5 Rules of Writing A Worthy Sequel

5 Rules for How to Write a Sequel to Your Book

5 Rules of Writing A Worthy SequelJust when you think you’ve figured out how to write a book, you realize you have to learn a whole new set of rules for how to write a sequel.

You’d think writing the second book in a series couldn’t be that much different from writing the first one. They both have a beginning, middle, and end—three acts, all the usual plot points, rising and falling action, etc., etc., etc. (said your best Yul Brynner voice). Even better, you’ve already done the hardest part of the foundational work, right? You’ve already successfully made it through one whole book with these characters, which means you already know what they like for breakfast, how they survived their childhood nemesis, and what their go-to move for bad-guy kicking will always be.

So far, so good. But it’s also true a sequel is a new animal in its own right, with its own set of unique questions and challenges—ones you maybe never even dreamed of when toiling through that first book.

Dreamlander (Amazon affiliate link)

I am now almost a year into my first experience with a sequel—the second in an unexpected trilogy, beginning with my portal fantasy Dreamlander. Having just completed its ginormous outline and now standing on the brink of streamlining it all into a cohesive first draft, I am excited to report it has been an amazing experience. The chief question I’m left with is: Why didn’t I do this sooner?!

2-17 Dreambreaker Outline

My deliciously ginormous completed scene outline (aka, extraordinarily rough draft) for Dreambreaker.

I have also learned a ton, about storytelling in general and, of course, sequels in particular. I’ve already written about how to determine the best ideas and approaches for your sequel ideas, as well as how to plan and outline your overarching story throughout the entire series. But today, it’s time to consider how to write the sequel itself.

Reader Lauren Fulton sent me an email on the subject, asking almost all the most important questions any writer can raise about how to write a sequel:

I’m working on a sequel right now and would love your thoughts on how else a sequel differs from the first book. How can we use the relationships readers have already built with characters to jump right in, without having the slow build up of getting to know the cast? Do we need to explain to readers why this story doesn’t have all the elements of the previous one?

Top 5 Guidelines for How to Write a Sequel

Let’s get our boots on the ground and go over five of the most important tactics for how to write a sequel that fulfills (and maybe even exceeds) your readers’ expectations.

1. How to Open Your Sequel’s First Chapter

Honestly, one of the most important questions of any book is—where to begin? Almost all of the same rules for beginning your standalone book’s chapter also apply to your sequel. If anything, a sequel’s opening chapter offers you more opportunities for great hooks with fewer burdens for introducing important story elements.

Historically, the opening chapter has been one of the most difficult parts of any book for me. There is just so much to juggle from the first line on. You have to introduce the protagonist in a characteristic moment that defines him, as well as a scene that introduces or hints at the main story conflict, illustrates the theme, and absolutely thrills readers.

Of course, a sequel’s opening chapter also has to accomplish all of this too, but it’s actually a much easier challenge, if only because you’ve already been there, done that in the previous book. When I originally wrote the first chapter of Dreamlander—the trilogy’s first book—I had to take into account that readers knew nothing about my character or the story world or the premise that people were living two different conscious lives, one waking in our world and another in a parallel fantasy world they visited in their dreams.

I had to open that story with a protagonist who was just as clueless as the readers—which meant it was actually really hard to come up with a Normal World hook that fulfilled all the necessary requirements. (The opening scene that ended up in the book—which I was pretty happy with—was actually an eleventh-hour edit just weeks before publication.)

But guess what? *happy dance* I didn’t have to mess with that in the sequel. I got to jump right into the heart of the story, with a protagonist who was already in the know about what was happening to him and who was, in turn, able to help readers ask all the right questions about why it was happening.

2 Ways to Tell You’re Beginning Your Story Too Soon

When figuring out how to write a sequel, your opening scene might actually be easier to write than it was in Book 1.

However, your sequel’s opening chapter will also present some of its own unique challenges. The Hook must still be a Hook—not simply a continuation of the final scene from your last book. And even though you won’t have to introduce your protagonist, plot, and theme from scratch, you will have to reframe them in a way that reminds readers where things stand and gives them a foundation for moving forward in this book’s unique dramatic and thematic premises.

You must choose a sequel’s opening scene with just as much care as you used for the first book. What scene will dramatize not just who your character is, where he’s at, and what he’s doing—but what scene will best show readers how the character has changed from Book 1 to Book 2?

You must also determine how much time should pass between books. Sometimes this answer will be obvious, sometimes not. But if you skip too much time, you may find yourself unwittingly jumping over some of the events readers were most desperate to know about in the aftermath of the first book. Take a step back and ask yourself: What is my readers’ most pressing question after the first book? See if you can answer that question or at least acknowledge it in your first chapter, to pull them right back in.

2. How to Explain Book 1’s Events in Book 2

A question I commonly receive is: How to share the events of the previous book in the second book? How much do readers need to know? And how can you remind them (or catch them up to speed if they’re accidentally starting with Book 2) about everything that’s already happened in this story?

Even though this is a common concern among writers, it’s actually an incredibly easy fix. All you got to do is treat the events of Book 1 as backstory. Pretend you’re starting all over with Book 2. Wipe the slate clean. Readers do not need to be told about any of the events Book 1 unless and until those events become pertinent context for what’s happening in Book 2.

How to write a sequel 101: There is no need to get sucked into the “backstory” your previous book’s events. Focus on the future!

Forget those page-long summaries of previous events and focus on what’s important in this story. If your protagonist is stranded on the moon in Chapter 1, then, yeah, you’ll need to acknowledge how he got there. But a simple sentence about that “no good space smuggler Ricardo marooning me” is probably going to be enough.

3. How to Up the Stakes Without Being Repetitious

Just as in a standalone book’s Climax, a series is going to want to save the best stuff for last. This means that, theoretically, the story should get more and more intense and exciting with each new book. If we just keep it simple and say you’re writing a trilogy, this means Book 2 should have higher stakes and more good stuff than Book 1, and Book 3 needs to be higher and bigger still.

But if you did like you should have and gave Book 1 everything you’ve got, what does that leave for the sequels? Just as importantly, how can you give readers more of what they liked in the first book without snowballing into repetition?

There are two keys.

Key #1: Each Book Should Be “Same But Different”

It’s true: readers want more of the same. They loved what you gave them in the first book, and now they’re back for more. But what they really want is to look at the same subject matter, but from a different angle.

This is why Susanne Collins’s sequel Catching Fire featured the Hunger Games all over again, but in an entirely different setting, with different goals and different stakes, for entirely different reasons.

Catching Fire

Susanne Collins gave her rabid fans exactly what they wanted in her sequels: the same, but different and deeper. (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), Lionsgate.)

This is why sequels always have the opportunity to be better than the first book, if the author is gutsy enough to take advantage of its opportunities. Sequels shouldn’t be repeats; they should be expansions. In short: the same, but more.

Key #2: The Stakes Must Be an Evolution

And that brings us to Key #2. Discovering new, better, and different stakes for your sequels is all about building off what you did in the first book. Consider how you can take your character’s victories from Book 1 and turn them into consequences. Again, Hunger Games is a good example. Katniss beat President Snow to survive, but as a result, she becomes Public Enemy #1 in Books 2 and 3.

Take a look at whatever was most awesome in your first book. Take a look at what events hurt your characters the most. Take a look at the weak spots they never really had to face and are still covering up. Take a look at your antagonistic force and consider their most likely response in trying to reclaim their losses.

It’s easy to raise the stakes in sequels. Just remember that the more your character wins in her victories, the more she then stands to lose in all subsequent battles.

4. How to Create a Seamless Overall Story

The best stories are those that create a seamless big picture. No matter how huge and sprawling your story will be by the time you write the final book, you still want your series’ ultimate ending to bring the story back full circle to the very first book. That can be tricky (especially if, like me, you didn’t know you were writing a series when you started Book 1).

The Best Way to Write a Seamless Series

Optimally, you will know your series’ ending before you ever begin writing Book 1’s first draft. This allows you to identify all the most important plot questions, characters, settings, thematic questions, and MacGuffins. Once you’re aware of which are important throughout the series, you can then artfully sow them into each book in a meaningful way, allowing them to become consequential motifs—road marks along the way that characters and readers alike can resonate with.

Missing Person Road Sign

Be careful not to abandon important elements in later books.

The Second Best Way to Write a Seamless Series

However, the above approach may not always be possible. Perhaps outlining just isn’t your thing, or perhaps, like me, you had to wait six years before you even realized there would be another book. In that case, you won’t be able to work your way up from the foundation of the story’s big picture. Instead, you will have to start on the ground floor, pick up whatever pieces seem important and then make sure they’re important all the way through to the end of the series.

For example, since Dreamlander was a standalone book, I basically had to cook up a whole new conflict for the sequels. And yet, I still wanted them to create the effect of a (generally) seamless overarching trilogy. This meant the new conflict I created for the sequels had to be built upon the leftover pieces of the first book. I had to figure out a way for Dreamlander‘s events to be, not so much a complete story unto themselves anymore, but rather the First Act in a larger story.

This pursuit of cohesion will be just as true of the smaller elements in your story. If certain settings, goals, or MacGuffins were important in the first book, then you will want to find a way to, optimally, return to these elements in the second book—or, at the least, acknowledge them, so they don’t end up feeling like loose ends.

5. How to Continue Developing Minor Characters

If you want even the smallest elements of your story to play a role in creating a seamless big picture through your series (which you do), then this is doubly true of your supporting cast. In her email, Lauren went on to ask:

I’m finding myself trying to justify why many minor characters from the first book aren’t featured in the second one. They’re around somewhere, but just not that important for this plot!

Lauren’s dilemma was also one I faced in planning my sequels. I had some very new and exciting new roads down which to take my protagonists. But doing so required leaving behind some of the minor characters from the first book. Here’s what I discovered:

First rule of sequels: Yes, try to include as many elements as possible from the first book in the later books.

Second rule of sequels: Never force previous elements into a later book, just for the sake of cohesion.

So how can you meaningfully include old friends from Book 1, but in a way that matters to the story without interfering with that story? Here are four approaches:

1. Cameos

Although not ideal, you can still achieve the desired effect of tying off your loose ends simply by letting the minor character appear briefly in a very short scene. It lets readers know you didn’t forget about him, while also allowing you to acknowledge his whereabouts during the events of this book.

2. Frames

Even better than a one-time cameo appearance is a two-time “framing” appearance. Even if a minor character is extraneous to the main events of the plot, you can still keep her grounded within the story by giving her an appearance (or, even better, a job to do) in both the beginning and the end of your story.

3. New Roles

Often, a minor character might appear in Book 1 to fulfill a specific role, which then expires with that book. But the character himself needn’t expire. Just give him a new role. Tony Stark had no need of a bodyguard after he became Iron Man, so Happy Hogan instead became Pepper Potts’s driver in subsequent stories.

Iron Man 3 Happy Hogan Pepper Potts Jon Favreau Gwyneth Paltrow

Everybody loves Happy, but as he acknowledged himself, he just didn’t have enough to do as Iron Man’s body guard in the sequels—so his role had to evolve. (Iron Man 3 (2013), Marvel Studios.)

4. Deaths

Finally, if you find yourself with an unnecessary character on your hands, you can always give them the chance to become necessary by letting them die a meaningful death. It’s win-win. You can stop juggling that extra piece, and you get a powerful scene that motivates surviving characters.


I had to write nine standalone books before I got to find out what a blast sequels are. Hopefully, you won’t have to wait quite so long. Sequels eliminate many of the challenges of a standalone book, but they also come with their own exciting new experiences to work through. Figuring out how to write a sequel can take your writing to the next level. Join me and see for yourself!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What do you think are the easiest and hardest parts of how to write a sequel? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. This was super helpful because I’m currently working on the plot for the third book in my trilogy. Because it’s the last book, and it’s got the big climax, I’ve really been trying to take my time and go carefully because I know that it’s really important not to mess it up. (Because I know how annoying that is for the readers) So I’m definitely going to be using allll these tips! 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The best rule of writing is to treat readers as you want other writers to treat you. Can’t go wrong with that. 🙂

  2. Nicely summed up.

    Hunger Games really is the perfect example, because the second book does so well at recapturing the first in a new light– and I think the third completely fails. *Mockingjay* is a powerful example of a sequel that lets its own history run it off the rails: by focusing on why Katniss wasn’t dragged into “games” any more, it left her with little to do, and never really figured out what she was instead.

    So, sequels should deepen and expand what makes the first book work, without letting their continuity overwhelm the needs *all* books have.

  3. M.L. Bull says

    Thanks for posting! 🙂 These five guidelines will be helpful for the next book in my series.

  4. Hannah Killian says

    I have a trilogy and I think I have a pretty good grasp on the framing:

    Book #1: The main characters Søren and Runa have recently been married (it’s an arranged marriage, btw), and are in the midst of navigating this new chapter in both their lives when Søren, who believes he can never live up to his father’s legacy, sort of betrays the whole country. To top it off, he’s the only heir to the throne.

    Only the antagonists know of his betrayal, but he actually doesn’t know who they are. I know, it needs expanding.

    Throughout the first book, Søren wrestles with his decision while also trying to develop his relationship with Runa.

    Runa on the other hand is trying to adjust too when she starts suspecting something’s off with Søren. She might even start thinking he’s *whisper* seeing another woman, which only fuels her deepest fear that she’s unlovable, due to her independent nature.

    At the end of #1, after something important happens that has tragic consequences and reveals that there’s a traitor in their midst, Søren finally gives up wrestling with his guilt and admits it was him. The first person he admits it to is Runa.

    This resolves the main question while at the same time opening a while new can of worms and asking another question: Is Søren going to be executed?

    Book #2: Søren has been in the dungeon for not-yet-determined-amount of time because his mother, Queen Isfrid, isn’t sure what to do. She knows what the law says, but Søren is her son and also the only known heir. (Runa doesn’t know she’s pregnant yet, shh)

    Runa gets involved, so and so happens. She then goes to see Søren, who is completely convinced he’s going to die. She tells him that he’s been given a chance to right his wrong and he decides to take it.

    Søren and Runa both go together to stop the can of worms from spreading too far, and she is actually a little cautious about trusting him, which he understands.

    Of course, the big bad guy is going to throw obstacles in their path.

    Anyways, during the journey, Runa finds out she’s pregnant and due to the big bad guy saying that in the case there was another heir, then Søren was going to be executed. She knows she can’t keep it from him, but she doesn’t tell him. A lady they take shelter with does, after figuring it out after Runa leaves the room. Søren​ responds with swallowing water the wrong way.

    Runa and Søren are separated later, with Runa being captured by the bad guys and Søren nearly dying. He does survive (duh), and he searches for Runa. He finally finds her a month or so later and they make their escape. They also discover the identity of the big bad guy, who happens to be a council member back home.

    #2 ends with the birth of their daughter, and with that, Søren’s reasons to save the country changes from avoiding execution to actually wanting to protect the people, and especially his family.

    Book #3 starts with Søren easing into the role of father and Runa can tell he loves it. Of course, they still have to get home, reveal the bad guy and then they think everything will be back to normal, but. . .

    The consequences of Søren’s betrayal may have spread to Runa’s home country, and a war might be brimming on the horizon.

    Runa’s parents are told the whole story, so her father joins forces with Søren’s home country to weed out all the bad guys and defeat them.

    The ending of #3 isn’t set in stone yet.

  5. “Sequels shouldn’t be repeats, they should be expansions.”
    This is solid advice, of which I’ll definitely take to heart (one day when I actually write a sequel).
    I think this is one of the big reasons so many movie sequels fail: just more of the same thing. They don’t further the story, it’s just a rehash with a few elements rearranged, like an unholy combination of two different leftover meals from last week. 😛

    Also, you talk about character framing. That subject interests me, do you have a full post on it? If not, perhaps in the future … ? 😉

  6. I think that Stephen Donaldson deals with back story very well with each of his sequels in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever very well by having a segment called “What has gone before” before he launches into the new story. This way, the reader can pick up say, book five and read that and have an idea of linking this book to past ones.

  7. Megan Brummer says

    Filing this one away for future reference! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience here!

  8. This post came at the perfect time! I’m currently working on a sequel to a book I just finished not long ago. I loved the characters and story so much I couldn’t just put it down haha. Problem is, I don’t really have that big of a plot yet, although there’s potential. I’m really struggling with how to make this book *better* than the first, because like you mentioned in the post, I put everything I had into the first book. I know I’m going to have to come up with one heck of a story to top it, which will be hard. Oh, the joys of brain-storming 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It took me years to come up with the right plot for the sequel I’m working on now. I’m really glad I didn’t rush it and let the right story come to me. (Which isn’t to say it *should* take years, of course.)

  9. Great information for a future series where I need to do a sequel.
    My current WIPs are separate books with different characters and plot but using the same planet. Towns, cities, and society rules are the same but no one from the first novel is in the second.

  10. I don’t know that I would even attempt a sequel to something I had originally conceived as a standalone book. That would be like trying to add some last-minute ingredients to your stuffing after the turkey is already cooked.

    But that’s not really a problem for me, since I tend to outline all my books as part of a series before I even start writing.

    That said, it’s always possible that there will be audience demand for a sequel, even when the author believes the story is done. Or the author’s opinion of what “done” is will change with time.

    In light of that, this is a highly relevant post, which probably deserves a bit of broadcast.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s what I originally thought too. I waited years for the right idea to come along that would let me move forward with the story in a way that was still true to the original.

  11. Andrewiswriting says

    Wow, what a lucky break! The main story in my second book is literally a consequence of the protagonist’s victory in the first book. Woo-hoo!

  12. Looks like you’re getting a lot of use out of that WriteMind! I wish I were that organized. 😛

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I am! I just love it to pieces. I’m already in a hurry to start another outline, just so I can buy another one. :p

  13. While I have yet to publish a fiction story because I put my writing on the back burner for so many years until recently, I believe one of the main ingredients to having the right material for a sequel is world building.

    The bigger the world you create and the more factions it possess as well as politics, countries, races and so on and the more these are all directly integrated into the plot for your first book regardless if it is not as transparent to the reader, I believe you have a great platform to springboard from for potential future works.

    The sci -fi book I am working on right now has a big world with many facets that in one way or another get in the way of my main character and depending on how things play out I’m seeing at least the potential for a second book.

    Anyhow aside from your great advice I hope that my little snippet may be of some use to someone.

    • Actually it was my fictional writing I put on the back burner for several years just to clarify. I love to write.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree. The worldbuilding was one of the reasons this particular story wouldn’t let me go. I knew there was so much more to explore there than I’d had a chance to do in the first book.

    • J.M Barlow says

      I guess it depends on the rules of your world.. I tried to limit my 8-part graphic novel project ‘s world to just this one story. Turns out the story itself has a whole potential backstory… …and a pseudo-sequel that ties into the end of my behemoth trilogy project that exists on a different world…

      I tried, I swear. The “what if?” Machine went nuclear.

  14. Ms. Albina says

    In my co-author book Leilani has her vision about saving the village from the yellow death or how to save them. In the second book they search for a cure and the third is finding the cure and also Leilani and Zane becoming immortal from Maia, the creator goddess.

    How many times do you revise so the book is good for you or the character descriptions?

    Leilani will have three children but not all at once. Her children’s names are Dylan, Lotus, and Serena.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My books generally go through about four drafts, which can contain three revisions apiece.

  15. ” If we just keep it simple and say you’re writing a trilogy, this means Book 2 should have higher stakes and more good stuff than Book 1, and Book 3 needs to be higher and bigger still.”

    I don’t (yet) aspire to write any sequels. In fact, I recently realized that my story is NOT three or four books, but is really one self-contained story. But this problem — how to up the stakes without losing control of the story — is extremely interesting to me. So many series go off the rails at this point, with the conflict getting bigger and bigger at the expense of the “flavor” that made the original so appealing. The main example that comes to mind is the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, where the scale of the story got so big and bizarre by the third movie that it just didn’t make sense anymore, and it certainly didn’t have the localized charm of the first movie. And the Hunger Games trilogy is another good example. The story was downhill from the moment there was no District Twelve. I don’t love the original Star Wars trilogy, but I think it DOES work — the story stays on track through all three movies. Harry Potter’s ending has its problems (it would have been impossible for ANY ending to live up to the imaginative scope opened up in the series), but it also basically WORKS, in my view. It doesn’t end feeling like an entirely different story.

    I wonder, then, if the problem isn’t the loss of “rootedness” in a particular place or world? Or the loss, at least, of a sense of particularity? Do these stories go wrong by trying to make TOO universal of a point? Not that the sequel has to stay in the same geographical location as the original, but the setting shouldn’t expand to the point of vagueness, either geographically or in terms of what can happen. Once you’re in a world where literally anything can happen, there are none of the constraints that are so puzzlingly essential to good art…

    I don’t think this comes close to answering the question. It’s fascinating to me to think through what works and what doesn’t, but the WHY is elusive.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hollywood, in particular, offers lots of ghastly examples of this, and I credit it almost entirely to the authors not being aware of, understanding of, and invested in the original material and characters. Too often, sequels will throw things at audiences with a “oh-look-at-this-isn’t-this-cool?!” mentality without ever stopping to think if it really reflects the heart and direction of the characters as introduced in the original episode/movie/book.

      • Great point! I guess the major problem is not obeying the world-building and character “rules” set up in the first installment. And, assuming that increasing the stakes means making the scope bigger in a purely physical sense, when it could mean so many more interesting and less obvious things.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          If I had to pinpoint it to just one issue, it would be theme. Too often, when new directors/writers take over, they do not have a clear grasp of the theme as set forth in the original.

          Although, to be fair, many authors don’t have a good enough grasp of their own theme to carry it forward cohesively in their own books. 😉

    • J.M Barlow says

      It’s a combination of things…

      The scale physically increases to emulate higher stakes

      The Big Bad’s scheme gets darker and meaner, changing the tone or the themes

      The first instalment can’t even sustain higher stakes…

      The sequels don’t stay true to the original world’s rules, or its characters.

      I mean, these are just a few examples. It can be as simple as not going where people expected…

      I think a really good example is The Lord of the Rings, but I suppose it’s also fairly obviously so. It seems to me that many trilogies follow its basic principles.

      I think having an idea of the overall story when you begin is the biggest favour you can do yourself.

  16. Heh, I am working on Book 3 of my trilogy. I always intended it to be a trilogy, so that cut out a lot of potential difficulties from the start. I was guided a lot in setting it up by the structure posts you’ve covered here before: if Book 2 is Act 2a and Act 2b, Book Three should be Act 3. I also used the first Star Wars trilogy as a model, because as you and Evelyn point out, it’s one of the few sequel/trilogies that actually gets it right.

    So in my completed Book 2, I have:

    A definite change in scenery — I already set up that this is a “save the world” story, so readers would expect that there are other fronts in the war. I show them the second front. Book 1 took place in a fantasy analogue of the Greco-Roman era. Throughout the book I mention a mysterious nation that has more advanced tech/magitek (think flintlocks and magic forensic tools), and I even show a little bit of the country’s magitek in Book 1. So, in Book 2 I show that nation, and a fourth heroine who is fighting the second front there.

    At the same time, I ended Book 1 with a cliffhanger for one of my first three heroines, and I start Book 2 with a prologue that resolves her cliffhanger. Then I begin the story proper, Act 1, with a little dateline that indicates the action is happening thousands of miles away in the mysterious nation where the fourth heroine lives. The dateline also indicates the action in act 1 takes place one month before the major battle that ended Book 1.

    This book being the “midpoint,” you also see two of Book 1’s heroines going on the offensive when they team up with the 4th heroine after their paths/timelines converge around the midpoint of Book 2. With their combined knowledge they’re beginning to solve the mysteries concerning their enemies and how to defeat them. In the meantime, I’ve given some important minor characters from Book 1 a task to do so that no one is wondering why they didn’t continue on the quest with the heroines.

    I ended Book 2 with what first seems like a victorious happy ending … except that I used the framing technique to end with an epilogue showing that the first heroine from the prologue is actually in the midst of an extremely perilous situation. In Book 1 readers see how her situation might be possible so it’s more of a Chekov’s Gunshot than an out-of-nowhere surprise. My goal is that the epilogue is a huge “Whoa!” for the reader, because it introduces the extraordinary final front in which the war must be fought. It’s a front I’ve hinted at but never fully showed.

    I’ve set up all the stakes by this point, and Book 3 again starts with a prologue that shows how the 1st heroine resolves her peril. I’m nervous about Book 3 though, because this is the one where All Questions Are Answered and the Final Showdown is supposed to occur; and I need to make sure readers aren’t let down. This may be the hardest part of all…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A change in scenery from book to book can be a wonderful way to inject new blood, when done right. It’s a great way to mix things up, especially when yoo’re also able to keep weaving in previously introduced settings.

  17. J.M Barlow says

    Planning an 8-part storyline for my graphic novel project, and I can say that the very same rules apply.

    There’s a fine balance to be found between using the same elements that have already been established, and adding new ones. In the same right that you don’t want to leave the previous book behind, you don’t want to sit around and let it stagnate. If you leave it behind just early enough for readers to want a bit more time with it, they’ll be all the happier when you come back to these parts to tie all the loose ends up at the end.

    It initially was a worry of mine, that the setting of Volume 1 gets somewhat left behind. But that’s pretty obviously going to happen in Volume 1… But I’ve come to realize that this only makes it all the better when we return to it – for new reasons completely – but revisiting many of the original elements. Readers definitely appreciate that you do in fact remember things from your own previous stories…

    To help mitigate the problem I thought I had, the setting of Volume 1 is far below the following, and can be seen in the background of many images. Just as a reminder – and some symbolism at times… It’s actually part of the reason I felt this story should be a graphic novel.

    Aside: Katie, the experience I am having with outlining this graphic novel project is shedding a lot of light on the techniques you teach here. The trilogy that I decided to give some space seemed incredibly daunting at times, but what I’m learning from this different angle is going to pay off huge when I tackle that behemoth.

    The funny thing is, this project is probably bigger because of the artwork involved… Roughly 900 panels per volume? When all is said and done,there will be over 4,500 panels drawn… And the trilogy was the behemoth…

  18. Fantastic article – perfect timing for me, so thank you! My debut novel came out only a month ago and is a stand alone. Except that over 80% of readers are asking for more of the story. Some quite insistently lol. Now, instead of “no”, it is “maybe”.

    I’ve kept the article to reread a few times and who knows, it may be that your wisdom will make some of my readers happy.


  19. What’s up!!!

    Good post. As always, I’ll come back for seconds later. I agree with not playing all our card in the first book. I’ve got some decent ideas for future books! Woo! Excited but I need to finish the first one 🙂

  20. Amazing advice, as always! I’m still struggling through the first draft of the first book in a series, but I like feeling like I have a plan for the later books, so posts like this are always inspiring. Definitely bookmarking for that point in the (distant) future when I’ll be thinking about writing the sequel!

  21. I totally agree with A.P. Lambert, “Sequels shouldn’t be repeats, they should be expansions,” is an awesome line.

    I especially liked the notes about how to continue the threads of your story from one book to the next. I love it when authors manage to pick up plot threads from previous books. This article goes perfect with the other post “Is This the Single Best Way to Write Powerful Themes?”.

  22. I’m finishing my second sequel (two different series) now, and what I found the hardest was what not to include, and how to dance around the subject, so I didn’t ruin Book 1. Mysteries and thrillers work a little differently than other genres, I think, because even though the sub-plot continues, the characters have a new case to solve. And sometimes, that case might relate to the first book somehow. Here I go again, tiptoeing around plot elements. It’s not easy, is it? Excellent tips, though!

  23. A sequel is a published, broadcast, or recorded work that continues the story or develops the theme of an earlier one. It also rhymes. I just can’t write a Sequel for “Casey at the Bat”. But, I will start it like a poem that rhymes, as a couplet and see what comes out…………………………….

  24. I finished Book 1 about 6 months ago, and am now going through the editing process. But, being me, I missed these characters and am now working on the sequel. I have 4 books planned for this series, and although I have outlines for them, they aren’t nearly as extensive as book 4.

    I have the perfect ending for book 4 that I just can’t wait to get to, but I have to go through Book 2 and 3 first. Which is turning out to be a lot more difficult than I thought. I’m having a lot of trouble with Book 2, and this is definitely helping a lot.

    I plan on self-publishing Book 1 soon enough, so I’d better get the ball rolling for book 2 soon. If you want more specifics just let me know.

    I do have the four main archetypes: protagonist, antagonist, reflection and love interest. And the characters work really well together. I’m jst having a little trouble with getting book 2 out there.

    • Have you ever sat through a movie that was an hour (or more) too long? Perhaps you have a trilogy and not four books. See how you can combine books 2 and 3. I say this because in my original draft of the second book in my trilogy, I “planned” for 63 chapters. After watching a too-long movie, I cut it down to 51 chapters and am much happier. Don’t draw something out just because your original plan called for something that no longer makes sense!

  25. Sarah Hernanadez says

    Thank you! This was very helpful as I am currently plotting out a sequel to a manuscript that is nearly finished. I really liked what you said about the same, but different. I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it, but it’s true. Now, I get to plan out how to use my antagonist’s issues from a different perspective as the sequel has to do with her son discovering who he really is after more than 20 years of deception by the woman who took him.

  26. Hi! Back in March I commented on the timeliness of this great article. Now, I am two weeks away from releasing the sequel that was only a thought back then. It seems there will also be a third, so thank you!

  27. What an useful post! We all know the rules of a standalone book, but the second? Always a mystery. Thank you for the enlightening, Katie!

  28. Hannah Killian says

    What would your opinion be on spin-offs? I have an idea for one which originally tied into the trilogy I’m writing, but then I turned it into a standalone spin-off, and now I’m second-guessing even having it at all.

    I’m also kind of second-guessing the prequel novellas that are compilations of novelettes which are about the main characters when they first met and all that. . .I thought it’d be fun to write the prequels as a TV show, with the novelettes being the ‘episodes’ and the novellas being the ‘seasons’, but now that I think of it, that sounds like a little much, doesn’t it?


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think it totally depends on the content of each of the stories and how passionate you are about them. There’s no reason they *couldn’t* work.

  29. Thank you for this post! I, also, wrote my first book without even dreaming of a sequel. Then, several people said they wanted to know more about so-n-so in the book, etc. I thought about it for awhile and dreamed up a whole new conflict and resolution for not the protagonist but her friend and sort of co-protagonist from the first book. I asked myself many of the same questions you posed here and came to the same conclusions. I’m so glad I did. You have confirmed that I’m on the right track. I have re-written the ending several times. It’s funny because I struggled with the ending on the first book as well. But, I think I have come to one that I’m satisfied with.

  30. I’m finding that the hardest part is getting back into first-draft mode. After over a year of revision (and a restful summer off) I feel like anything in my first draft is so awful and I’m wasting time. I’ll get over it. I just need to find the sequel’s story line that I just HAVE to tell. Anyway, great entry!

  31. Maureen Ross says

    I found this article exactly when I needed it – I have committed to writing a sequel to my, as yet unpublished, novel – for NaNoWriMo month – had no idea how to do it – only a 1000 word outline to work on, just starting on it today. So – sometimes, I love Google – I found this and it will be my guide, thank you.

  32. Thanks for the tips and advice. Writing for children is bleeding troublesome; books for kids are pretty much as unpredictable as their grown-up partners, and they ought to thusly be agreed on similar regard. Keep it up!

  33. Writing sequel is not an easy work, and I am very thankful because I found your content very helpful. Thank you much!

  34. This is timely. I have just started a sequel I never expected to write. If I didn’t think it would be something new, I wouldn’t write it. One clear difference is the main protagonist is going to meet the minor protagonist and go on a journey together. I am using flashbacks to explain where the protagonist has been, like I did in the original to give backstory.

    I have an idea: would it be poor writing to use the last paragraph in book one as the first paragraph in book two. Have people done that before? I will ask my writing group as well. Cheers! Thank you for the suggestions!


  1. […] Here are 5 rules for writing a sequel. […]

  2. […] Already have a book done and want to write a sequel? Be sure to check out 5 Rules for How to Write a Sequel to Your Book by K.M. […]

  3. […] 5 Rules for How to Write a Sequel to Your Book […]

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