It’s my daughter’s birthday today (Friday, as I write this)—she’s turned 27—and she’s given me an hour to get this blog written before I take her out. We’re going to engage in two of her favorite pastimes—sitting at a café with a cup of coffee and a pastry (something she got into the habit of when she lived in Paris for a few years), and shopping for her birthday present. I told her I had a blog to write and asked if she had any good ideas for what I should write about. She said “sequels”. So, since it’s her day, sequels it is!
The only problem with writing about sequels is that there are two completely different things I could write about: 1) a sequel to a book, meaning the second (or third) book in a series; or 2) a sequel to a scene (which is a fun topic to explore). So, let’s hit them both.
A Sequel to a Book
There is absolutely nothing better than sitting and reading a fantastic book in which you entirely lose yourself, where you are, and all sense of time. The only downside to such books are that they end. Thank goodness most writers no longer write one-off single novels anymore. The current trend is for authors to write series—two or more books that are related in some way.
So, once you are finished reading that incredible, wonderful book that you simply couldn’t put down… there’s another waiting (or will soon be made available) written by the same author and set in the same world. Usually, the same characters show up in the sequel, although they are no longer the protagonist. Or, perhaps the story from the first book merely continues—much to your delight.
As an author, if you’re going to write a series or even just one sequel, you need to at least have an idea of how you are going to continue with the second book. Is it going to be one story spread out over a number of books? Is it going to be a series of “episodes” in one character’s life, perhaps building to some great finish? Or will you write many different stories featuring different characters who are related in some way?
If it’s either the first or second option, then you and your reader know that ultimately there will be an end to the series that all of the books are leading you toward. The connectedness of the books is that end goal.
But if you’re merely writing the stories of a number of people who are connected in some way (family members, members of a particular social group, spy agency, crew of a starship, whatever), then you may not actually have one story that connects all of the books. They are tied together by the relationship between the protagonists of each book to each other. I would argue, however, that it’s also a lot of fun if there is also one larger story connecting all of the books—maybe the evolution of the group all the protagonists are a member of, maybe the starship reaching its intended destination. But tying all the books together with more than just the protagonists adds more fun for the author and more impetus to the reader to read all of the books in the series since they know there’s going to be a payoff at the very end.
Scene and Sequel Story Structure
Another form of sequel is the scene and sequel story structure. A lot of books (most, quite possibly) actually have this without even the author realizing it. The concept is that each scene in a story is where something happens—conflict, tension, action of some sort. It is where the protagonist moves either toward or away from their goal, and hopefully, moves toward their ultimate growth (as Lisa Cron calls it in Story Genius, her sequel to Wired for Story, the “third rail”). But then frequently (although not always) after a scene—especially one which is a turning point in the story—there is a sequel to the scene where the protagonist sits back and thinks about what just happened. They not only ruminate over whatever change was wrought but come to a decision as to how they are going to go on from there. It is a moment of calm in what may be a very exciting time in the story.
Sequels are vital in story telling. They do a number of important things. If what has just happened makes it so the protagonist needs to shift their goal or come to a realization about something which upsets their world or the way they thought it was, then naturally, they’ve got to stop and digest this major change. But beyond that it’s vital that once this upset is thought through, they need to adapt to the change and determine how they are going to continue toward their goal given this new reality. This is character development or growth and it’s essential to a good story.
Another thing that a sequel might be doing is providing a break for the reader. If you have battle or high-tension scene after scene in a row, there is no way a reader can keep on with that without a break. They will become overwhelmed and tired and are more likely to put down the book. But if you provide a moment of calm and introspection or even just planning for the next attack, then the reader is able to continue reading while the story returns to the next high tension scene. The sequel allows the reader (and the characters) to take a breath, regroup, before carrying on.
So, there you have it, sequel. Two completely different types, both equally important and both providing for exciting times in your writing.