5.14.2019

Resurrecting from the Past

If you are writing a sequel, your first concern is to escape from the clutches of the first book. You can do that by being deliberate about your outlining the second book. Forget about being organic. If you plunge in, thinking the characters will guide you through, you will likely find that your story is noodling right along the same grooves you pursued last time. Set down clear lines you want the new story to follow first.

One primary objective is devising a way to foment new tension between your established characters. Let’s say that sexual tension between Jack and Amy built nicely during the first book. Yet once they become a pair by the end, where do you go from there? As the old writing dictum goes, you either have to build up or tear down a relationship. The one thing it can’t do is remain on a plateau all book long. So you better start creating some problems if you want Jack and Amy to keep entertaining the reader. The reasons that a couple has problems are many: infidelity, undue jealousy, money, and/or divergent interests among them. Which type of problem would lead their plot line in a distinctly different direction from the first book?

You should consider other sources of friction as well. Perhaps Amy’s father hated Jack, but by the end of the book has come to respect him. What is going to replace that agent of friction? Unless you have a new concern for her father, you might want to relegate him to a minor character in the second book.

When you are outlining the next book, take one important step. Create new major characters right from the start. Write sketches about them, just as you (hopefully) did for your major characters in book one. When you set out a preliminary order of scenes, make sure the new characters are heavily involved with the ones being carried over. That way you’ll avoid any scenes that mainly explicate the past. Once you’ve created a run of 10 or so scenes, you’ll have a good start to a fresh book.

Exercise: Draw up an initial plot chart with three columns. The headings should be: Chapter, Main Characters (in that chapter), and Scene Synopsis. For the Synopsis, try to write 5-6 sentences, laying out the plot points in some detail. You can see right away the advantages of sketching out in brief what you’d like to pursue, and with which characters. You’re moving beyond the hazy one-line comments in your outline. You can also see at a glance whether you’re replicating relationships or plot ideas from the past.

“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.”
—Edgar Rice Burroughs

Copyright @ 2019, John Paine


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