By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
Writing a sequel is hard. I mean, really hard. I had no idea the first time I wrote one, and figured book two would be just as easy as book one. It was my first sequel, and I learned a lot doing it. If you haven't faced one yet (or you have and it made you want to pull your hair out) here are some tips on dealing with book two.
1. It has to be its own story.
Unless you already have a slew of books under your belt and can get away with breaking one story into multiple books (and let's face it, most of us can't do that), a sequel should be it's own story. It needs to be understandable even if someone didn't read the first one. By that I mean, it should have a goal, scenes to achieve that goal, and a resolution to that goal just like any other book. A common mistake for sequels (especially middle books of trilogies) is that it sets up book three. Instead of being a complete book, it's like one big boggy middle.
2. It needs to remind readers about book one, without rehashing the whole thing or relying on the first to make sense.
This is a toughy, because odds are, book one ended with a natural transition to book two. You can't talk about the problems in B2 without mentioning B1. Finding the right balance between explaining critical B1 events and keeping B2 focused on the new plot is challenging. What I eventually did was pretend readers knew all about B1 while writing the draft. I treated it just like backstory, because B1 is essentially all backstory for B2. After I was done, I went back and looked at all those backstory pieces. Were they clear in context, or did I need to add a few lines to explain what I meant. While you'll probably have to do some infodumping, (and it's okay in this context), make sure you only explain the bare minimum needed to get the referenced material.
3. It needs to maintain the same things readers loved about book one, but not duplicate it.
Your first instinct will probably be to do something totally different so it's not the same book again, but then you risk losing everything readers liked in the first place. And since the story is continuing, a lot of similar things will still be happening. Look for ways to approach similar but necessary things from a new angle. Is there a way to add a layer of emotion to it? Add a complication based on what happened before? Did the characters learn anything in B1 that make them approach the same issues in B2 differently? Be wary of trying so hard not to copy yourself that you ignore good ideas just because "I did that in book one." Judge each event and see how close it really is, and if anything new is learned from it.
4. You want to reveal new things about the characters and world.
Readers want to keep discovering more about your world and characters. Dig deep to find new secrets or cool new world building to keep them hooked. If you have a book three, don't forget to hold some stuff back (or use this as an opportunity to plant some seeds for B3) for the next book. But also don't be afraid of using up "all the good stuff" for B2. Look for opportunities to reveal, and be able to build off those reveals later.
5. The characters need to grow.
Your characters underwent some tough stuff last book, and they learned a thing or two from it. Don't have them making the same mistakes all over again. Let them make new mistakes, or even have learned the lessons wrong so they make a bigger mistake this time around. It's fun for readers to see them avoid something that would have tripped them up in the first book.
6. Don't forget your secondary characters.
Book twos are a great place to explore your secondary characters some more. Give them more responsibility or opportunities to act. Small walk on characters are also great resources for characters in B2. Maybe they can fill a role to add depth and continuity where a new character wouldn't.
7. Be careful not to add too many new characters.
It's very easy to add way too many new faces in a B2. Make sure you keep it reasonable, and anyone who shows up really does advance the story and is critical to the plot. Check with existing characters to see if they could fill that role.
8. Keep raising the stakes.
This is another hard one, because chances are the stakes ended pretty high in the first book. You might be tempted to start off with a bang, but be wary of hitting the high note too early and have no where to go. It's okay for this book to start off lower since it's its own book with new goals. Overall, things will probably be more at stake since events in B1, but you can build toward that instead of starting off there. Just make sure you don't start too low and treat the B1 events like they never had any consequences.
9. Remember book two isn't a set up for book three.
Yes, this is kinda in here twice, but it's important to remember. You probably have some really amazing things planned for B3, and you want to hint about those or get things in order so it all works out right. While some of this is fine, it can easily take over and you wind up with a book that doesn't offer a satisfying ending. It's okay to foreshadow a little, but don't leave readers hanging, or get them to a place that's about to get really good and just stop. Save that great hook as your B3 opening.
10. Remember that almost everyone falls on their face for book two.
I have this from good authority, so don't stress if your first draft (or second, or fourth) isn't singing to you. This can be a very hard thing to get right, but if you keep working on it, you'll get there. And I'm also told that hardly anyone ever goes through it again.