I am finally wrapping up production on the second book in the Skyla Traveler series, entitled THE UMBRAL WAKE. It should be out in the next month and I’m both relieved and a little exhausted. YOu can get the first book, A LATENT DARK for free this week.
You see, I’d never written a sequel before, and as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to massively fuck up a second book. I am guilty of a few of them, and as a consequence, the initial Beta read was not great. You see, sequels are weird in that you already have the universe laid out for you. If your big kick in the first book was in discovering the world, then I got news for you: the second book is going to feel like a chore. Sequels force us to dig deeper, try harder, and show the reader something they haven’t already seen. Here’s a few things I took away from writing my first sequel:
1. Every ending is a beginning – Did everyone end up with exactly what they wanted at the end of the first book? Well, then we have a problem. See, stories need to go somewhere and when you end your book on the happiest of endings, it doesn’t leave much room to improve upon things. Every solution has a problem, so what problems does the ending of your first book set you up for?
2. People need to be reminded of just who the characters are again – A LATENT DARK (currently free on Amazon until sept 12th) had a lot of characters. I found myself discovering characters faster than I knew what to do with them. THE UMBRAL WAKE even picks up on a few side characters readers might not even remember from the first book. You have to give some point of reference so that everyone knows who is who. This could be as simple as a sentence or two…
3. But don’t obsess with backstory – The biggest problem I had with THE UMBRAL WAKE was refraining from going overboard with backstory. Yes, Scribble was a side character in the first book, but that doesn’t mean we need an entire chapter dedicated to him that takes place before THE UMBRAL WAKE even really begins. Too much backstory takes away from the momentum of the book.
4. Keep the ball rolling – The point of a sequel is to give readers a continuation. It’s about keeping the momentum of the first book and letting it move along naturally, while at the same time providing deeper insights into the characters. Not to harp on backstory, but too much of that crap and you’ve just stopped your story cold.
5. Dig deeper – Sequels are your opportunity to show how your characters cope even when they think they’ve won. It’s a chance to blindside them (and the readers) into situations they hadn’t predicted.
6. Formula can be dangerous – Your hero defeated a dragon in the first book. Don’t just give them a bigger dragon in the second. There has to be a deeper threat, one that spans the theme of both books combined. Otherwise you’re just writing stories that become as predictable as an episode of HOUSE. The HARRY POTTER series is a good example of what to do. Even thought Rowling kept the theme consistent, the threats were both new and old. Sure it was a basilisk in book two, werewolves in book four, but the deeper, consistent threat was that Voldemort was growing stronger, giving us all that slow build of anticipation to the final battle. Sequels have to carry that momentum through and leave us wanting to read the next one as well.
7. There still has to be theme– Just because you don’t want to be boring doesn’t mean you can throw curveball after curveball. You’re writing a larger chapter of a bigger story. You still have to keep things within plausibility.
8. Every solution has a problem – Your character sealed that door to the netherworld, but she borrowed the nails from a spectral hardware salesman who wants them back. Or maybe you blew up the enemy city which was about to unleash a doomsday device. Well, good job; now that city is in ruins and overrun by mutants. Maybe you finally saved the last unicorn from poachers and it’s living happily on your ranch. You’re in for a shock when that unicorn goes into rutt. Fixing one problem doesn’t mean you’ve fixed all problems.
9. It ends when it ends – The good and bad thing about sequels is that they don’t have resolve the entire story arc. They can be bridges, but they still have to lead somewhere. You don’t have to cram five books of story into it, but at the same time, you have to give the readers some degree of closure. Endings don’t have to be final, or happy, but they have to be satisfying and interesting.
10. Character is still king – Your characters are the vehicles of your story. If you are driving your readers around in an uncomfortable, stinky, shitbox of a car, or a boring beige sedan, it will matter. People stick with stories because they care about the characters. If you’ve given them nothing to care about, they are under no obligation to care about your book.
11. It must, MUST be interesting – This is maybe the vaguest and most honest rule in fiction writing. It can be a five page run-on sentence, it can be an army of prepubescent bear cubs in New York, it can be the self-discovery of a cricket finding itself on the back of a naked gigolo. None of that matters. All that matters is that it’s interesting, whether it be the writing, the prose, the structure, the character, the ideas. Boredom is death for a novel.
Anyway, I’ll be promoting THE UMBRAL WAKE a lot more in the upcoming weeks, including a cover reveal soon. I hope the five of you reading this blog finds this list somewhat helpful.