On Writing Sequels

Somebody recently asked me how I found the process of writing the sequel to A Study of Ash & Smoke. I finished A Trial of Sparks & Kindling at the end of August, after one of the most intense writing sprints of my life.

Of course, this isn’t the first sequel I’ve ever written. Cringe.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about how I find writing a sequel.

It’s easier to get into.

The first book in the series typically has the most info dumps. You have to set the scene, build the characters and world, explain how the magic works, explore the politics and dynamics of this place you’re entering, and so on. And that applies even if you’re not writing speculative fiction.

If your novel is set in modern-day London, for example, everybody has an idea of how the scene will look and work. Having said that, you still have to build your characters and their direct surroundings. Someone’s bedroom or apartment can tell us so much about who they are, so it’s important to get it right.

The info dump to story ratio is so important in the first book in a series. If you feature pages of exposition, you lose the reader to boredom or information overdrive. If you don’t give enough information, you lose the reader because they don’t understand what the hell is going on. This still applies to the second book–there will be things that need explaining–but you don’t typically need to go into the deep dynamics of setting the scene again (except if your characters travel to a whole new world in a TARDIS).

With the sequel, the world and characters are already established. It’s much easier to begin writing when you don’t have to explain everything in detail again. You can focus on what character growth you’ve already set up in the first book and expand on that.

The story is a step closer to the end goal.

There’s something exciting about writing a sequel–you’re one step closer. Your characters have already taken control of their fate, and have already faced some of their demons.

It’s so satisfying to lead them onward on their epic journey, to see how they grow when you throw new hardships at them.

It’s like building a house. Book one is the foundation, and that’s exciting in its own right, but you can’t yet picture where the rooms are going to be. It’s just a series of trenches dug into soil.

Book two is when the walls go up. You have a clear picture of how the house will look when it’s done, and you know the walls will be steady because of the strong foundation you created in book one. This house will stand.

Because you’re now building upward, you get to glimpse the possibilities of where this story will lead you. This made the sequel-writing process so much more satisfying to me.

Applying what I’ve learned.

Writing A Study of Ash & Smoke was a steep learning curve. I had no idea what I was doing, and that’s why the process of polishing that book took so long.

While writing A Trial of Sparks & Kindling, I could apply everything I’d learned. Yes, this book will still need all the editing and so on, but I could clearly see how much my writing has improved since that first draft of The Physician’s Apprentice (the old name of Ash & Smoke).

I’m not saying that to sound important or anything, I still have pretty intense impostor syndrome and am almost constantly doubting my writing ability. Still, it isn’t difficult to see this manuscript is much tighter than the first few drafts of Ash & Smoke could dream to be.

It’s good to see personal growth in something tangible.

Will I still have moments of crippling self-doubt? Yes. In fact, it’s creeping in as I type this, because I was confident enough to say my writing has improved. 😛 Self-doubt wants to knock me down a peg. Writers, am I right?

There’s more pressure.

Shock and horror, but sequel writing isn’t all fluff and rainbows. When you publish that first book, nobody has read it yet. You have only your mother and her cat to let down.

Then, a few good reviews roll in. (I am so lucky to have these. Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to write a review.)

Suddenly, people are asking for a sequel. Nobody cared before, but now there’s some pressure.

Additionally, all of us know how important a sequel can be to a series. It sets the tone for everything that is to come. By the third book, most readers will be more forgiving if it isn’t as good as the second, but the second book has the power to make or break a fanbase.

You want the second book to be better than the first. Wouldn’t it suck so much if your sequel isn’t on par with the first book? What if people complain about it online? Even if you have a fanbase of eight, it would be such a bummer if they didn’t feel as strongly about the sequel as book one.

The fear is real, folks.

We don’t want to remain at the same skill level, and that applies to every aspect of our lives. We want to grow, right? Improve. So, even if this new pressure is just a personal thing, it still complicates writing the sequel.

Anyway, that’s it from me. Those of you who have some experience in the sequel writing department, please comment below with your experiences. I’d love to hear from you.



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A Study of Ash & Smoke
A Trial of Sparks & Kindling


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