by Laura Anderson Kurk
Laura Anderson Kurk writes unconventional and bittersweet books for young adults. She created Writing for Young Adults as a place for YA and teen readers to connect and talk about the issues in their lives. Her first title with Playlist Fiction is GLASS GIRL, and its sequel PERFECT GLASS will be available in June. You can find Laura at laurakurk.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Writing a Sequel: Raise your hand if you think it’s a good idea
When I wrote “The End” on Glass Girl, I thought the story was complete. I really never considered writing a sequel. Ever. In fact, I’m not a big fan of sequels. I like stand-alones with definite beginnings, middles, and endings. I even like softer endings when the author lets me continue the story in my head, but she says, “I’m done. Talk amongst yourselves.”
Then the strangest thing happened. I began to receive emails, tweets, and handwritten letters in my actual mailbox from readers who didn’t just ask for a sequel, they demanded a sequel. Imagine my surprise! At first, I simply smiled and responded with something like—“How wonderful of you to want more! I think the story is done, though. How would you continue it?”
They had advice. Boy, did they have advice.
They had Henry running all over the country doing crazy things. They had a wedding planned out in detail, sending me pictures of possible wedding dresses for Meg. They had, tragically, a pregnancy for the married Henry and Meg that ended abruptly. Yeah . . . they had a lot of ideas. One or two of them, in various forms, made it into Perfect Glass.
I read through them all and sat with them for a few weeks, never really taking a sequel seriously. I even started a completely different manuscript and spun around in circles on it. And then, one night, I had an epiphany.
Sequels are nothing to be afraid of.
And they’re not necessarily the sign of a writer who doesn’t know how to end a story. Sure, sequels are usually reserved for fantasy/adventure writers, and those of us who write contemporary rarely consider them. But if there’s enough love for your characters that readers want to hang on for a while longer, then there’s something larger happening.
I decided that, in this case, what readers wanted was to see more of the way of life that Henry and Meg had begun to model in Glass Girl. The do-hard-things-and-live-deeply way of life that we find so few examples of in our culture.
So I started playing with the idea and, almost immediately, it came to me. I knew where my sequel should start and end. The nod I had given to Nicaragua in Glass Girl was there because I had friends working with orphanages in that country. They’d just gone through a horrendously difficult time and it was on my heart. I wanted Henry to help them. And that was my story, my sequel. The heartbreak behind Programa Amor in Nicaragua—a government-run closing of private orphanages.
Henry, the all-American boy who could do no wrong, had to go there and see that sometimes we just aren’t in control and things don’t go well. Sometimes we have to look for beauty in strange places and love people who are unlovable. Sometimes we have to fail in order to know what we’re made of. And while Henry was learning these lessons, Meg was learning them, too, back home in Wyoming with a cantankerous aging artist. Loving the unlovable. Failing. And trying to find beauty.
The sequel that I’d been so afraid of became the book of my heart—the one I’m most proud of. It felt so right that I wondered why I had ever doubted it.
Do I think sequels are always a good idea? No, I don’t. Especially in contemporary realism. But they can be exactly right. If you’re toying with the idea of taking the sequel plunge, here are some things to keep in mind---
1. It’s probably best if you plan your sequel while you write the first novel.Okay, I’m starting the list with my own mistake. Since I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel, I played fast and loose with some details in the first book that made my life difficult in the second book. Remember that any promises you make in your first book will have to be dealt with in a sequel.
Most writers who are fantastic at writing sequels and series will tell you to outline each book before you even begin the first. Not only that, they will recommend that you write a synopsis for each book ahead of time. I know, I know . . . the dreaded synopsis. It’s important, though.
2. Keep characters (and their voices) consistent.Your readers may remember more details about your characters than you do, believe it or not. While writing your first book, keep a detailed character notebook with relevant dates, hair and eye color, clothing types, accents, places they’ve traveled, hobbies and interests. Sure characters grow and mature just like we do. They’re older in the sequel. They’re maybe a bit wiser because they experienced all the great things you wrote for them in the first book. But they can’t become someone else between books.
3. Don’t treat the sequel as twenty new final chapters of the first book.This is a new book and it needs its own plot to carry it. In fact, perhaps the plot of the second book will need to be more complex than the first book. Readers have lived in your world a while and they’re ready to take some risks with your characters. Anything less would bore them and make them wonder why you didn’t stop with the first book.
4. Respect the intelligence of your readers and don’t retell the first book.They were there. They know what happened. It’s why they’re picking up your sequel. It’s fine to remind readers of major plot points and characterization that’s not obvious, but make it seamless. You’re telling a new story here.
It’s just like when you tell your best friend a story that she can only understand because she knows all your stories that led up to it. You might say to your friend, “Remember how Garrett always wears that blue shirt on Wednesdays?” She nods, and you start in on a story about Garrett coming to school with a mustard stain on the blue shirt on Wednesday. She knows how significant that is—he wore the stained shirt because he had to! It was Wednesday! Poor Garrett!
You pepper the new story with clues and reminders, but you don’t retell her the original stories. The heart carries through.
Final Thoughts on Sequels
Regardless of how you feel about Twilight (I have some opinions I’ll withhold), Stephenie Meyer has interesting things to say about sequels and series. She talks a lot in interviews about how she never planned on writing any sequels. Twilight began as a way she could entertain herself with stories. When she realized she might have a novel on her hands, she gave Twilight a definite ending.
But . . . she found herself writing multiple epilogues. Staying up at night writing one after another because she kept thinking of new things Edward and Bella needed to know or experience. Finally she realized she had more than one book that needed out. There was an annoying little question that her brain kept posing—“What if?” And suddenly a SERIES was born.
If your manuscript begs the “What if” questions even after you’ve typed “The End,” it’s possible you should consider a sequel. Study the authors who’ve done it best in your genre, make copious notes and outlines, and then dive in. It’s great fun to hang out with your favorite characters a while longer!
Laura writes beautiful books, and if you'd like the chance to win a free download of either Glass Girl or Perfect Glass, here's how you can get entered:
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