimes think. All we have to do to conquer the fear is sit down and start typing. It’s the head games we play with ourselves that are the hardest part.

          • Thanks, K. You’re ever an encouragement and a help. I appreciate you and your willingness to share your knowledge and go-getter spirit.

  24. I’m writing a sequel to my first book right now, actually. So I was really excited when I saw what you had up! 😉 And your example of Captain America made me excited, too. Big fan here. 😛
    There is no doubt in my mind that the sequel is going to be better than the first one. Partly because I went through OYAN and wrote 2 other books before deciding to do a sequel. I actually started on a sequel right after finishing the first book, but dropped it. And now I’m trying again with a different plot because the concept wouldn’t leave me alone.
    But now, looking back at the first book makes me wince. . .

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The good thing about looking back on previous work and wincing is that it’s a sure sign you’re improving as a writer. Rue the day when we *don’t* have qualms about our previous work!

  25. I don’t know how helpful this will be. So far, I’ve only written books with a sequel in mind, although for one of them it only feels like a novella

    OTOH, I don’t write long series. Two two-book series and one trilogy.

    I suppose the main thing is to finish the arc but leave at least the seeds of unfinished business to return to.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Finish the arc but leave at least the seeds of unfinished business to return to”–exactly. Just like balancing inevitability with surprise in any book’s ending, it’s about finding that sweet spot that both satisfies and seduces readers.

  26. Awww now you’ve gone and done it! Making me itch to get to get back to my sequel while I’m in the process of revising book one! 🙂 No better inspiration to keep that nose to the grindstone though!

    Absolutely great points.

    Wish you the best of luck on your own sequel! 🙂

  27. As the author of three trilogies I hope and believe each was better than the last. Writing the sequels was not unduly difficult as they were natural progressions, but as all have now finished I mourn their passing if only for the fun they gave me. Each finished with a cliffhanger, placed there purely to indicate that for all my characters, their lives and adventures will go on. Perhaps that’s a bad idea. Only my readers can tell me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, one of the great things about sequels is that they give us the opportunity to live with beloved characters a little longer.

  28. Hi! I’m having trouble – not with my sequel, but with my first book (the sequel is currently unwritten). I have something similar to where the sequel is more the Second Act. In book one, my protagonist is discovering the new world, the problem that’s facing her, and meeting the characters. She encounters minor villains working under the main antagonist, but the book ends when she’s about to embark on a journey to go undercover in the main antagonist’s castle on a rescue mission. My problem is that though the first book is undoubtedly important and is required for the second book, it has no core conflict.

    I realize I’ve gotten a little off topic, but I was just wondering if you have any advice on how to make my first book have a stronger conflict?

    I appreciate it if you can help! Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds like you’re already familiar with story structure, but if not, then I’d definitely start there. You might find my book Structuring Your Novel useful.

      It also might be worth considering that perhaps the first book–if there’s really not much happening in it–would be better of condensed into the introductory period of the second book. The first book in a series must be brilliant. We can’t pull any punches. Because otherwise what will convince readers to read on?

      Identify your protagonist’s main goal. What’s stymying that goal? That’s where you get your conflict. You might also find my series on character arcs helpful: How to Write Character Arcs

  29. thomas h cullen says:

    The Representative won’t ever have a sequel – besides integrity, I just don’t see how you can top trying to give freedom to a whole planet.

    In actual fact, the sequel as a topic has been on my mind a lot lately.. Scream, my no. 1 favourite movie of all time (best thoughts to the late Wes Craven – one of cinema’s all time greatest), like The Terminator, or, like Toy Story is a better movie without its sequel – yet Scream 2 is still another masterpiece.

    The position I take, is that unless the sequel has been planned with the original then that work of art (book or film) simply isn’t canon – no exceptions.

    Aliens. Terminator 2. Rocky II. Asimov’s Foundation’s Edge (I believe that Asimov planned his original trilogy as one expression, though I can’t be sure). Any hypothetical sequel, to the masterpiece novel The Help. Before Sunset (and “definitely” Before Midnight). The three Indiana Jones sequels. The upcoming Blade Runner sequel. The Jurassic Park sequels.. All non-canon!

    In the case of Scream 2, I actually do think it’s a case of the sequel being better – though Scream means more to me.

  30. In the case of sequels, I have heard many a person state that Wayne’s World 2 was better than the first. I personally think they were on an even scale.

  31. A very thought provoking article…I’m still developing and slowly writing my first WIP, however right from the beginning I knew it would be a series of stand-alone books that will be loosely connected to each other. A series? Yes. Sequels? Maybe… there IS a chronological order to how the stories unfold. Actually this independent interconnectedness between the stories is what first captured my imagination. I personally love reading stories that hint at other stories and my literary passion is for the myths, folk-tales and fairy tales that have been retold from generation to generation around the world. I know the re-told fairy tale is a bloated genre, yet I personally never get tired reading new re-tellings or discovering old ones. And so my W(s)IP loosely connect the stories of “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Frog Prince”, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, “Swan Lake”, Selkies, Werwolves and Dragons all into one world. I’ve developed the history and mythology of this world and some of the various cultures, political alliances and family trees that exist. (And yes, my take on these stories is unique (I hope)… at least I’ve been looking for stories like theses for a while, and haven’t found them, so am writing them myself… if that makes sense?) The beauty of all this is like someone said above, I can foreshadow now and hint at themes and character arcs that won’t be fully realized until later. The primary struggle I’m having at the moment is getting to know my characters (Beauty in particular) and making sure that she is well developed with multiple dimensions, neither wimpy nor an Amazon. As much as I love the history and peoples of this world, I want each story to be primarily character driven, and getting to know my characters even a little is taking longer than getting to know a real person! Ah well, onwards and upwards!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds delightful! I’ve always liked interconnected stories myself, although I’ve yet to be brave enough to tackle something like that myself.

  32. K. M., thank you again for your insights.

  33. I wrote one to my first book simply because ‘I’ wanted to know what happened afterward. Because I write for me, I do what I want.

  34. Sherri Clark says:

    When I write the story leads me. When I concluded my second book it didn’t feel finished. I felt there is more to the story. I jotted down the ideas for the sequel. They lead me to ask questions about where the characters came from? How that “baggage” influences the future of the characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Backstory is such a font of inspiration. If it is Hemingway’s “nine-tenths of the iceberg under the water,” then it’s got to offer at least 90% more options for inspiration, right?

  35. This is a wonderful article. I appreciate the helpful guidelines. I’ll be printing it to keep for future reference. Thank you!

  36. I am a first time author yet to be published but I have been working on my book for almost a year now set ching out my story line. I intended on it being a stand alone but as I’m thinking about the adventure I keep getting more ideas of new adventures for my character to go on that will finally lead her to the final battle. At this point I wouldn’t be suprised if I end up writing a 10 book series as well as spin offs for other characters. I love the ideas given about how to make each sequel better than the last so thank you for your advise.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As long as you have the potential to make each story better than the last, there’s absolutely no good reason *not* to write a long series!

  37. What a beautiful analysis! It sums up so many of my thoughts on sequels. Good luck on the Dreamlander sequel, I would love to read it once you release it!

  38. I’m currently working on book one of a four-book fantasy series. This post made me think about those next three books, and then it got me so excited about each one of them! What you said about readers’ imagining my characters’ futures made me think about things from a new angle. I hope my books two through four can answer “what if”s and provide new ideas that don’t just follow but also build upon the ideas and beloved characters of book one. Now I’m more excited than ever to keep writing! Thank you for this excellent advice!

  39. Great article! Im doing outlines for my sequel now- It took me time but the sequels need to be better than good enough but better than the original.

  40. I’m an author, and I have found this article helpful. I woke up during the night, a few days back, and it was because I had a story idea, which happened to be an idea to a sequel of one of my books. It is probably my best book published, and I am excited to start writing my sequel.

    Last year, I managed to write one book, with its sequel, and get them both published (These two are my weakest books. Not proud of that) and I actually wrote the sequel BEFORE the first book. I just started writing this book, thinking it’ll just be a standalone book, but then I thought “What if the readers want to know what happened to the character to get her to this stage?” or “I need to think of a backstory of this story.” So I put a hold on it, before coming up with this idea of the first book, and continuing the other book, but as a sequel, which I worked on, once my first book had been published.

  41. Sailor Penniman says:

    I’m a year late to this thread, but it’s so germane to my life right now. Great article, full of great advice.

    Under a different name, I self-published a novel that didn’t sell hugely, but that received gushing reviews on Amazon. Considering it never took off, I don’t feel braggy saying that because, in the end, not many people bought/read it. On a macro level, I don’t have much to brag about.

    But I mention the above because, for those who did read it, pretty much across the board (again, small group, but true reviewers, including a good review from Kirkus) they identified with my characters, admitted in many cases to crying tears, warned people to get their tissues ready, clamored a bit for a movie version, and recommended it for book clubs. Two professors added the book to their curricula. Review titles were things like, “WOW!!!” So, it didn’t get wide attention, but for that small group that read it and enjoyed it, I’m feeling the pressure to be as “moving” the second time around. Clearly, I’m struggling because instead of writing, I’m looking for articles on this topic.

    I’ve written about 85% of the sequel, and my biggest challenge is that I’m doing (with far less talent) what Leon Uris did with TRINITY and REDEMPTION and telling the story of the next generation. My sequel picks up 30 years later, and rather than retreading the original characters, I’m going with their children. I’m working hard to recognize that readers of the first book only met these children at the end of that book, so I have to work to build the emotional attachment, but that’s the case with any novel. In fact, in some ways, that has helped because I had to look for a very different story to get readers to care about these new characters, but I also feel like it’s a Disappointment Trap for people who just want the old characters back. There are many references to them, and a few of them have cameos, but this is basically a new group of people. Those cameos can actually frustrate readers. (“I just want Beloved Character back.”)

    The second downside is that, by definition, the next generation would have very different experiences from their parents, so anything similar that’s even just coincidental stands out as a retread. I’m having to build a completely different world while connecting the concepts from the first book. It’s made me feel a little like the story is flat (because I feel like I’m just pulling stuff out to be different–plot is crushing story right now; argh).

    Finally, as all of us do, I’ve evolved. Life is different, and I have a desire, as a creative person, to add some elements that just weren’t in the first book. I think some readers are going to throw it against the wall.

    Once the first draft is done and I begin edits, I will know for sure whether to publish it or shelve it. I was an editor in a former working life, and a script supervisor (continuity person) on indie films. I have a pretty wicked eye for holes, infodumps, poor transitions, lack of motive, expediency, gimmicks, etc. I’m ruthless with the delete button. Because I’ve edited for a living, I DO NOT CARE about “murdering darlings”. As I review it with my editor’s eye, if it doesn’t make the grade, I won’t publish it. A third option is to write my third novel, publish that first, and swing back to the sequel, a la Uris, who published several works between TRINITY and REDEMPTION.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  42. Hello I’m writing my first ebook series and this website has helped me out tremendously, but I’m wondering…I’ve outlined the first ebook and that’s ready to be written. Should I write the first ebook before outlining the 2nd? Or is it a good idea to outline both first and then write them in order and if there’s anything I want to change…change it before writing the 2nd ebook?

  43. Thank you for the advice, I planed for my book to be a trilogy and these tips helped me a great deal. I am also very glad you mentioned Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series – the sequel was even better than the first book ^^

  44. Thanks for the post. It is very helpful.

    As I wrote Nostalgic Rain, I knew from the early stages that it would have a sequel, so the idea by itself was there from the get-go. The first book smoothly concludes the conflict, but then raises new questions that were foreshadowed along the way.

    My point here is that it’d be awesome if you could prepare your readers for a second book while concluding almost everything in book one. This is not a rule -as many writers find new ideas only after they finish book 1, or even years after that.

    Regards,

Trackbacks

  1. […] what to write can be difficult. K.M. Weiland explains how to write a sequel that’s better than the first book, and Dario Ciriello discusses why you should ignore trends and write what you want. If you decide […]

  2. […] How to Write a Sequel That’s BETTER Than the First Book – KM Weiland with some good advice. […]

  3. […] For the good reasons to write a sequel, and the bad reasons to do it, check out K.M Weilands post on how to make your sequel better than your first book. It’s here. […]

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