Friday, December 13, 2013

Five Tips for Writing a Sequel - by Victoria Lamb

Today, we welcome Victoria Lamb to the blog.

Victoria  has written two historical trilogies for Penguin Random House, one for adults and one for Young Adults. Here she talks about writing a sequel and shares some ponderings on the process.

1. Where To Start
Choosing the point at which you need to pick up your story again in a sequel is a delicate process. It’s best to end each book in a series in a well-rounded way, not on a cliffhanger – though some authors would disagree – so picking up exactly where you left off may not be an option. Consider these questions: does this opening work for someone who did not read the previous book, and does it contain the seeds of the story ahead?

2. Back-story
If your first few pages are a summary of the plot so far, you will bore everyone, including yourself. Drip-feed information only when required, preferably through dialogue, but especially whenever a new character enters the scene. Never assume the reader has read or remembers your previous books. But keep references to back-story very light, more stage asides than whole paragraphs, and introduce them into the narrative as organically as possible. Don’t let them clunk about, knocking the furniture over. Don’t use flashbacks to reveal back-story. Ever.

3. Character Development and Continuity
If your main characters have not changed since the start of the series, you need to ask why. Since character development is best revealed through action, have them do something they did in a previous book, but show them experimenting and learning. Keep developments logical and consistent. Early on, briefly touch base with characteristics/plot points familiar from the last book. This allows readers to relax and remember how much they enjoyed your previous story.

4. Plot development and continuity
There are two story arcs in a series. First, your overall arc, which may contain several threads. For my Lucy Morgan trilogy, one of these is: ‘Will Queen Elizabeth I survive all these assassination attempts and keep her throne?’ (Spoiler: yes.) The other is each book’s individual story arc. This should reach a satisfactory conclusion in each book. It can carry on to the next, especially if it’s a major sub-plot providing continuity, but it should be seen in a new light in your sequel. Same romance, new circumstances. 

5. Middle and End Books
Middle books suffer from not really having a beginning or an end. But this can make them great! There’s no rush to draw story threads together, so concentrate instead on character development and narrative voice. Conclude your story arc, but leave the ending tantalisingly open to seduce the reader into returning. For end books, hit the ground running and beware of having too many endings as each sub-plot concludes. There never feels like enough time in the book of a series. So make the most of each chapter.

 Victoria Lamb with Book One, The Queen's Secret

His Dark Lady is out in paperback now, the middle book of the Lucy Morgan, Shakespeare’s Mistress trilogy, a novel of romance and intrigue set at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. (Book One was The Queen’s Secret.)

Book Two, his Dark Lady, out now

Follow Victoria on Twitter:       @VictoriaLamb1

Thank you such an informative, interesting article, Victoria. We wish you every success with His Dark Lady, and with all your books.

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Alison Morton said...

Excellent advice on all points, Victoria.

I lay little seeds in the ground in each book that may germinate in the next or even the following book, plus add in light references back to previous ones. It slots in another layer and it's fun!

It's very important that while continuing the overall arc each book should be a story on its own. I once threw a book across the room (rare event!) because it ended on a cliffhanger. I felt cheated and refused to buy the next one or anything else by that author.

Yes, characters should develop book to book or they risk becoming cardboard-y. and it's very rewarding to find out how they're maturing or otherwise changing in the face of new challenges.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for this great advice - will bookmark!

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