One reason I’m thinking about this because I just read such a sequel. A few years ago now, I was given a YA book called INGO by Helen Dunmore, about a girl on the Cornish coast who discovers her family connection with the local mermaid population. It was a good book, well-written and compelling. But I was slow off the mark looking for the sequel, THE TIDE KNOT, and it sort of came and went without me. But I finally found it at my local indie bookstore (yet another reason to shop indies), brought it home and tucked in.
Sigh. Unfortunately, the author had so many ideas she wanted to pursue: coming of age, split families, environmental change, balance, trust, to name a few, that she didn’t properly follow up on any of them. The plot was committed in a scattershot fashion and the resolution felt….unresolved. It didn’t tie back to what the heroine had learned or needed to achieve to do that coming of age thing.
The other reason I’m thinking about it is I’ve just finished the first books of what I sincerely hope will be not one but two new ongoing series, and have proposals out for several others, and obviously, I want to avoid the weak sequel issue.
I’m coming to the conclusion that the writing a series is different from writing a single novel, much the way that writing a novel is different from writing a short story, and the difference lies in complexity of structure. A really good series, especially an open-ended one needs a good plot for each individual book, and a good long-running plot that makes a connecting thread between the books. Both have to feed off each other, both have to spin off sub-plots, connect characters, effect the action and continue to matter to the readers, the character, and the writer.
That’s a lot of information for a writer to manage. It’s made worse, if, like me, no matter how well you outline, your book is going to change, and change radically as you write it. Characters will do things you don’t expect. Ideas you couldn’t have possibly predicted will show up on the doorstep, begging to be taken in. The real world will change suddenly, and you’ll want to take those changes into account in your fictional world.
So that leaves me with one basic tools; the re-read. I have to go back and re-read the previous book(s_ to remind myself what I’ve done, to compare my plans and set-up with the outlook I’ve got now that I’m in the future (reading being a form of time travel, even if it’s your own work). This, however, can be a dangerous and painful process, because you get to see all your mistakes, all your badly cauked seams and partially buried bodies. All of which make you want to tear your hair out and swear off the word processor for good.
Or…it can feed the process. Not by causing you to swear impossible oaths of getting it perfect next time, but because every hole, every seam, every incomplete resolution, is an opportunity for the plot to get in. You can’t go back and rewrite the finished book, but you can go forward and explore those weaknesses, shape story from them, explain what was really going on in the back of the character’s minds (okay, so maybe you didn’t know at the time, but you might now). Because the great advantage of an ongoing series is the opportunity to continue. To continue to build the world, continue to perfect the understanding of the characters, explore and discover plot and adventure.
In short, to write a sequel for all the reasons you read a sequel.