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Writing a Novel – Sequels


In past “Writing a Novel” guides I’ve spoken of the process to create your first novel, how to handle certain scenes and how to focus on the emotional impact. But I realised there was one aspect of the creation process that I hadn’t touched on: Sequels. If your novel is a single self-contained story with no loose ends or more tales to tell, then your job is done. But if you wrote your first as the beginning of a larger series—trilogy, saga, call it what you will—then you’re back on the drawing board almost immediately.

While the process to create a sequel is exactly the same as the one for your debut novel—consisting of planning, outlining, drafting and the editing—Sequels do have their own considerations, things you need to be aware of when you’re planning and outlining and more importantly when you’re down to business.

Scale – Bigger is not always better

When attempting a sequel, particularly in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres, the first instinct is to go bigger, to explore more of your world, to give the events unfolding a greater scope. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, you have to remember that you don’t necessarily have to do it.

Sometimes the better tale is the smaller one, a more personal story, a tale where your character can grow, where they can process and put to use the lessons they learned in the first novel. These stories need even more planning and outlining than a bigger one. With such a small scope, you have to make sure to keep the readers engaged at all times, at the edge of their seats if you will, and for that your plot, pacing and narrative have to be much tighter.

But that doesn’t mean bigger sequels can be sloppy. But they do give you a bit more leeway to play with the pacing. You can take a bit of time to explore certain aspects of the world or related events before continuing on with the rest of the story. As for planning, bigger stories need precise planning and outlining for a simple reason: to keep things straight. If you’re working with multiple characters in various organisations, kingdoms, orders and more, you need to have them all written down perfectly. Do you remember during the planning stage article how I focused on the world, society, culture and organisations? You’ll need to review these and make sure everything you’re planning fits well, but we’ll get to the World Building in a bit.

During the early Novel Writing guides, I created two outlines and worlds. The first one was a high fantasy world and the second a sci-fi story. To explain scale in sequels, below you’ll find four sequel premises, two for each story. Two are larger in scope and the other two are smaller.

Go Big or Go Home

Marius (Fantasy): “The King is dead, long live the King. Marius never wanted the crown, but after killing the former King, his best friend, there was no one else who could take the throne.

But the Kingdom is on fire, riots and pillaging are rampant. The noble houses turn on each other and butcher the populace. The Praetors, the ones loyal to Marius, and their forces barely hold the line and keep the brewing civil war from tipping over. The other Praetors openly assault the King, intent on taking the crown for themselves, turning to their allies in other kingdoms and their armies.

But there’s still hope. The merchant nation of Cranefall—Marius’ secret supporters in the rebellion—have offered the aid of their Blademasters, the fiercest warriors in the continent, and their powerful Source Crystal wonders.

But are they altruistic, or trying to tie him down, to make him their puppet? Or are they waiting for a chance to invade?

Marius will have to decide, stand alone with his followers, trust his enemies, or open his arms to the most powerful Kingdom in the continent.

Given the choice, he’d give the crown away to whoever wanted it, but he made a promise to the dying King, and he intends to fulfill it.”

Backbreaker (Sci-Fi): “Melvin won the race, opened the vault and became the new master of the Backbreaker estate and holder of its secrets. But he also inherited the responsibilities of the Master of this House of assassins. But the estate is in disrepair, the house barely survived the race for leadership and he’s not even an assassin himself.

If his father’s journals hold any truth, Melvin will have to recruit and rebuild his home and the name Backbreaker the same way his ancestors did: By becoming the most dreaded name in the galaxy, taking the impossible jobs no one else would even dare consider.

But the Backbreaker house is weak now, and its enemies circle the waters, waiting for a single slipup to tear it apart.

Melvin is used to the official channels, to forms in triplicate, notarised and signed. He’s off his element now and dealing with new challenges: murder, politics, secret societies and the galactic underworld.”

Small but Powerful

Marius (Fantasy): “The King is dead, long live the King. Marius never wanted the crown, but after killing the former King, his best friend, there was no one else who could take the throne.

Marius was a Praetor and in the service of his King he fought entire armies to a standstill. He’s dueled other Praetors and Generals but there is one arena he never thought he’d ever do battle in: The Court.

The Noble houses bicker among each other, threatening civil war, unless Marius can bring them all together under his rule. But he doesn’t know how to play their game, how to use information and double-dealings as currency and how to hide his own monsters from the public eye. He can repel the assassins they send after him with ease, but unless he finds who sent them, there’s no way he can stay ahead and put a leash on this vicious pack of finely clothed animals.

In battle, Praetor Marius was always moves ahead of his opponents, but in The Courts, he’s so far behind he can’t even see the battlefield.

But as rumours of alliances with foreign powers become more common, he better learn fast or civil war will be the least of his worries.”

Backbreaker (Sci-Fi): “Melvin won the race, opened the vault and became the new master of the Backbreaker estate and holder of its secrets. But he also inherited the responsibilities of the Master of this House of assassins. But the estate is in disrepair, the house barely survived the race for leadership and he’s not even an assassin himself.

One of the few contacts still loyal to the house warns Melvin that one of their enemies knows Melvin won the competition and is planning to make a move on the house, to kill the last Backbreaker and claim the family secrets, sensing weakness in the new heir.

With repairs underway on the house and no clue on how to beat these enemies, Melvin has to gather allies if he wants a shot at saving beating this foe. But most of the people who could help him, train him even, died in the competition.

Only a few are left and they’re enemies and monsters. One was once a friend, but also a lost love and she tried kill him.

But he’d rather face uncomfortable silences than dying!”

Secondary Characters – Nice to meet you again

Unless you’re working with anthologies—I approve, by the way—there’s a good chance you’ll have recurring secondary characters in your novels. As it is, you might think of skipping their introductions or descriptions when the protagonist first encounters them in this story.

Beat that instinct out of your head with a spatula. You need to reintroduce them, not completely, but a rough ‘sketch’ will be enough. Why? Because this lets you show how time has passed, maybe a character gained some pounds, while another seems to be Benjamin Button, seemingly getting younger with every year.

These descriptions also let you mentions things from the past, references to earlier novels, such as how the relationship between certain a character and the protagonist changed after the last story.

Never assume that your readers know who you’re talking about, because there’s always a chance they won’t. Remember that in the best of cases, your novels are a year apart, so a refresher course is in order.

But do keep it succinct, no need to elaborate on every detail, just the CliffsNotes, to spark the memory in your reader’s heads on the characters—and the events from other novels if you wish to add them. Hell, you can even mention things that you didn’t narrate, such as tension between the protagonist and one of his friends after they had a drunken brawl at a wedding.

But beyond the introductions, the most important thing you need to do with your secondary characters is continue developing them. Your protagonist is your main focus, but the supporting cast should grow and evolve. They should learn and change as the stories progress. Otherwise, they become bland characters, cardboard cut-outs, impossible to relate to.

Example – Backbreaker: This is following the Small Scope Sequel.

“Melvin crossed the bar, another seedy place in this dirty moon. He knew he’d find her here, the only place in town that server her brand of whisky. Heads turned his way as he crossed the threshold, but he only cared about one of them. Her. She sat at the back of the room, with the red light hanging above her.


As he sat across her, their eyes met and he saw their history play out again. Friends forever, working in the ministry. He’d asked her to come with him to mansion. She helped him during the race and revealed her greatest secret to him, that she’d been planted in his life to monitor him, the last son of House Backbreaker.

She was a spy and Matilda wasn’t even her real name, but what they had was true, until Melvin chose his family over a life with her. What they were now, he didn’t know.

She kept her expression cool, not betraying her emotions, though he could see them in her bright ochre eyes. He saw the twitch in her lips, as she fought to keep her emotions in check.

‘How did you find me?’ She asked coldly, and Melvin realised he missed her voice, only he remembered it sweeter, the sound of a friend…and more.“

Protagonists – Evolution

As I mentioned above, your protagonist is the focus of your story and you can’t forget to keep evolving them. Every new novel needs to teach them something new, about themselves, about the world, about their abilities or about those around them.

Discovering a betrayal and dealing with it is a fantastic medium for character growth because none of us know what we’re capable of if someone we trust or love betrays us. And exploring this reaction is fascinating. Love is another powerful evolver, we learn so much about ourselves when we think about others, particularly those people we love the most. In fact, every emotion on the spectrum can help your character grow, even if to do so he has to go down first.

Evolution with abilities, particularly in fantasy, doesn’t just mean giving them more power. There is a fine line between powerful and overpowered and once you cross it, you hinder your storytelling potential for the character, you make it harder to tell stories as very few things can challenge them.

In fact, sometimes it’s better to kick your protagonist and then when they’re down, kick them some more. Hardship or just a really bad time can lead to tremendous growth. Having said so don’t go overboard, don’t do the Tomb Raider reboot thing of beating the crap out of your own Lara Croft. That doesn’t help. The good hardship is emotional. It can have a physical component, even a cause, but there has to be something for your hero to work through over the course of the story.

If your world changes due to past events, then have them deal with the new world, explain how things change for them, how they’re harder or easier. Make them deal with what are now everyday issues—once is enough most of the time—and you’ll show how adaptable they are or aren’t.

If your sequel is of the smaller scope variety, then this growth will be at the heart of the plot. To give examples, in Marius’ case it’s learning how to be a King, how to handle politics and statecraft. For Melvin, it’s becoming a worthy successor to his family name, to become the assassin his father was and to hopefully reconnect with his lost love.

Stories – Be Bold

The first novel you write can be bold, it strikes in a new direction, or it can be safe, using common tropes and setting to tell a new story, to give readers a familiar status quo before you rip it apart in future novels—an approach I like a lot.

But on your sequels, be risky. Take the status quo and change it up, turn allies in to enemies, hurt, maim or kill secondary characters. Beat the crap out of your protagonist and leave him weakened as never before. You can do anything you like in the sequel. You have the stage, so take advantage of it.

In fact, one of the boldest things you can do is completely ignore your first protagonist and go off with a new one, in another place, telling another story. It can be something that happens alongside the plot or another story entirely. Anthologies are really cool for building your world, particularly if you’re setting up a major storyline that involves several characters across the globe.

Take a chance, go for broke!

World Building – Keep expanding, keep it consistent

Lastly in this guide is the world building, something you’ll notice I mentioned a few times in the past few sections. That is because the world building never stops. Your world—the status quo, the powers that be, the movers and shakers and the downtrodden—is a character in its own way and it needs to evolve to keep up with your characters, or at times ahead of them to allow for growth.

Every event in your first novel will likely have an impact on the world you designed and you need to make sure you update the world to match those events, to figure out how the characters’ lives have changed, how the world works now, what the new rules are. Then you need to figure out the impact of this novel’s events on the world as well, and see if it works under the rules you defined.

That is the hardest part of world building, to keep it consistent, to keep your world working as it should. Sometimes you have a story in your head but once you consider the effect on the world, you realise it makes no sense, the changes too widespread for the different societies to recover or continue existing as they should. If that is your goal, congratulations, but more often than not, you’ll end up revising your story scope and figuring out a way to tell the same story but keep the ripples on your world to the minimum. If you’re planning a major arc that will eventually lead to those massive changes, you’ll learn how to properly pace the novels to tell that bigger story in a more convincing way.

And to close off this guide, I’ll tell you about those major story arcs. It it’ll be an ongoing series, you need to decide roughly how many novels it’ll take you to tell this story arc. I like to think about it like planning a TV Season, just instead of episodes, I have novels. If you plan to tell the arc over six novels, then make sure to sprinkle details in each of those, slowly moving the major arc along. You can even make one of the elements of your major story arc —a character, a group of people, a place—the focus of one of the novels, to make sure that when you finally spring the arc resolution novel on your readers, they’ll connect the dots clearly.

You don’t want them connecting them too early though! Don’t ruin the surprise!


So that’s it for this novel guide. I hope you enjoyed it and as always, I can only hope it’s of some use to you.

If you’d like me to cover specific writing topics, please let me know in the comments—or you can just comment to tell me what you thought of this piece, that’s cool too!

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