How to explode with ideas for your sequel

Where might the sequel be set? Canyon

I decided to write a sequel for my WIP, and in days I went from having no idea what it might be about to having dozens of ideas. Here’s how.

I try to avoid writing “how to” posts because I’m generally of the opinion that I know nothing about anything. This post is more “how I got lots of ideas for a sequel”.

(Sorry I deceived you with the title. I feel awful about it.)

I’ve always considered my work in progress to be a “stand-alone with series potential”. That is, the main story question is answered by the end of the book, and at least one of the main characters survives the climax to potentially appear in a subsequent book.

Rats, now I’ve let a spoiler slip. Well, what did you expect from me? I like happy endings and for people to get what they deserve.

The problem was that until recently I had no idea what might happen in a sequel. I thought maybe I’d used up the possibilities of this world and set of characters.

But I also had no concrete plans for a new world (except that there will be unicorns).

Then I looked up and realised I was within a month (okay, maybe two months) of sending my draft to beta readers. And when I do that I want to start writing my next book.

Now, I spent six months planning this book before I started writing, and I don’t think I could have rushed the process.

So cue panic.

I took a deep breath and decided my next book would be a sequel. (I might explain the logic behind this decision another time.) Then all I had to do was decide what it was going to be about.

How I came up with ideas for a sequel

Writing the first book was hard because I had to invent everything from the ground up. Writing a sequel will, I’m sure, be hard in different ways.

But it won’t be starting from scratch.

I talked a while back about how I generate new ideas. I’ve taken a similar approach here. At the start of each writing session I sit down for half an hour (long enough to get into the swing of things, not so long it kills me) and brainstorm any and every idea that might end up in a sequel.

I don’t censor. Killer echidnas? In. Shapeshifters who transform into slugs? In.

To make thing easier for myself, I’ve imposed structure on my brainstorming. Here are the questions I ask myself.

Category 1: Characters

This is an easy place to start.

Who needs to be in the next book(s)? And who might be?

Who do I want to spend more time playing with (who’s not dead)?

Who has strong feelings either way about the non-dead main character(s)?

In particular, whose life did the climax turn upside down? Who might now hate the main character and want revenge? What are their resources and how might they use them to seek revenge?

These are some of my potential antagonists.

Category 2: Places

The first book closes the door to the main character(s) staying in the primary location of the first book. Plus half the fun of fantasy novels is travelling to strange new lands and making enemies with strange new people.

Given the characters’ objectives at the end of the first book, where would they go?

A number of exotic locations are referenced in book 1, and more exist that didn’t make it into the text. Which ones spark my imagination and offer the most opportunities for conflict? Which sound most fun to explore?

Category 3: World and political issues

Book 1 deals with one major political problem, but its closure at the climax opens the door to new problems. How might they grow extra tentacles with poisonous suckers that worm in under the door and try to smother you in your sleep?

What other problems for the world that were stated or implied in book 1 are begging to be exploited?

Who are the major political players, what do they want, and how might the climax of book 1 trigger them to go after it?

What else might already be in motion?

The events of the climax have political, magical, and dragon-related implications. How might these play out?

Considerable world history is explained or hinted at in the first book, but a lot is left unexplained. What really happened when [spoiler censored]? How might that affect the present day world? Are there groups who want to put things back to they way they used to be? How might they try to achieve this?

Setting for the sequel? Turkey
To what exotic places might the characters go?
Category 4: Magic

This was the most fun to think about.

The magic in the first book follows certain rules and has logic behind it, though none of the characters fully understand it yet.

How much further can I push the logic? What other types of powers or abilities does it suggest might exist? How are they gained and by whom?

Who might know what’s possible, how might they know, and how might they use this information to do dastardly and self-interested things?

The climax changed a main character. What consequences might the change have for the character personally? How might the world react to the change?

Who might now view the character as a threat or a tool to be exploited? What might they do about it?

Category 5: Lies the characters believe

In the first book, the main characters all had misconceptions about the world and mankind that they had to unlearn to solve the main story problem. These defined their character arcs to more evolved beings.

But at the end of book one they’re still not perfect and they have more misconceptions that will make things difficult for them in subsequent books.

What existing character misconceptions shown in the first book can be promoted to “very problematic” in the next book?

Could the events of the first book, in particular, the climax, have created new misconceptions or baggage?

No, I don’t make things easy for my characters, but it’s for their own good, promise.

Category 6: Secrets they uncover

At its core, the first book is about uncovering a secret, and I want this to be an element in future books as well.

What secrets might the characters have to uncover about:

What really happened in historical event X?

The true nature of magic?

What certain people or dragons really want, or who they really are?

Who the villain really is?

Yes, I’m still searching for the right questions to ask here. Do say if you have any suggestions.

Category 7: Themes

I’ve said I don’t write about themes, which is mostly true. If you were to read book one you probably wouldn’t notice the theme (unless you’re that way inclined).

But I do try to unify the various threads of the story around a common idea. In book one it was self-identity.

What unifying ideas am I interested to explore in subsequent books?

Category 8: Stuff I think is cool

What? I’m allowed to stick in elements just because I think they’re cool, assuming I can make them fit. Like pirates, plague, kidnappings, and dragons hunting.

I don’t understand. You don’t think plague is cool?

And this process is working!

I’m getting heaps of new ideas each session, and I think some of them are even good. Super happy! I think this is going to be at least a trilogy, and it could go longer.

How on earth will I turn this stuff into a sequel?

Beats me, but I’m assuming it will come to me.

For the moment I’m just piling up mountains of ideas, but I expect as I go some will leap out at me as more worthy than others and I’ll start to see connections between them that I can water and fertilise. Then I wait for them to grow.

Have you written a sequel? What about it did you find harder or easier than writing the first book? Any suggestions on other questions I should be asking myself?

Join my mailing list to be certain you hear when I finally publish my book. And in the meantime you’ll hear about all my blog posts. So, yay!

The characters are going to do what?

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

39 thoughts on “How to explode with ideas for your sequel”

  1. Wow. This is a fantastic post, Alecia, and I’ve never seen anyone address this before. I’ve really struggled with coming up with sequels and haven’t been able to do it. This makes it look almost easy! Planning to share tomorrow on the Sunday Blog Share. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! I haven’t read about anyone doing this either, but it feels quite natural to me. I hope it turns into some great stories.

      I’d be honoured if you wanted to reblog it, though I’m sorry I can’t help with any of the technical details.

  2. I enjoyed the heck out of this article. It was funny, as usual, yet it was super substantive as well. Great stuff, and thank you for giving us a peek into your work, however slight the peek was! I’m intrigued!

    1. Thank you so much. This post took me most of yesterday to write. I’m glad I could intrigue you without giving too much away – there was a lot I would have loved to say, but I couldn’t without including huge spoilers.

  3. This is really helpful! I’ve never written a sequel before. It’s a challenge I intend to overcome one day., because I want to do it at least once, you know. This gives me a place to start!

    I think plague is fun. In stories. 🙂

    1. That’s awesome! I hope you have as much fun planning your sequel as I’m having planning mine. 🙂 (Hmm, I lost some words the first time I entered that. :))

  4. I think the question has to be, what sort of plague? I mean, a plague of poisonous earwigs would be hideous, but a plague of ladybirds bearing chocolate buttons would be pretty fantastic.

    So interesting to read about your brainstorming questions and the questions you asked – you have a really structured approach, which does put my flailing rather to shame. I ended up with a trilogy because there was too much story for one book, or even two. Not a lot of planning involved – I think I may have used some sort of steroid-injected fertiliser, to be honest.

    1. You make a great point. I don’t like earwigs at the best of times, and a plague of poisonous ones would be even worse, but I could probably live with a lot of chocolate buttons.

      Just because I have questions, doesn’t mean I don’t flail. 🙂 My first book is also long enough to be two books, but unfortunately its structure only allows for one book. At least your first book tells a complete story, though it’s clear it has a sequel. I think it might be something they slip into the water. 🙂

  5. Great ideas! I will eventually be working a sequel and the idea of it kind of scares me. Nothing disappoints me more than a sequel to one of my favorite books that feels like a let down. I am excited to read your stand-alone-novel-turned-series 🙂

    1. Disappointing sequels are the worst! Sometimes it feels like the author just wrote a sequel because the publisher told her to.

      I was scared of the idea of starting a sequel too, but now I’m really excited. I still have to finish my current round of editing first, though.

  6. Great post! I haven’t written a sequel. I’ve been playing with ideas for sequels, but I find writing them hard because I’m in the standalone romance department. If the couple already had a HEA at the end of the first book, where do you go from there? How to recreate tension between them? So far, I’m just happy to start over with a new world and new characters.

    I think the fantasy genre works very well for sequels, so you just plot as many books as you can! 😀

    1. I can see the problem with sequels in romance. You probably could write a sequel to a romance, but unless you broke things between the couple and then spent the book fixing them it wouldn’t be a romance. And that would be kind of annoying. You could throw in some dragons. 😉

  7. My current WIP was only ever supposed to be a standalone project as well. I didn’t see any series potential for it until one day it hit me that I could write a sequel from the POV of the main character’s kid.

    But my shelved WIP was always intended as a series of three or four books. The issue I have now is that books two and three seem like way stronger stories than the first book. Part of this is because the climax of first book is just full of upheaval of the character’s lives and the setting and all that, and these events lend themselves to a fallout that will be really interesting to write/read about. Several characters also go through drastic changes.

    I think I’m going to have to flesh out the sequel ideas and then work backward to make the first book more interesting. This is why it’s shelved while I work on a more promising project.

    1. It sounds like you have some great sequels lined up. I’m sure you can make book 1 worthy of them. I agree, climaxes do often cause the kind of shake-up that can have really interesting repercussions.

  8. It’s great that you are brainstorming in so many directions! Sounds like you’ll easily be able to come up with something as complex and dynamic as your first! Which is what my advice for writing a series would be. Sorry, I have to talk about myself for a bit now to make my advice make sense:

    My third and fourth manuscripts were books 2 and 3 of a series. I knew the overall story, but unfortunately, I didn’t plan them as well as I should have and ended up rambling. When I started writing book 2, I thought I was writing a trilogy based on three females. When I hit 75k words, an amazing stopping point, and realized that I had accidentally written as much about female 3 as I had female 2, I decided to let that manuscript be ‘done,’ though I was no where near the ending I needed, and make the series longer. I began writing book 3 and hit a substantial word count (I think higher than 75k) but I STILL wasn’t at the ending I needed. I was about 3/4 into the story of “that book” and knew I needed more than 25k words to get to the end (at the rate I was going).

    Needless to say, the story mushroomed into something much too big. I went into too much detail and let smaller scenes take much longer than they needed to because I love my characters and the world I created. So I decided to put the series down and write some other manuscripts that were dying to get out. Meanwhile, I read more about the writing process, plotting, structure, character arcs, etc.

    I don’t want my series to be a wandering, rambling mess, so I sat down and outlined the four remaining books (I have 5 MCs so I’m focusing each book on one of them and their major character arcs). I also decided to completely toss book 2 and book 3. I’ll reference them and probably keep portions, but in general, they need to be more like outlines now for what I want to do because I want the stories to be more streamlined and focused.

    My advice: plan, plan, plan! Your main characters need to have character arcs across each book and across the series. Your romances need to be be authentic, even if that means taking them really slowly across the series. Your stakes need to be higher and different with each book, but they still need to be meaningful! You can’t introduce a ton of new characters we don’t care about and then kill them off bc we won’t care. Gosh I could go on forever. I think you already know most of this though. It’s just important to really do ALL of it, lol. And do it well. Every book needs to be even BETTER than your last. They need to be crazy complex because as a reader gets more involved in the world, they’ll expect that.

    We should probably have a huge discussion about this with other writers who have written or are working on series (non-episodic ones). There is so much to talk about!

    1. Thanks for sharing! Those are some great tips. It’s definitely an interesting point about reader expectations. Just like within a book, within a series the stakes need to get higher or else they feel to the reader like they’re getting lower.

      What really bugs me in a series is when the first book is a stand-alone, then the author obviously got a contract to write two more books, because books 2 and 3 are really just one book split into two. I just feels wrong.

      I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about writing a series when I’ve tried it, but one challenge I see coming is trying to make book 2 so it works if you haven’t read book 1 without irritating readers who *have* read book 1.

  9. This is a well-timed post! I just completed book two and while I’m not too worried about not having a plot for episode 3… I am worried about not having a plot for episode 3. Truth is, I just need to sit down and brainstorm. And your post has given me a lot of food for thought, so for this, I must thank you 🙂

  10. This is a great article and timely for me since I’m starting the first draft of the second book in my fantasy trilogy. Thank you!

  11. This is wonderful. I’m exactly at that stage–writing the sequel. I actually did a search on “How to write the sequel” and didn’t get anything useful. Now I do!

  12. Thanks to Diana for sending me here. Great post on writing a sequel. I wrote my book The Right Wrong Man with no intention of continuing it in another book, but so many readers have asked me to, I started the next one a year ago. Problem is, I liked the way the first book ended with the main characters. However, one of the major minor characters was left hanging. Soooo, he’s going to be the focus of my sequel. Yes, bring the minor character (who is majorly important in the first book) up to the forefront. The two main characters in The Right Wrong Man will come along for the ride in the sequel, but now as minor characters. Fun! I hope…. 😉

    1. Thanks for visiting and for the comment. This can be a great way to go if the main characters from the first book end up in a situation you don’t want to subsequently break. I hope the second book is going well! 🙂

  13. Before writing my first book I new it was going to be a trilogy. I came up with the main plots for all three books and wrote book one. After starting book two, realizing book one wasn’t done, and finishing book one I found that I didn’t like my plot ideas anymore. They weren’t relevant to how the characters had grow and they seem far too hard to squish into my world. The idea I’d come up with later I still didn’t like. Thank heavens I found this article! These brainstorming questions are so skillfully chosen and I know they’ll be very (very) helpful!

    Many thanks from a teen author.

    1. I expect that’s a great sign – your characters have grown beyond your original conception of them. I’m glad you found the post helpful. 🙂

      All the best with your trilogy!

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