The Curse of the Sequel
You finish a novel. The characters are likeable, plot exciting, and story world intriguing. Not to mention that you've written the best cliffhanger ending in existence! People are going to eat up your story and what's even better is they are going to want more. More of your beautifully crafted prose and brilliant plot twists!
"No problem," you say as you sit down to write. "I'll just crank out the sequel and hey, maybe even a third book. Got to give the people what they want."
And then...nothing. You have nothing. Well, that's not entirely true. You've written a couple of chapters but you feel like they are crap, and then think that it's even worse to have crap than to have nothing. So what happened? You had this killer story and now everything you write after it just turns out sounding like you're writing a sub-par fan fiction based off of your own book. Where did the creativity go?
Some writers can crank out books like crazy, but that may not be you. I definitely know that's not me. As hopeless as it may seem, I do want to encourage you if you find yourself struggling to write that second book. You are not alone. Countless movies, books, and TV shows fall prey to what I call "the curse of the sequel." Some of us authors start off strong, then when it comes times to continue the story we freeze up.
I'm going to be very honest with you. I suffer greatly from the curse of the sequel. And with this blog post, I hope to help others break the curse as I attempt to find ways to help my own faltering second stories.
I first realized the curse was upon me after I finished my first novel. It was fantastic, my friends loved it and begged me for more. But when I got down to it I felt like I didn't have any more to give. Twice I tried writing the sequel and twice I stopped halfway through. My attempts were always so boring!!! My characters revealed nothing new and the plot was loose at best, all within a story world that had lost its luster.
After all these attempts, I am now forced to analyze my writing. It's time to break free before the curse takes away a novel that has a lot going for it and deserves a second book.
When I wrote my first novel, all of my characters had stakes in the story. There was no turning back for them once the plot got going and the motivation was high for them to continue on. In my second novel, I noticed that though the stakes had stayed the same, the plot might need some spicing up.
What makes your characters committed to this particular leg of the story? If the stakes are the same as in the previous novel, how can you give your story a sense of urgency or deepen your characters' commitment? What makes this second book even more climatic than the first?
In the first book, it was easy to keep my characters interesting. My readers were still being introduced to them and even within the story my characters were getting to know one another. Connections and relationships were being made and secrets were being revealed.
Then when writing my second book, I felt like my characters had lost their pizzazz. I think part of that is because the reader knows the characters by the second book and all of the major secrets had been revealed. I'm hoping that for my next step, I can make my characters exciting again.
That may mean going back to the drawing board and filling them out more. That may also mean that I need them to hold some secrets back in the first book to save for the second. I still need to find ways to make my characters grow and learn new things about themselves and each other.
Same Old Plot
Another reason I think my sequel attempts fell short is that they were merely a continuation of the first book's plot and had nothing new to add. While that first plot thread was good and can still hold over to the second book, there should be some new elements added, like more things unveiling, surprising events, and twists. The second novel should still be its own book. The reader shouldn't feel like they are just rereading the first novel with a change of scenery.
Along with making the stakes higher and plot more interesting comes the idea of the three act story (if that is the way you write). In my first novel, the three big incidents that propelled my story forward were exciting and made the characters even more committed to the plot. But in my second novel, I found that the incidents were not as motivating or were on the same level of intensity as those in the first book. I believe that to make the second book just as exciting as the first, the three major incidents need to be even more intense than the ones in the first book. As the characters get closer to the end, things need to become even more climatic.
So there you have it. I am hoping to give my sequel another try and I hope that if you have a sequel floating out there, that you give it another try too. Don't be afraid to analyze your own writing and tear things apart. Sometimes it takes a complete overhaul to get to a great sequel.
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Hi, I'm Jessica! I'm on a mission to make my writing better in hopes of becoming a published novelist. It's been a crazy journey so far as I learn the twists and turns of the publishing world, but it's been worth it. Though I'm still learning how to be the best writer I can be, I'm excited to share what I learn with you. Happy writing!