How do you write a good sequel?

I actually got on this topic because of the following video:

Now, I would like to clarify that I am aware Phantom Menace is a prequel, not a sequel. I do understand the distinction. But it’s basically the same concept — you’re continuing a story that’s already been established.

So here’s my question to you — how do you write a good sequel?

I am currently reworking the sequel to Imminent Danger, that book I keep babbling about that I will be self-publishing sometime this century. And I’m racked with self-doubt (“wracked”?) because it has to be as good as the first book, but I’m not sure how to make it that way. As the fast-talking man in the Star Wars video says, sequels/prequels need to be new and original, but they also have to evoke a feeling of familiarity. So how do we achieve that delicate balance?

My current strategy is to write the story I want to write, then get someone else’s opinion on how it holds up as a sequel. I can’t be a good judge of that, because I wrote it. I’m too close to it to see it clearly for what it is. I think that’s where George Lucas went wrong – he was so confident in his own artistic brilliance that he disregarded other opinions, hence the mediocrity of Phantom Menace and, to a slightly lesser extent, the other two prequels. I’m not going to lie, I actually do quite like Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (parts of them, anyway), but there’s no way I would ever call them better than the original trilogy.

Another thing I’ve tried doing is going back and reading the first book and writing down the things that I liked about it, the things that made me laugh, the things that made me “awww!”, etc. Then (hypothetically), I will take that list and apply it to the sequel.

I don’t know. What makes a good sequel? How can you ensure a sequel’s as good as the original? Can an author be trusted to reliably evaluate their own work?

Cool news for Chuck/Thor fans:

Zachary Levi (Chuck!) has been cast as Fandral in the upcoming Thor sequel. Fandral, to remind you, is Thor’s Asgardian friend, the skinny, blonde, mustachio-ed guy with the rapier. Or was it a legit longsword? I don’t remember. Anyway, I’m extremely excited because I love Chuck, and I love Thor, and it’s going to be awesome having them together! Click here to read the article and watch Zach’s interview with Leno.

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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

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23 thoughts on “How do you write a good sequel?

  1. You were right that George Lucas ruined the prequels because he was too enamored with himself and his ideas. With 5 and 6 he didn’t direct, so there was someone there to challenge his ideas and to make sure the movie was the best thing possible.

    I’ve never written a sequel, but I guess it involves having a trusted friend read over your work to tell you if it is good, decent, total garbage that needs to be rewritten. Honestly, the thought of writing a sequel has always made me scared. You could ruin your characters or provide an adventure that doesn’t live up to the previous. But if you do it right, your fans will love you forever, which is probably the best feeling in the world.

    I’m so glad to see Zachary Levi cast Fandral in Thor. Chuck was one of my favorite shows and I loved the Thor movie. I was bummed when I found out that Kenneth Branagh was not returning a director, but who cares anymore, Chuck is here!

  2. Popular myth after Star Wars (later sub-lined as ‘A New Hope’) was released in ’77 was that George Lucas wanted to make ‘Phantom Menace’ first, but the money in Hollywood decided that ‘A New Hope’ would provide a better return for them.
    And so history was made. The Original ‘prequels’ had been written, but didn’t get made until 25 years later. So it would suggest that the prequels were not as good as the sequels because they were written first…?

    • Interesting! I’ve never heard that myth. If it’s in fact true, then kudos to Hollywood for recognizing which half of the movies needed to be made first lol.

  3. I think when a book wasn’t originally meant to be a single book, writing the sequel becomes harder than if you had outline an entire series to begin with. But both can be trying. For some reason, after the first novel, your brain just thinks the second going to be perfect the first time, and you have to remind yourself that it took several drafts before you got the first book where it is today. My best method so far is just try to repeat my process from book 1while continually rereading the first novel to compare during the later drafts.

    • I love it when I hear about authors who forget what happened in earlier books, and actually turn to their fans for a reminder of what happened. Although to be fair, I forget what happens in a book even when I’m still writing it, so I have to turn to my editor (aka my mother) for information all the time.

  4. Candace Knoebel

    I just finished writing the second out of my trilogy. I had a small game plan going into the second of where I wanted it to go, but honestly, the book took off on it’s own. I think you are right in going with writing it how you want to write it. You essentially are the characters. So you will get the story where it needs to go. The details are the hardest part though. Trying to remember every little thing in your first book to make sure that it ties into the second and all that. I find myself doing something with a character and then remembering, “oh yeah, I can’t do that.” I’ve read that it’s best to have an outline of every chapter and an outline of every character so you won’t forget these details and I keep meaning to do that…just haven’t probably due to laziness lol.

  5. Evan Kingston

    I’m also a Chuck and Thor fan, and got super excited by your post. Now they just need John Casey as Hogun the Grim.

  6. Well, you haven’t read the updated version yet, so hold your praise until then, lolololol.

  7. I’m working on a book two right now and hoping for the same thing. I have to give the same characters a new plot, new goals, new conflicts, and new reasons to love each other. The characters kind of take off on their own. It seems once the plot is decided, the story just takes off.I’ve had to go back to the first book, too, and it’s kind of amazing how it can lead into new ideas. That when I know the second book was a good idea.

    • I’m having a blast writing my sequel right now for NaNo. Writing a sequel is like finding an old fuzzy blanket you used to love, and snuggling up in it on a cold winter’s night.

  8. A very timely post! I’ve just finished the sequel to my debut novel, Can’t Live Without, and I struggled to get the balance right too. It needs to stand alone but also follow on – have enough detail for new readers, but not so much background that it bores returning readers. It needs to be fresh and different, but not lose the characteristics that work well in the original. In a romance it’s hard to keep the will they/won’t they tension going without feeling contrived! Good luck with yours, it’s no easy task 🙂 x

    • Ah, I know exactly what you mean. Balancing romance in sequels is so hard. When I finished the draft of my sequel and gave it to my beta readers, they were like, “Nope, too mushy.” So now I get to go back and mess things up for my characters. I just want to see them happy! *sniff*

  9. I just handed by first book off to my editor; her comments about where it is going – stand alone, trilogy, etc. – have me really looking at the sequel. At the moment they are both strong enough to stand alone, but I am struggling with how to maintain the balance between them being related, and different.
    Good luck with yours! Happy endings can be so hard to un-write!

    • Hey, congrats on hitting the editing stage!!! If you’re going to write a sequel, I say strike while the iron is hot, right now while you still have the first book swimming around your noggin. Otherwise you become like me. Last week, no joke, my friend quoted a line from my book, and I said, “That’s funny! Where’s that from?” They stared at me for about five seconds like I was a complete idiot until I realized that I’d written it, lol.

  10. I am at the moment in the final edit stage of the second book in a trilogy. Why a trilogy? Because when I started, it was a single book that just kept going, but then I found that really, while there were common characters, there were really three basic stories there. It does have a problem, particularly for book two, that the start assumes some previous history, and while it ends, the reader should guess that the ending is a little unsatisfactory, and there are pent-up unrealized things that will be tried. However, to the main point, I think to write a trilogy, or a sequence, it is important to have an overall sketch plan before the first one is published, because if there is something there that will ruin the later one, perforce there will be trouble.

    • Very true! I didn’t start off planning to do a series, but I found when I started writing the second book that I had to go back to the first and add in foreshadowing for the second book. Hopefully people will think I did the foreshadowing on purpose, and not added on as an afterthought, lol.

  11. Build your characters even more. Go deeper into them by showing attitudes. Put them in problems and before they can get out of them, more seemingly impossible problems arise. Every time they’re about to break free, load them with more trouble. That’s as near real life as you can get, and people will identify with that. Good luck!

    • I like it! Of course, the heaps and heaps of trouble have to be balanced out with moments of levity — otherwise it just becomes a slog of moving from one terrible situation to the next and then you run the risk of driving your reader insane, lol. 😀

  12. I’m going through the same process with the sequel to PERIGEE, and have found that -duh- it’s important to have a good story. I started with a solid premise and worked the characters in next. With the foundation laid, it became easy to build on existing characters and introduce new ones. A nice side benefit is developing the new characters opened up backstories that will become their own novels.

    • That definitely is the fun part of writing the sequel – finding out more about the characters 🙂 I’m having a bit of trouble working in important plot points from the first book though … any tips on that? 🙂

      • Same here…I’m finding it best to weave things in with dribs and drabs. A few mentions here and there, sometimes of things that inform a characters actions, sometimes a brief sentence of exposition. What happened to your character in the first book that’s relevant in the second? A few well-placed sentences here and there add up to a couple of page’s worth of exposition over the course of the book. Have a look at Larry Correia’s “Monster Hunter” series for a good way to handle that sort of thing.

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