If you’ve been a writer for long, you’ve probably heard whispers about the “sophomore novel.” If you haven’t, it means the sequel. And it’s often talked about in hushed tones because it’s a scary thing to write. I know because it scares me even as I write one. But I’m not alone, many authors struggle with it.
In fact, I just finished reading the sequel to a novel that very well-received and sold lots and lots of copies. The sequel was a good book, and I enjoyed it. But not nearly as much as the first book. I’ve read a lot of sophomore novels over the last year and asked myself why the good ones worked and why the poor ones didn’t in hopes of learning to avoid the pitfalls. Here’s what I’ve gleaned.
I suspect the reason that sequels are hard for most writers (at least this is the reason it’s hard for me) is because we’ve rung every bit of punch from the story in the first book. And this isn’t wrong. It’s what makes a great book. By the end, the secrets are told. For example, when the reader finishes Screwing Up Time, he/she has seen what it’s like to travel through time. You can never go back to not knowing. And the novel’s world building is complete. You know Bodiam Castle pretty well by the end of SUT. You don’t wonder what the halls smell like or how cold the air feels during the winter nights. And you know the characters. You’ve seen Mark and Miranda’s strengths and weaknesses. You’ve seen them grow.
That daunting task to a sequel writer is to find new secrets, new worlds, and new character growth. That’s why JK Rowling’s books are/were so amazing. She found new secrets (or secrets that kept growing). She wrote about new worlds/places like the Ministry of Magic, the house belonging to the Order of the Phoenix, even the nightbus (which I loved), etc. And she found new ways for the characters to mature. Because of that, we loved Rowling and her novels. She gave us a rare gift.
That’s the task of the author who writes a sequel, to give the reader new secrets, new worlds, and new growth—without sacrificing the chemistry, tension, and relationships of the first novel. Wow...that sounds impossible. Time for some chocolate.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, so please comment!