When I first joined Twitter, it was with great trepidation…and a serious amount of scepticism. How in the world was one supposed to meet total strangers in tweets of 140 characters or less? Well, I’m happy to report that my scepticism was unfounded: it turns out that one cannot only meet strangers but also some extraordinarily cool people. Today’s guest is one of those people. Without further ado, here is multi-published author Bryan Thomas Schmidt with a glimpse at what goes into the making of a sequel.
Approaching Book 2:
It’s tricky writing a sequel. You may be jaded from bad reviews or critiques which pointed out flaws that have you questioning your certainty about your story and skills. You can’t copy the first book but still have to capture the characters and feel while still providing a sense of newness, and, still cluing in new readers who might not have read the first book as to what’s going on.
I’m a pantser, only outlining for polishes and edits, synopses or as notes for the chapter I am working on. But I found myself doing more than I’d planned when I started The Returning, the sequel to The Worker Prince. I wrote down the key conflict of each storyline and which characters it involved and I also outlined a few chapters ahead, always going over in my mind ideas of how everything I wrote not only tied in with The Worker Prince but employed well later in The Returning. I tend to go for complex, intercrossing storylines with lots of action, twists and turns and POV characters. So keeping a handle on it can sometimes be a challenge.
Problems can also come from within your story itself. In The Worker Prince, my protagonist, Davi Rhii, was a newly graduated military officer, naïve and inexperienced. In book two, The Returning, he’s already been to war and commanded men and women, so he’s at a different level in his journey. Whereas the first book had been all about his coming of age, The Returning had to be about something else, and so it wound up having a very different tone. Also, the supporting cast have storylines and arcs now, too, so the focus was no longer as strongly on Davi as it had been in Book 1. And because The Returning is a middle book, it couldn’t really have closure in its ending. I had to treat it like a chapter of the story and write accordingly, building as much tension and suspense as I could without tying up all the loose ends.
In Book 2, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.
The solution for me was to write a face-paced thriller. My beta readers described it as “on the edge of your seat”— just when a quiet scene comes to let them breathe, something happens to stir things up again and create jeopardy for the characters. To up the ante more, I chose a surprise tale, not just a suspense tale. Plot twists and turns come with little foreshadowing and surprise the readers rather than being expected in any way. That made the story that more intense and drove the book forward. By modeling it after mysteries and movies like the Bourne saga, dropping clues and surprises early on that lent confusion to characters’ motives, plot events and more. Even I didn’t know where the book might end up. In fact, after three months away, when I went back to polish it for my publisher, a few plot events surprised me. “I don’t remember doing that.”
Another aspect which is essential and always challenging is to exposit backstory from the first novel without long infodumps as well as knowing how much you really need. Readers will enter a trilogy sometimes on a later book, without reading the first. It may have been recommended by a friend or reviewer, or perhaps the title and cover caught their interest. In any case, it’s smart to make your books work so that anyone can read any of them, in any order, and still know what’s going on. My rule of thumb is to use no more than three to four sentences of backstory at a time. And I try when I can to keep it to one or two. Little bits and pieces, introduced at logical points in the present story, brings people up to speed without dumping it all on them at once. It also allows using it in ways which tie it in with the present story’s emotional and character arcs, plot, etc. so that it’s more invisible. This is always challenging but by setting limits it forces me to share only what I need to at each point along the way.
In any case, writing The Returning turned out to be quite a fun adventure. And it took The Saga Of Davi Rhii in directions I hadn’t imagined, giving me interesting fodder to play with for writing Book 3, The Exodus.
Have you written a sequel? How do you approach it? Was it easy or hard? What are the surprises you found along the way? I look forward to the discussion.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.