Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Trouble With Sequels

One location...many stories
For the very first time, I find myself writing a sequel.

I never meant to. I intended to write a romantic suspense novel set in a small Italian town where I’d just spent a holiday and with which I’d fallen immediately in love. (I’m afraid my books are holiday romances in more ways than one.) I had the outline plotted by the end of the holiday, drafted up within a couple more weeks and written up by the end of October. I can work fast when I’m on a roll.

Unfortunately, during the process of writing, something went badly wrong. Although the main plot worked fine and my hero and heroine proved unusually biddable, two of my minor characters did not. They fell in love, without realising it, and at the end of the book they were left separated and not on speaking terms. Which would have been fine if I (and I hope the reader) didn’t know they were deeply attracted to one another and that their story was not over.

Because they were meant be together, no matter how difficult their path, plotting their story was fairly straightforward too. But that was I ran into another problem. In a series of books about the same people — such as Jenny Harper’s current Heartland series — it’s tricky enough to keep everyone’s stories straight. Jenny does it brilliantly. But with a sequel, where the plot driver of Book Two (in this case the relationship between the two protagonists) hinges on actions which they took in Book One…how do you tell the story?

I can’t assume a reader has read Book One first, thought it would help if they had, and even if they had it might be a while before they get to Book Two. How much of the back story do I introduce? How soon? How much do I say about he characters, the relationships which have been introduced? If Leona is determined to go back to Italy to get Nico to apologise, though obviously she won’t acknowledge she’s in love with him (if she even knows) then how much do I have to put in about what their row was about — and how soon?

I haven’t resolved the issue yet. I’ve chopped and I’ve changed the opening several chapters. I’ve taken some sound advice thanks to which (you know who you are) it feels a whole lot better. But getting in the backstory without too much telling is proving harder than I anticipated.

I’m taking more advice, and any tips are welcome. Answers on a postcard, please!


  1. It's a challenge,Jennifer. Much better to decide before you start - although I didn't either! My Heartlands series is set in and around the same town, but until now, none of the books has been sequential. That changed when I started writing the current one, Mistakes We Make. Like you, I found the characters wouldn't quite behave as expected, and actually, I had to go back and redraft small portions of People We Love in order to make sense of what came next. Fortunately, it hadn't actually been published at that point!

    Now I'm thinking I need to do detailed time lines, as well as copious notes about Hailesbank, Forgie and the surrounding area!

    God luck with your sequel.

  2. Thanks, Jenny. It's not so much the plot that's bothering me as the fact that so much of the key action has happened already in Book 1, so can't even be told in flashback.
    I should look again at your books, though, as an object lesson in how to proceed.

  3. Ah yes, sequels. I had the same problem, Jennifer....finished a book and it could have ended there and stood alone but my characters were speaking to me. So I wrote a sequel, flying by the seat of my pants. I did what people who have gone before me said not to do - that is start the sequel where the first book left off. But it worked. My editor said I'd got it spot on, feeding in bits of info for those who hadn't read book one, but not boring the readers who had read it with stuff they knew. Phew! And then, of course, came book three ...with even more info to thread into it! So, all I can say is .....good luck, you can do it!

  4. I'm glad it worked for you, Linda (and I have your trilogy ion my TBR list so I'll have a look for myself). I'm also starting from exactly where i's a bit of a roller coaster!

  5. I'm facing the same problem, Jennifer, with a sequel to No More Mulberries. There is a lot of back story to put across if readers haven't read the first one. I've drafted three different start points but am not really happy with any of them. Do pass on any tips you receive!
    I might think about trying Linda's method and start where No More Mulberries stopped and see if I can feed in back story details in dialogue and maybe memories.

    1. Mary, it's reassuring that it isn't just me! The starting point was a problem for me, too, but I've also decided just to begin at the end of the previous one.
      We'll have to see how it goes...

  6. Tried to comment a while ago, but not sure it worked, so here it is again...

    I'm fighting with a sequel myself, but for different reasons - lack of outlining and writing too much without worrying about where in the timeline it would all go, so it's a bit of a mess at the moment, the kind that can only be resolved by two weeks complete concentration and immersion.
    anyway, for your problem I think that perhaps you can use some conversations between the protagonists. After they meet again, for whoever's reasons, I am sure their path to reconciliation won't be very straight. Along the way they can have an argument where they discuss what happened in the last book that made them not actually finish up together in the first book already. Since not everyone's memory of the past is perfect, or the same, they can argue about what really happened, who did what (you did this, and I said that, and if you can't understand that then I don't know why we are here again) and whose fault it was that they had to have a whole new book to sort it all out.
    Them's my two cents, anyhow!
    Good luck with it!

  7. That's a good the moment I have her parents spelling out to her exactly why what she did was wrong; but I still have to explain him. They begin the book in different countries but she could explain her motives to her sympathetic friend, I suppose. Thanks! And good luck with yours...

  8. Oh, yes, very difficult. How much back story? How little? I've just got the edits back on the 2nd of my Young Adult trilogy and that's exactly one of the issues that is coming out. You don't want to put in too much so that if the reader hasn't read Book 1 they won't feel they need to bother. You don't want to put in too little so that if they haven't read Book 1 Book 2 won't make sense. And that's without your added complication Jennifer of the hero and heroine having fallen in love in Book 1! Looking forwrad to seeing how you resolve this.