Welcome back! This week in the Tollbooth, we’re talking about sequels. I started off Monday with my own sequel-writing experience, including some of what I learned along the way. Today I want to share a few thoughts from some other writers who were kind enough to answer some questions for me. They are:
Ellen Jensen Abbott – author of the young adult novel Watersmeet and its forthcoming sequel, The Centaur’s Daughter.
Cinda Williams Chima - New York Times best-selling author of the Heir Chronicles and the Seven Realms series.
Janni Lee Simner - author of (among other things!) the young adult novel Bones of Faerie and its forthcoming sequel, Faerie Winter.
Jill Santopolo - author of the Alec Flint Mysteries The Nina, the Pinta and the Vanishing Treasure and The Ransom Note Blues.
One of the things I love most about talking with other writers is seeing the similarities and differences in how we approach our projects. It’s always fascinating to me to hear about someone else’s process! Here are the first few questions, with my kind participants’ various and informative responses:
Q: Did you know when you started the first books in your series that you’d be writing sequels to follow?
EJA: Yes. Watersmeet was always the first installment in what has been at times a quartet, at times a trilogy. This means that I should have done a better job setting myself up for book 2; after all, I know how the story arc ends. But the middle bits keep changing around!
CWC: I wrote The Warrior Heir as a stand-alone, but I enjoyed the characters and the magical system so much, I immediately began writing The Wizard Heir. Then I stopped, realizing I might have the world’s longest unpublished series. The Warrior Heir sold as a stand-alone (my publisher didn’t want to commit to two books before knowing how the first would do.) After they bought The Wizard Heir, I began writing The Dragon Heir.
With the Seven Realms series, I planned it as a true trilogy (one story arc over three books) and was fortunate enough to get a three-book contract from my publisher. But my trilogy became a quartet when I ran out of room in book 3 and none of my conflicts were resolved.
JLS: I didn’t! When I finished Bones of Faerie, the story felt finished to me. I loved the world of the story, and very much hoped I’d get to return to it some day — I guess I felt like there was room to tell more stories there, but not like the first book would be incomplete without a sequel.
So after I finished Bones of Faerie, I went off and wrote other things while I waited to see whether it would sell — and whether there would be interest in a sequel, if it did. (Usually, if I want to write a book badly enough, I write it and worry about the market later — I’m a pretty strong believer in writing what we love. But sequels feel like a special case to me, because if the first book doesn’t sell or if its publisher doesn’t want a sequel, there’s really is nowhere else to send that book.)
JS: I actually didn’t know I’d be writing a sequel. I wrote the first Alec Flint book as a stand alone mystery — but I did hope that a publishing house would ask me to write more mysteries starring Alec and Gina. Lucky for me, they contracted for two books right off the bat. So I got to revise with a sequel in mind.
Q: How does the process of writing a sequel differ from writing a first or stand-alone book?
EJA: When I wrote the second installment, I had to spend less time getting to know my characters. After all, we’d already taken quite a journey together. They changed and grew in the course of the second novel, but I didn’t have to think through their histories or families, likes and dislikes, physical characteristics, names, etc.
I also had to spend much less time on world-building, which is both the most fun and the most difficult aspect of fantasy, in my experience. I already had a geography, economy, culture, belief system, technology, etc. Of course there were aspects to be tweaked. In Watersmeet, the reader never sees the inside of the Fairy Motherland, but in the sequel, The Centaur’s Daughter, the main character does get inside and this blank spot on my map had to be developed.
CWC: When writing a sequel, you have to be aware of the rules and details you’ve laid down in previous books. Otherwise, you get emails. I keep a table of people’s names and descriptions, places, and magical terms. Despite that, one character had different colored eyes in each of the Heir novels. How did I know that? I received an email from a sharp-eyed reader. I also had a situation where Christmas was celebrated twice in one year.
If you make changes during the editing process, you have to make sure that you carry them through in other books.
JLS: I’d written a trilogy (the Phantom Rider books) years ago, but in that case, I was in many ways writing one story arcing over three books, even though each book had its own arc as well. And I wrote those books in quick succession, while I’d been away from the world of Bones of Faerie for a while when I started its sequel, Faerie Winter.
I feel like Faerie Winter really is a sequel rather than the second half of a single story. I was bound by all that had come before, but I wasn’t retelling that story–I was telling a new story that had its own places to go. The biggest challenge for me was letting go of the idea that I needed to give sequel readers the exact same experience they’d had in the first book, because the very fact that they (and I) have read the first book makes that impossible. It’s like revisiting the house you grew up in: the very fact that you’ve been there before means you can’t see it in the same way or have the same experience as you walk through its rooms. In the end I had to let go of Bones of Faerie, in a sense, and free up Faerie Winter to be its own book and go its own places.
Yet in another sense I never let Bones of Faerie go, because everything that happened in that book was part of my protagonist, Liza, and so part of her story, too.
Because my protagonist was the same for both books, I used that as a starting point. When I’d finished Bones of Faerie, I’d felt like Liza’s story and arc were complete. When I started Faerie Winter, I revisited that, and looked for the ways in which, emotionally, she really wasn’t complete after all.
It was a fascinating process for me.
JS: For me, at least, the process was different because the world had already been built. I knew what the town looked like, who was in Alec’s class, what personalities and jobs people had — it was nice to be able to pull from the first book to create the second. I also knew the narrative voice of these stories pretty well by the time I started writing the sequel, so I didn’t have to spend time developing that — I could jump right in and start writing. Writing the sequel was a much quicker process for me.
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Come back Friday for more Q&A and the third post in my sequel trilogy.