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?
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?
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