I go to conventions to spread the word about my existence, sure, but I also go to conventions to learn. (And to meet awesome people, but that is a side benefit to the utility, even if it is a very important one.) This year, I had a number of great experiences – being on an all woman panel was one, I enjoyed that immensely – but the most meaningful learning I did was as moderator on the very last panel of my time there, Epic Scale Fiction.
As might be imagined, I focused most of my questions on the “scale” piece of this topic – that is, how to expand a story. And the most obvious method of expanding a story that’s already out there is to write a new story (or a continuation of a story) in the same world. I’ll admit my bias – writing a sequel has been a totally different affair for me than writing an original story, with a whole new set of skills that I needed to acquire. Check on any of my posts which contain progress updates on Daughter of Madness and you will see what I’m talking about. But I didn’t have the language to articulate what, exactly, I’d done wrong with my second book in the Creation Saga the first time around, and what, exactly, I was doing right with the rewrites.
(As an aside, I have gotten deep into edits and heard back from beta readers and guys, I am very confident that you are going to love Daughter of Madness. I’m also very hopeful to have an official release date soon.)
I now have that language, thanks to the panelists. A sequel still involves changing the status quo. You sequel starts in that shift, just as your original novel did. It’s not just a continuation of the prior story. Something must change for each of your characters. So:
- Change the status quo
- Your sequel is not a continuation of the old story, it’s something new
- Each book should be a story unto itself
When I started writing Daughter of Madness, I was trying to continue the story that I was telling in Mother of Creation. This is where I went wrong, and this is why two thirds of the book got chopped and rewritten. I had a solid thread on Liana’s story, with drastic changes to her new normal in the offing, but I just expected the other characters to keep doing what they had been doing and honestly? I was bored. I was bored writing it, and it showed, and it didn’t make any sense at all. Everything was bad.
Then I listened to Kameron Hurley talking about the need to throw out part of her book on her Twitter. I realized I could do that. And I started over. I started telling a new kind of story for each of my characters. One where the setting was more or less the same, often, but the stakes had changed, either internally or externally. I muddled towards the answer that the panelists so concisely gave me.
Everyone approaches sequels differently. The level of backstory required, the way that you orient the reader to the characters, changes from person to person. I very much want people to read the first book before they read the second. They are installments in the same broad arc. But they still should be able to stand on their own enough that if I as a reader came back to this series after a long time, I would be able to orient myself and still be engaged. And the only way that can happen is if the story in the second book is just as gripping and engaging, in its own way, as the story in the first. It can’t be a repetition of what has gone before, though some of the same themes and conflicts may be present.
In a way, I’m glad I had to learn things the hard way. Even if I had heard someone say those very words before, I don’t know that I would have recognized it in application to my own work. Even if I had, I don’t know that the book I would have written would have been as truthful as this one, because if I had finished Daughter of Madness sooner I would have lacked the experiences I needed to make it sing. But I am glad I know the lesson now, and I wanted to pass it on to you, in case you ever find yourself in the same boat.