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Roundtable #16: Writing the Sequel

Writing a sequel is hard for many reasons. It is often the first book written under contract. There is a responsibility to build up the world and characters that readers have come to love and enjoy. And sometimes the first book has changed, which changes what a writer had originally planned for book 2! But every experience is different! So the WBP contributors have gotten together to discuss our experiences with writing our sequels!

Note: This post is done in a roundtable style where members of Writer’s Block Party discuss a topic together.

Foody: In my experience, significantly harder. In the first book, every word of your story introduces your reader into the world. There’s an art to gradually feeding that information to ensure the reader is fully informed but not overwhelmed or bored, and as someone who’s written a lot of first books, that was a challenge I was used to. But in a sequel, the reader already knows your story and your characters… but they still need that refresher. So not only do you have to reintroduce all the world-building a second time, you have to set up a new story, and you have to recap the old one. It makes those first few chapters of a sequel so intimidating.

Kat: Oh that’s a really good point, Foody. I legit will forget pertinent details if I’ve read book 1 too long ago (aka a year ago). I’ve only ever written one sequel (we’re told not to write a sequel until we’ve queried/sold the first book because you can’t query/sub a sequel), and it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my writing career. It’s true that the world is already “built” up for the readers, but there’s the added pressure of continuing to build up this world in a way that makes sense and raises the stakes. You can’t just do the same things you did in the first book or keep the stakes at the same level, because it’s expected that you make everything…bigger somehow. And it’s very scary to try (and feel like you’re failing).

Katy: I’m gonna be the voice of dissent here and say that my experience writing book 2 was actually easier! (Keeping in mind that I’m currently still revising it). For me, having already established the world and the characters in book 1, writing book 2 let me really dig in and start complicating these relationships and layering in things that I had only hinted at in book 1, which was so much fun for me! It definitely can be difficult balancing the new worldbuilding elements and plot twists with what we already know, but for me that was a fun challenge. 

I think I had a fun time with book 2 for the same reason that my favorite part of writing a book is the middle–I just love the part of the book where there’s that momentum, where everything is going wrong and your expectations are getting turned upside down and there’s no resolution in sight. I will also say that I often refer to my experience of writing book 1 as a gauntlet, so I by the end of it I felt like whatever book 2 threw at me, I could handle it. 

Axie: To answer the question, I would say “easier,” as like Katy said, writing a sequel presents the unique challenge of expanding upon a world that is already developed in the first book. It was fun to open up the world, so to speak. My experience was a little different, too, in that my second book (Rogue Heart) is a companion novel to the first and therefore can be read without having read the first. So I didn’t have some of the challenges of direct sequels (aka the same cast, a direct continuation of the storyline, or the necessity of a recap). I thought of it this way – Rebel Seoul already gave me a “bank of words” to work with –  I wrote the book with those words plus a few unique ones to show Rogue’s uniquely beating heart ❤ 

Christine’s post

Foody: A high key mess. I was waking up at 5am every morning to squeeze in half-delirious writing time before work, then I’d work for a few extra hours after I came home from the office. I really burned myself out, but I didn’t feel like I had another option.

Kat: I failed miserably. And I’m NOT exaggerating here. I missed my deadline hard core. It’s hard to go from writing when you get a chance with no deadlines but your own to being paid to write and therefore being beholden to a whole institution. Plus there’s the fact that the vast majority of debut authors have worked on their first published book for years. Then you literally have less than a year to outline, draft, and turn in your next book to your editor and it’s super stressful. On top of all this, my personal issue was that I’d taken a job in publishing where I was responsible for editing other people’s books and that put a lot of strain on my creative brain. I loved working with other authors, but when you’re using your creative brain for your day job you get really burnt out and don’t want to use it for your own writing at the end of the day. That made me procrastinate hard. 

However, something really important to remember is that when you’re writing book 2 you know it’s going to be published. So any pain you feel with writing book 2 is a very different pain than book 1. Because you don’t have those down moments where you’re at your lowest and wondering if all this work will even be seen by readers one day, will this book every sell, will this all be “worth it.” (Note: I do think any book you write is worth it because it helps you grow as a writer). But at the same time when you’re writing a book under contract you have a very deep-seated fear of letting  your team down. When you were writing before you were mostly alone and therefore you didn’t have anyone depending on you in order to do their job, but now you do! And that’s so daunting!

Katy: Please take this with a grain of salt, because right around the time I was turning in the final draft of book 1 I went part time at work. This made the experience of writing book 2 tremendously different than if I had stayed full time. Revising on deadline for book 1 + spending 40+ hours a week coding? Almost killed me. I did not want to repeat that experience with book 2. I knew I would burn out, and I was so excited about book 2 that I didn’t want that to happen. But even with being part time, writing on deadline was very scary for me. There was very little time to second guess myself, to explore the story the way I had in book 1, to do anything but hit my deadlines and pray my editor could help me sort out the messes. I had to have faith in my own writing like I never had before–faith that in 12 months I would wind up with a book I was proud of. I’m not quite there yet, but the end is in sight. I can see the shape of the finished book and I know, more or less, how to get there.

Axie: I love reading all your answers! So much of writing is influenced by the writer’s life – which is why I think self-care is so important to writing and creativity. Again, I think my experience is different than Foody, Kat, & Katy’s because I had an extra year to write my second book since it sold after my first book came out. I also knew the story of my second book really well because I had wanted to write it even while I was writing the first book, and more importantly, the voice of my protagonist was very distinct in my mind, and came naturally to me. As for writing under contract, I mostly met my deadlines, though if I felt I needed an extension, I would ask for one in advance. And it was actually very freeing to me to write under contract because I already knew the book was going to be published, so I went full on out and wrote the book I wanted to write, imbuing it with everything I love as a reader. 

Axie: I wrote the first book as a standalone, though I hoped for a companion novel with two of my favorite side characters – and yay, I got my wish! So, short answer, no, but while I was writing and revising the first book, I left the door open for some character plotlines. 

Katy: We sold There Will Come a Darkness as a trilogy, and during the submission phase we sent out a short synopsis of where I saw books 2 & 3 going. This was really the first time I had sat down and tried to sort through all my thoughts and hopes for the series. What ended up sending out was a very brief almost teaser-ish synoposes, although I had figured out a lot more than just that. Still, sitting down to actually write book 2 was daunting, and while I knew where I was heading (more so than I had with book 1) I ended up discovering so many things along the way. The world, which I thought I had come to know so well in TWCAD, showed me new facets, and the characters continued to surprise me.

Foody: I knew that Ace of Shades would be a trilogy, and I had a vague idea about certain new characters and plotlines in King of Fools. But, as always, a lot was discovered as I went. I knew it would be long, though. I guessed that part right.

Kat: I knew what I wanted the sequel to Wicked Fox to look like. I knew that I wanted to include more POV characters and expand on a new mythology outside of the gumiho, so it was definitely kind of outlined before I sold Wicked Fox. But I will say that the characters became far more fleshed out as I revised Wicked Fox with my editor (which I’m very grateful for) and as they became more fleshed out I realized some of my ideas for book 2 just didn’t make sense anymore. So, I did have to revamp my idea after I finished all of my revisions for book 1 and that seemed daunting at first.

Axie: The hardest part for me was knowing what readers liked in the first book and not wanting to disappoint them. I am a HUGE people pleaser and perfectionist (these are flaws, btw), so it was difficult to get other people’s voices out of my head at times. BUT THEN – I realized, in order to please anyone, you must first please yourself (and your editor, probably). 

Foody: To avoid droning out about how I loathe recapping again, I’d say the hardest part of writing King of Fools was the fact that it was a middle book in a series, not just a sequel. It had to bridge the first book and third, without me really knowing what that third book was. There were scenes I had to cut and shift into Queen of Volts. Hints I needed to drop. It just took a lot of organizational brainpower, and I was wildly overwhelmed.

Kat: OMG, I hate the recapping part too, Foody! I legit just wanted to dive right into book 2 as if we’d never left (and the time between book 1 and book 2 for me was very short so it felt like I should be able to do that!) I’ll also say that I wanted to make sure the main romantic relationship that played out in book 2 was different than book 1 (because let’s be honest I wrote a not so low-key paranormal romance). Even though the bones of the relationships seemed similar at first, they were different characters so they definitely wouldn’t come about in the same way. I do fear sometimes I went too far in the opposite direction, but that’s what revisions are for!

Katy: I’ll echo what Kat and Foody are saying here which is that a 2nd book is super unique in that you have to start answering some questions about the plot and the world, but leave enough twists so that book 3 can really pack a punch. There’s a lot of uncertainty in a second book–you’re restricted not only by what you’ve set up in book 1, but also what you hope to accomplish in book 3. You need to progress the story without resolving it. No one wants a book 2 that feels like filler until the real action starts! It’s a delicate balance. 

I’ve also often said that my favorite series are the ones that nail the second book (my go-to examples are Now I Rise in the Conqueror’s Saga & The Winner’s Crime) The second book in these series are my favorite of the whole series, which I think is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off! So I definitely put extra pressure on myself for book 2.

Kat: I’ve always wondered what the story was with ancillary/side characters when I’ve read books (Seriously, still waiting for a book about Liraz and Ziri from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series). So, I was really happy that I got to flesh out two of my favorite side characters from Wicked Fox with book 2. It was really fun to kind of break apart what made them tick and to see how it might be different than what people might have expected (to be honest, it turned out being different than I first imagined when I created them so many years ago).

Katy: I love that about your sequel Kat! I feel like when you create those fan-favorite characters in book 1 people are clamoring to read more about them, and in this case we actually get what we want! (#1 Junu stan over here). For me, the way that I structured the Age of Darkness series, the most fun part about book 2 was developing the relationships between the characters. In book 1 a lot of the POV and important secondary characters cross paths for the first time, but in book 2 I get to build on those initial established dynamics and play around with them. I also love expanding the world–in book 1 we definitely get the sense that the world is big, but we really only get to visit two, maybe three different places in the course of the book. Book 2 is much more far flung and I loved exploring these new places–while still getting to build on and deepen what we already know about the world.

Axie: Yes to all this! Continuing the stories of favorite characters is for sure one of the best parts of writing second books in a series! And also because my second book is from the POV of a different character who was a side character in the first book, it was super fun to explore how she (Ama) perceived people and interacted with people in comparison to my first protagonist (Jaewon). For example, in the first book, the character of Tera is Jaewon’s “love interest,” to frame her in YA terms, but in the second book, Tera is Ama’s best friend, older sister, hero, and more. 

Foody: I love making the story bigger. More characters. More world. More depth. There was so much that I held in my head for so long, and it was so exciting to finally put those voices or scenes on a page. I love how the story never truly goes in the way you expected it. Also, of course, it’s fun to play with readers’ preconceived notions and theories. 

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