The challenges of writing my first sequel

Long time, no post. Now that I’ve taken enough of a break from writing, the narrative itch has returned to my fingers. Or is the itch more forceful in my psyche?

nil

Bent on redemption, a certain lone wolf returns in the sequel

No matter. What I want to impart in this blog post is my initial thoughts and feelings on writing a sequel, namely the sequel to my first novel, Waves of Reprisal. I have to admit, doing all the background setup and studies is fun. Since I am huge into mapping out things before I draft, in many ways it’s actually more fun than writing said drafts. Once I get going, I rarely tend to change anything major; my beta readers previously only ever pressed me to include minor elements to flesh out my stories, yet have nothing but exaltation for the central themes and overarching plots/subplots I draft.

This is the first time I’ve done a sequel, the first time I’ve continued off something I’ve previously established. The differences in prepping a sequel have already become apparent to me – they seem to involve less and more and same:

Less

  • Figuring out the foundation, such as worldbuilding which establishes the social, technological, political, ideological contexts. Certainly those things can (and will in my sequel) morph throughout the story, but not to the degree that they deviate from our present to the stories initial conditions.
  • Laying out character backstories of those returning from the first novel. Sure, if there’s a time gap between the end of the first and the beginning of the second, you fill in their activities. Shallow stories have their characters stand still. Nevertheless, depending on the amount of time that’s past, I cannot imagine tweaking existing characters taking more time & effort.
  • Same as above point in regards to reused locations. Streamline exposition on the look and feel of those old stomping grounds, and proceed to the point.

Same

  • Development of characters – exciting and new – as they join the fray in a sequel. They need just as much if not more tender loving development care as the original cast. Get cracking on those studies.
  • Technology – frightful and enhanced – also joins the fray. Perhaps it is more potent, more unsettling, more pivotal. In any case, the new tech (or new paint on old tech) needs its visual and practical elements developed alongside descriptions of the capabilities.
  • Exploration of new locales for events to unfold. There is a niggling feeling of wanting to make any new locations more fascinating, more impactful in their splendor. I find its best to put that urge after the urge to ensure new locations pragmatically fit the plot.

More

  • Execution and incorporation of new themes centered on the unfolding of the new plot & refreshed cast of characters. It’s best to not retread the same story with a new veneer; I think Mass Effect 2 did it best, while the Mummy Returns did it worst. Doing so requires a tenet of “constantly comparing to the original then constantly rewriting to contrast the original” be clear in the writers conscious.
  • Scrutiny of plot and its progression. Let’s face it, sequels are driven by their plot rather than setting the stage. There’s less establishing, more executing; agendas are in full force, reacting to the events of the original. The stakes rise, the emotions ramp up, the sides polarize. Juggling all of it feels more intense than in the first story (how many sequels have we seen that devolved into a dog’s breakfast of story elements?)
  • Making an emotional (and perhaps physical) impact. The compulsion to take the sequel to the next level/town/solar system is too compelling to ignore. Ultimately, fans don’t care about infodumps and premises over gripping emotions, people, trials, and tribulations. Everyone wants a Terminator-2-like fiber for the sequel to the original they enjoyed.

The lists might seem daunting, especially to non or first-time writers. Trust me, it isn’t, especially after you get some novels under your belt. If you combine enjoyment of writing with a drive to improve your style and approach, you get better at ironing everything out. Doing everything I’ve listed above is a labor of love, and it’s becoming more love than labor the more I do it!

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About Malcolm Little

A native of British Columbia, my interests are diverse: Working with information technologies, pursuing a second degree in applied geography, and delving into character-driven stories. My multifaceted life experiences are evident in the stories Iwrite, where balancing the hard and the soft sides of the genre are of utmost importance. My first published novel, "Waves of Reprisal", is hopefully the first of many to come. Indeed, ideas for both stand-alone and series science fiction have gestated inside my consciousness for many years. It's time to let fingers crystallize those ideas into prose and dialogue. Recently my writing skills have extended into the realm of peer-reviewed scholarly articles, with published works appearing in Nature and Canadian Geographic. From time to time I might share interesting tidbits from my ongoing research.
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