You've done it! You completed your first novel. Congrats!
But now what do you do? Eat an entire pizza? Dance in your living room?
Do whatever you please. You deserve it.
But, what if you decide, mid-dance, that you've not had enough of this story yet? What if you believe there is still a story arc yet to be explored?
I smell a sequel in your near future.
Sequels are exciting! They allow readers (and writers) to jump back into a world, delve deeper into a plot, and spend more time with dearly beloved characters.
With the proper tools, you can plan and implement a successful sequel that is as good as – or better than – your first! And we've got you covered.
In today's post, we'll discuss our top tips for how to write a sequel that hooks your readers all over again.
Tip #1: Perfect The First Chapter
As you should already be aware, the way to hook a reader from the start is not just with the alluring cover or the blurb on the back.
While these concepts play an important role in attracting your ideal reader to your book, it is not the main hook.
So, what is it?
Psst – It's the first chapter.
At this point, you're familiar with introducing the main character in media res, and providing tidbits, teasers and some backstory as the narrative goes on.
The good news is, most of this has been accomplished in the first book, so there is no burden lying on you to recreate those aspects from scratch.
Now, what we need to focus on is reintroducing the character and the setting to the reader in a way that sets up the main conflict of the second book.
We also want to show how our beloved protagonist has changed/transitioned from book one to book two, and to consider how much time has passed since the ending of book one.
Think about the questions your reader may have:
- What happened since the first book ended?
- What have the characters been up to?
- How have they changed?
- What is going on in their lives now?
- What is the problem they need to solve?
These questions should be answered throughout the course of the book, but not necessarily all in the first chapter.
Tip #2: Treat The Sequel As A Fresh Start
While sequels may include the same characters and continue the overarching storyline from book one, a sequel shouldn't be an exact replica of the first novel.
And while the most logical place to begin your sequel might seem to be exactly where the first book ended, don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to do this.
Of course, we know what you’re thinking:
“There are so many things I didn’t get to mention in the first book...”
“The cliffhanger ending – I need to explain it so my readers will understand it completely...”
While these are valid points, don’t feel the need to dump a whole lot of information on the reader right at the beginning, or bog them down with a rehashing of the first book.
Now is the time to begin anew and give readers a new perspective.
But what if someone picks up the second book after a considerable length of time and has no recollection of the first book?
By adding subtle reminders and tidbits of backstory from the first book (as long as they're pertinent to the sequel's storyline), you can avoid getting off to a slow, repetitive start.
Tip #3: Introduce New, Original Stakes
Your sequel should take readers on a new adventure as you increase the stakes and create a more intense, more exciting story than the first.
Should you choose to write a multi-book series, each subsequent book should raise the stakes even higher so the reader never feels cheated, and so your story arc continues to rise towards a satisfying ending.
Let's say in your first book, you chose to write about a girl searching for her lost brother. Readers follow her struggle to find answers until she either discovers her brother's whereabouts, or discovers peace in not finding him.
In your sequel, the 'lost brother' storyline shouldn't be the story's main drive, because this plot point should have been rounded off nicely by the end of the first book.
However, if she didn't get her brother back, a way to increase the stakes is by throwing in a new twist.
For example, your protagonist may realise a horrible truth about someone who had a connection to her brother before he went missing, and now has to decide how to deal with this revelation.
Whatever route you choose to take, ensure you are increasing the stakes with each scene, chapter and book in a series.
Tip #4: Figure Out What Attracted Readers To The First Book (And Put A Spin On It)
When writing a sequel, you may be thinking, “Since my first book worked, I’ll just give readers more of the same so that this book is a massive success as well.”
But no matter how good your first book is, your readers don’t want a regurgitated copy of it. They want something new and fresh, not just more of the same.
Consider the reasons your first book was a success. What was it that drew readers in? Why are they clamouring for the next book in the series?
Perhaps they want to see more of the characters, similar plot or subject matter, or a deeper exploration of the same world.
If you understand the reasons they loved your book and want more of the story, characters or world, it'll be easier to understand what they're looking for in a sequel.
But instead of asking 'How can I replicate these elements for my sequel?', ask yourself how you can throw a spin on them.
For example: use the same cast of characters, but show how they have changed. Put them in new situations. Explore their reactions to different challenges or events.
Readers will appreciate seeing a fresh take on the things they loved from the first book.
Tip #5: Include Some Fresh Faces
If I'm being honest, what I remember the most from beloved stories I've read multiple times isn't the plot, the cover design or even the way a character stared lovingly into another's eyes.
What I truly remember is how the characters made me feel.
With this in mind, it's important to ensure your characters matter to your reader, enough that they make an impression on them for the long run.
That being said, though: in addition to our beloved characters from book one, a sequel can benefit from some fresh, new faces. Let's meet a new character or two!
But don't introduce a new character and leave it at that. Make them memorable, too. They should have a voice and, most importantly, a reason for being in the story.
For example: are they going to stop the protagonist from achieving their goals? Kill off a member of the original cast?
Are they someone from an existing character's past – someone who is looking for revenge, or just wants to cause trouble?
Think about how you can expand your cast of characters in a meaningful way that serves the overarching story.
Tip #6: Continue Developing Characters (Major and Minor)
One of the many great things about sequels is that they allow us to rekindle our love for our characters.
Readers get to spend even more time with them, learn more about them, cry with them, laugh with them. And writers get to continue developing and fleshing them out.
As well as continuing the character arcs of your main characters, you have the chance to reinvent or further develop minor characters from the first book.
You can reintroduce minor characters by giving them a more prominent role in the sequel's storyline, or switching up their role from book one.
For example, let's say in your first book, one of your minor characters was a taxi driver who drove your protagonist around town as they moved towards their goal.
Perhaps in the sequel, the driver becomes a fully-fledged sidekick to your protagonist, taking an even more active part in the story.
If you switch up your characters' roles, make sure the role actually makes sense for the story and the character.
Don't throw a minor character in for a cameo scene just for the sake of doing so.
Tip #7: Play With The Reader's Expectations
Play with what your reader wants or expects in this book. Ask yourself: 'What are my readers going to expect to happen in this sequel?'
And then, do the opposite.
Another way to play with your reader’s expectations is to look at your first novel's key moments, and see if you can top them.
What was your protagonist's weakness? How can you expand upon it, explore it on a grander scale, and/or twist it in a way the reader doesn’t expect?
What was the antagonistic force in your first book? How can you make it even more powerful in the second, and surprise readers in the process?
Building off what worked in the first book, expanding upon it and altering it can help you give your reader what they want, but not in the way they expect.
Writing a sequel that is just as beloved as the first book is a daunting task, and can be even scarier than writing the first book. But it is possible.
Even though there may be pressure to replicate exactly what worked in the first book, don’t get caught in that trap.
Use the above tips to write a sequel that is fresh and new, but that also expands upon the story, characters and moments that made your readers fall in love with your first book.
We're confident you have a good idea of how to plan and write a sequel. So what are you waiting for? You've got a second book to write!