Author Topic: The Sequel Support Group  (Read 11181 times)

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Offline Jen

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The Sequel Support Group
« on: March 26, 2008, 03:57 PM »
Inspired by the conversation Maggie, Carrie, and I were having over on the premise versus plot thread, I thought I'd start a thread devoted to anyone who is, has, or is thinking about writing a sequel. 

Here's my story: I've written sequels to three of my books, and just started on a four-book series, and for me, the second book in a series (and, I presume, the third and fourth and so on) present challenges that feel REALLY different from the ones you encounter writing book one.  You want the books to be similar enough that there's not this huge disconnect between the books, but at the same time, you have to do something DIFFERENT.  It took me FOREVER to learn that you can't write the same book twice.  Once I figured that out, it took me a while to get over the pseudo-guilt of allowing myself to let a sequel be REALLY different than the first book and to get to the point where I just said, "It's okay if this book is darker/has more fantasy/takes place several years later/switches narrators/barely even contains the most popular characters from book 1/whatever."   With the sequel to Tattoo, I literally almost killed myself trying to write a book that FELT like the first one, but it wasn't working, so I just pitched everything I had, skipped forward two years in time, shifted the focus of the book from four characters and their friendship to one character and her personal journey, and spent half of the book building a world and mythology that just got throw-away lines in the first book.  After I accepted the fact that I was writing a different book and gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted with it, the writing went a LOT more easily.

What about you guys?  Anyone else writing a sequel?  Anyone else learned anything FROM writing sequels?  Anyone need a sympathetic ear about a sequel that may or may not kill you?  Well, here you go...

Offline ghoulinpajamas

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2008, 05:36 PM »
I feel so liberated by your post!!!   :yup

My first book (unpublished) now has a sequel or companion book or somethingy (in progress). The first is from a naive sixteen year old girl's pov, the second from her older brothers pov, set one year later as he starts his freshman year in college. Both are coming of age/discovering love type plots, ubt have a very different feeling, as you can imagine, partly because of what different characters they are.

In case you are wondering,the brother is very present in the first book, and the sister is still a presence in the second.

I have often wondered about how (if I ever publish the first) if I will have trouble getting them (agent, editor, fans) to look at the second without the true sequel that picks up where the first left off kind of thing. But, I've been telling myself not to worry about the future, and to just tell the story that's in me to tell. (That's what I keep hearing at conferences)

I'm glad to hear from a gainfully published author, that these type of things won't necessarily prohibit the saleability of the second book.

Now,  a related question of my own: WHen I finish the second (or before?) do I start mentioning it in my query letter of the first, or wait to see if the first is picked up by an agent, then do a "by the way . . .?"

Thanks so much Jen for posting! Can't wait to see what others have to say too.

Monica    :dance

RyanBruner

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2008, 05:12 AM »
The book I'm querying now is planned to be a four-book series.  I have the plot established for all four books.  Each book is vastly different in terms of plot, yet all four books, together, are telling a single story, as well as four complete and individual stories.

Still, I haven't bothered to write books two through four yet.  No point unless I sell book one.  Instead, I'm working on two other book ideas, both standalone (although the third has series potential, at this point I'm not planning on it).

SarahP

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2008, 05:51 AM »
Such a timely question for me, Jen!

I'm thinking about the difference between writing a trilogy and a series, because my trilogy might become a series if everything works out right. 

It's tricky, because the trilogy is three books, each with its own complete plot, but the trilogy itself has one big plot that is resolved in the third book.  The challenge is giong to be writing the fourth (and hopefully fifth and maybe sixth) books, which means continuing with the same characters and world (I write secondary world fantasy), but starting up a new external plot arc.  And it'll be harder at this point for everything to feel fresh and fun for me as a writer, too.  That said, I really love these characters and look forward to spending a bit more time with them.  I've also thought about writing books four through six in the same world but with completely different characters.

The other tricky thing is, if you write a series, do the protagonists grow up during the passage of time, and what bearing might that have on the plot, and also for the audience? 

I did learn a lot by writing a book and then subsequent books in the same world with the same characters.  I figured I'd have to do a lot of work reminding the readers of backstory, and giving character descriptions again, and all of that.  And it turned out to be really easy.  I needed only about half a paragraph to drop in the backstory, and my editor cut out most of the character/setting reminder descriptions, said they weren't needed. 

Offline nrwrites

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2008, 06:53 AM »
Wow, Jen, were you reading my mind?

I'm so glad you started this thread because I always knew I wanted to write a sequel to the book I currently have out there but didn't think I should start it until the first one sold. I've been concentrating on writing others (one of which could be the start of a trilogy) another is a stand alone.

Recent events have started me thinking about whether I should start writing the sequel to the book that's being shopped anyway. I know what I want to have happen in the story (can see so many scenes in my mind) but I'm worried about beginning it because I fear it won't measure up to the first book or I'll fail miserably in trying to recreate the characters I had in the first one (all the things you articulated so wonderfully about in your experience).

I guess I'm going to have to learn to, as you said, 'give myself permission' to do whatever I want with it. Yikes. I'm still scared.
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Offline Marissa Doyle

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2008, 07:01 AM »
I think I've psyched myself out of any sequel angst by deciding that my second book after Bewitching Season (and the 3rd and 4th under consideration right now) aren't a series...they're associated stand-alones.  Though they're all about members of one family, each book focus on one family member as main character and tells of different, non-connected events separated by time.  So I get all the marketing benefits of a series without the pressure to deal with long-term plot resolution over multiple books.  ;D  
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Offline Rhonda

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2008, 07:11 AM »
Oooh I'm glad you started this thread! My books are a trilogy. I'm writing the first book now, so I'm eager to talk about this as I progress through the rest of the books, too!

Offline LindaJoy

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2008, 07:21 AM »
A good example of sequels or companion books are Jeanne DuPrau's EMBER s and Lois Lowry's GIVER; completely different books but continuing some characters or setting. According to the juvenile series book world, 3 books (or more) with the same character is a series. Two books are companion novels. Triilogies are still considered series but with a larger focus of a connected plot/setting.

I've actually never written a companion novel, but I might someday for my upcoming INTO THE MIRROR midgrade (my first hardback!) with Blooming Tree since there's a sibling who deserves her own story.

Right now I'm stuck in the murky frustration of writing my 2nd DEAD GIRL trilogy book. I'm calling these books a trilogy although the connected theme of body swapping could be classified as a series. The 2nd book has some similarities to the first book but since the characters are older and now my heroine has learned a lot from her first book experience, this book has a completely different plot. Only a few of the main characters return for #2 although I am carefully weaving in details about them. Another challenge about this book is that the characters aren't in high school but college aged on spring break. Then the 3rd book will return to high school setting and explores the bonds between best friends.

Writing series/sequels/trilogies appeals to readers because it's another visit to characters they already love (or even hate). It's the difference of going to a party and making all new friends or hanging out with your friends you already know. While I love making new "book" friends and constantly read new novels, it's wonderful to visit good friends again in a sequal/series. And that's why I collect/read/write series.

Good luck writing!
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Offline Joni

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #8 on: March 27, 2008, 08:41 PM »
I figured I'd have to do a lot of work reminding the readers of backstory, and giving character descriptions again, and all of that.  And it turned out to be really easy.  I needed only about half a paragraph to drop in the backstory, and my editor cut out most of the character/setting reminder descriptions, said they weren't needed. 

This is really interesting to me; I'm revising a sequel and it's being really hard for me to find the right balance between not making the book stand alone enough (there's a LOT from the first book that's important to the second) and bogging down in backstory. And even people who've read the first book are needing a lot more reminders than I would have guessed.

Would be interested in anybody else's experience about whether their editors wanted more backstory or less!

Although this book wraps up one open question from the first, I thought it was very, very different... until this (3rd or 4th) revision. And I keep stumbling on things that have been there the whole time, but that I never realized until now have parallels in the first book.
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Offline LindaJoy

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2008, 06:54 AM »
Usually LESS backstory. I've had to get rid of characters in a scene to lighten the complication of plots and backhistory. Sometimes you can weave in more a little later in the book.

The main thing to do is focus on the most important characters and don't worry about explaining anything about other characters unless it's important to the current book.

Good luck!
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Paulahy

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2008, 12:05 PM »
Hello fellow series/sequel peoples.  :duh

I'm on the fifth book in my series. Right around book four was when I really got my rhythm and stopped angsting so much over things.  Everytime I'd start a new one I'd worry about getting just enough backstory in that someone who happened to pick up the books out of order wouldn't want to throw it against the wall but not so much that loyal readers would be like "yeah, yeah, move on!"

The toughest part for me is keeping the tiny details straight.  Just the other day I was writing a line and had completely forgotten the color of someone's eyes.  And while I am in desperate need of a bible which  keeps all these facts together, alas I'm only one person who still works full-time and simply have not had the time in between deadlines and promo to get one together.

Should the series be extended...maybe I'll finally get that going.  :ha

You know what's funny - I honestly did not know there was a difference between series and sequels until three years ago, when Francine Pascal discussed the diff between her Sweet Valley High books and Harry Potter.  She was saying HP and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants were books with multiple sequels. 

I felt so enlightened.  I still am not sure where my books fall.  I think they'll end up being multiple sequels by definition.  Because I have an actual end in mind, which culminates in them graduating from high school.  I don't plan on going on forever a la The Simpsons where 20 years later the kids are still in the 3rd and 4th grade. Oy!

However, I was talking to one of my fellow Kensington authors and she said she already had 41 books in mind for her series.  I can't imagine writing 41 books about the same exact character. But hey, it would pay the bills.

-P
« Last Edit: March 28, 2008, 12:07 PM by Miss P »

Offline Joni

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2008, 03:57 PM »
41 books!  :ahh I'm not sure I can imagine writing that many total, let alone that many in the same "world." :-)
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Offline Jessica Burkhart

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #12 on: March 28, 2008, 05:00 PM »
Great thread, Jen. I'm working on a 4-book series for Aladdin MIX and am just about to start the third book. I, too, struggled with the "how much back story do I put in the second book?!" question and decided less is more. Odds are that if someone reads my second book, he/she has read the first or will later go back and read the first.

I love writing a series and am always thinking how to extend it past four books if that becomes an option. 


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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #13 on: March 28, 2008, 05:49 PM »
Oh, another thing occurred to me, regarding the question of how much backstory to put in.  It might depend on what you're publisher is doing with the books.  If they're coming out every six months, you might get away with less backstory than books coming out on a yearly schedule.  The release of a paperback on publication of the next hardcover, too, might allow you to do less backstory. 

I haven't read the Harry Potter books, but I wonder if JK Rowling, once she got on a longer publication schedule, started to frontload the books with more backstory than when she published the earlier books. 

Offline Rachel

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #14 on: March 29, 2008, 08:17 AM »
My husband and I never intended for our current WIP to have a sequel, and while it's not set in stone, we have an idea for a companion novel to it. I used to be adamant that the book wouldn't have a sequel-- we have other things we want to work on. Of course, shortly after, we got this idea for a book about one of the side characters, following things that will happen to her as a result of the end of the first one. It opened up some really interesting things to explore, so now... well, it may or may not happen, but it's certainly more of a possibility than it was before. A few things will carry over, and there will be recurring characters, but I am hoping that the way we're planning it will mean not much backstory is needed. But not writing the same book twice was definitely a concern.

The toughest part for me is keeping the tiny details straight.  Just the other day I was writing a line and had completely forgotten the color of someone's eyes.  And while I am in desperate need of a bible which  keeps all these facts together, alas I'm only one person who still works full-time and simply have not had the time in between deadlines and promo to get one together.
I was having trouble keeping character details straight, and finally got fed up with my messy Word document and scribbled notebook pages. Luminotes has been great-- a personal wiki that is easy to edit and it is searchable. (http://luminotes.com) You can even download a backup in case something would happen to make their site unavailable. You still need to have the time to drop in all of the information, but once it's there, whee!
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Offline Carrie Ryan

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #15 on: March 29, 2008, 04:50 PM »
Jen, this thread couldn't have come at a better time!!  I'm thrilled to be talking sequels!  As for me, my first book was supposed to be a total stand alone.  The book ended, I liked the ending, and it was the end.  And then around copy-edit stage my editor said that everyone who read it wanted to know what happened to my protag next and so they wanted my second book under contract to be about the same protag.  Of course I haven't set *anything* up in the first book to carry over!  So now I'm trying to figure out where to go with things!!

In terms of how much backstory I'm putting in, because I'm not bringing many (if any) plots from the first book through, I'm trying to write the second as if it is the first book I've written.  I was pretty sparse with backstory in the first book and so I'm trying to do the same thing with the second -- just diving right in.

And Jen, what you said about letting your second book be really different -- that really got me thinking!  Recently I've been tending towards making the second book much more similar, sort of contrasting it with the first.  But again it goes back to what we were talking about on the other thread about premise and plot -- I'm still trying to figure out plot. 

I'm also trying to figure out where to start... the next day?  the next week, month, year??  How did y'all decide? 
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Offline Jessica Burkhart

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #16 on: March 30, 2008, 07:52 AM »
I start my second book just about a month later because my protag goes on holiday break and then comes back to school in the new year. That felt like a "natural" break. In keeping the books different, the prog is always there (obviously!) but I rotate the supporting characters so we see new dynamics with all of the girls.

Offline Debby G

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #17 on: March 30, 2008, 09:46 AM »
I just finished drafting the fifth Supernatural Rubber Chicken chapter book. A few months ago, I felt like putting all my characters on an island and blowing it up, I was so sick of them. But another series writer gave me good advice: To give yourself time between books if you can; and to change things up by introducing new characters and new settings into the series. I took his advice and felt a lot better and the writing went well.

I finished writing THE BAND YA trilogy last year. There were times I was so tired of writing those books, but now I really miss the characters.
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Offline Pippa

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #18 on: March 30, 2008, 10:14 AM »
Ver, ver interesting. It's great to see what you're all doing with your sequel/series.   :thankyou

My agent is shopping my MG novel as a series, tho I suspect it fits the sequel bill better. There are definite threads that I'm carrying on through the books, building curiosity with an on-going mystery (who is the MC's father?) but making each book (adventure) a stand alone if it's read out of sequence.

My big head scratching, nail biting concern is - what are my chances that editors are gonna let me do what I want with it? Is it likely they'll have an agenda all their own and tell me where they want it to go?

Also, when a publishing house buys the MS, are they gonna want to see synapse, or outlines of my next 1,2,3 stories? Or is it much more likely they'll have a wait-and-see-how-it-sells attitude?

Carrie R. my gut feeling is that once you've worked out your plot you'll know where to need to start your story.

Sarah P. I'm not sure if I'm understanding your comment about the back-story in HP, but J.K. handled it all masterfully. I skipped the bits where I didn't need an explanation but still felt she hadn't overloaded each sequel with them. It flowed naturally as she progressed through the beginning of her new story. She only gave us as much as we needed. Perhaps her editors helped her get it right?

It seems to me that the biggest challenge is keeping each sequel interesting enough, the characters fresh and alive, and the situations exciting enough for readers to keep going ...


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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #19 on: March 31, 2008, 07:37 AM »
I'm also trying to figure out where to start... the next day?  the next week, month, year??  How did y'all decide? 

For me, deciding where to start next sort of came as I finished up the previous book.  When my second book ends with a new relationship, I immediately thought - okay where would this relationship be in a few months.  So that's where I took it.  But then by the 4th book, I was ready to throw more turmoil into it, so I skipped ahead a year.

Rachel, I need to check out Luminotes.  Although, I'm on the last book under contract so who knows if I'll need it now!

I But another series writer gave me good advice: To give yourself time between books if you can; and to change things up by introducing new characters and new settings into the series.

Deb I totally agree with this.  Even though my series is revolved around the town where the friends live, I've done all I can to make sure the scenary changes.  I had them road trip in the book being released this summer, so only the first 50 pages takes place at home.  Also, even though each book has taken place during the school year, I've tried to capture them outside of school as much as possible, so it's not the same old, same old.

My big head scratching, nail biting concern is - what are my chances that editors are gonna let me do what I want with it? Is it likely they'll have an agenda all their own and tell me where they want it to go?

Also, when a publishing house buys the MS, are they gonna want to see synapse, or outlines of my next 1,2,3 stories? Or is it much more likely they'll have a wait-and-see-how-it-sells attitude?


My editor hasn't made any suggestions on where to take my story lines. I think most editors trust the writer to let the story flow where they feel it should go.  Not saying that some may not read the latest edition and pose questions to help tighten it - but I've never been asked to change course.

As far as timeline and what the editor has wanted to see ahead of time...when they extended me from 2 to 5 books, they wanted a paragraph synop of the next three books.  I provided them, but none of the books have followed those original ideas. 

About 4-6 months before the mss is due, my editor comes calling for a full synop.  The first time she did that, I was still in the midst of writing the book and was unsure how it would end.  But her deadline for it allowed me the time I needed to finish - so once I was done, I quickly zipped off a synop.

This time around she's asked for it and I'm only at the beginning of the book. But I know where I want it to go and think it will likely stay the course.  So I was able to create one without sweating bullets.

Timelines will vary.  But she typically asks for the synop that far out because they're doing covery copy for the book 6 months prior to release.

-P

Offline Pippa

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #20 on: March 31, 2008, 08:24 AM »
 :flowers  Thank you, Miss P!   :yourock
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Paulahy

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #21 on: March 31, 2008, 08:29 AM »
You're welcome.  :bear2

-P

Offline Carrie Ryan

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #22 on: March 31, 2008, 12:33 PM »

Carrie R. my gut feeling is that once you've worked out your plot you'll know where to need to start your story.


Let's hope Pippa!  Unfortunately, I"m such a seat of the pants writer that the plot usually comes to me as I write.  I suspect that once I do actually start writing it will all be ok, but that hasn't gotten my butt in the chair any faster!  Why are we always so unwilling to do what we know needs to be done?  Argh!  Though I am lucky that I don't have to provide my editor with a synopsis or an outline.  Once she told me she wanted a sequel she asked if I wanted to send an outline or just jump right in and I said "jump in!"  If I did have to send something I'd probably just end up writing the book just to figure out what happens!  LOL!

My sequel will def. be set in a different place and have news characters.  I think my fear is that I'll still mirror the first plot too much.  Sigh.  Again... I just need to sit down and write!  I'm so glad this group is here for suppor!!
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Offline Christine Norris

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #23 on: July 07, 2008, 05:48 PM »
It's a complete balancing act. I alway say that series writing is like juggling chainsaws - one slip and you cut off your nose despite your face. I've written one sequel and am in the middle of another series. And I agree, that as long as you treat each book as a separate story you'll do all right.

The second book needs just enough backstory to catch people up who haven't read the first book, but not too much to bore people who have. By book three, you're hoping most people have read at LEAST book one or two, so you don't worry about it as much. If someone does pick up book three first, you give them just enough to not lose them and entice them to read the other books.

By book four, they're on their own. :) At least that's my theory. If you pick up book four of a series first, you get what you get. Personally, I don't do cliffhangers either. Each book is a complete story, but may has elements that propel the next book. Because you never know if you'll actually SELL the next book. If you've got a multi-book deal, well, then you do, but ask Shanna Swendson what happens when a publisher drops a series in the middle. (shame, actually, I enjoyed her Hex and the City books. I guess chick-lit readers don't like urban fantasy as much as adult and YA fantasy readers.)
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Offline Duskydawn

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #24 on: July 07, 2008, 06:05 PM »
I'm so glad Christine resurrected this thread! I'm having just this sort of struggle with the request that I write a proposal for a second book. The first book-under-contract was the origin story that had its beginning, middle and end. Done. Of course, creating a supernatural iconic superhero means that now I have to make adventures! Oh, yeah. Right...  :faint

So I'm right now brainstorming ideas with my critiquers, writing notes to myself and deciding what to focus on (the MC, her family, her friends, secondary characters, the supernatural world, the real world, life-n-death, love triangles, etc.) and my brain is a-buzz with what I can do.

But I really want the story to stand alone (as it were): be the adventure story of a superhero-type WITHOUT the origin myth. Just go forward with Spiderman's latest challenge and not have to retell the entire bit-by-a-radioactive-spider thing. The struggle to have a "normal" life when life isn't "normal" really speaks to me; now all I have to do is figure out how to plot that for 300 pages or so and I'm home free!  :ahh

Offline Christine Norris

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #25 on: July 07, 2008, 06:43 PM »
Wow - the world is your oyster! You have so many choices. Maybe that's not such a good thing, eh?

Maybe you should go see "Hancock" - that movie sounds like the kind of thing you're looking for. Get some inspiration!

The thing I've found is that the stakes need to be high - the higher the better. And I don't just mean the tired old 'saving the world' thing or even 'saving Mary Jane' (again - sheesh, when is that girl going to learn to take care of herself!) but maybe 'saving himself from _____' or something.
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coming some day (soon, I hope!)

m_stiefvater

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #26 on: July 07, 2008, 07:09 PM »
How in the world did I miss this thread the first time around? And right when I was starting my sequel to LAMENT too? Man, that would've been useful . . . sometime before I wrote the beginning of the sequel four times before giving myself permission to tell it from a side character from LAMENT's POV instead.

The comment of sequels versus series seems really pertinent to me. Because they say write what you read, and I don't normally read series. I do, however, love standalone sequels -- which seems to be a really different animal. So tackling the second book as if it was its own entity that just happened to have the same characters? Way easier. Way BETTER. Allowed me to be way more fearless with what I did to the original characters too.

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #27 on: July 18, 2008, 11:27 AM »
Hi from a newbie :) This post caught my eye because the issues are happening in my current wips (mad writing in working on several at once...) Two of my wips have what are probably companion books, but they have virtually nothing to do with the first book, other than being in the same world (different settin) and having a few cameo appearances, cross-over of events, that kind of thing. Whereas one wip is attempting to be a YA trilogy.....if I can't pull it off (and my critters have promised to set me alight with a flamethrower  for this) then it will just be one novel.

I love reading series and trilogies above standalone books because I get to see characters develop, I like how the central plot twists so much from beginning to end. Writing them - well a series is okay, but I'm very daunted about writing a trilogy. However, I have good encouragement, so I'm just going to see where it takes me (I blame the characters completely for wanting more of their life to be told).

Offline Pippa

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #28 on: July 18, 2008, 02:11 PM »
Hi from a newbie :) This post caught my eye because the issues are happening in my current wips (mad writing in working on several at once...) Two of my wips have what are probably companion books, but they have virtually nothing to do with the first book, other than being in the same world (different settin) and having a few cameo appearances, cross-over of events, that kind of thing. Whereas one wip is attempting to be a YA trilogy.....if I can't pull it off (and my critters have promised to set me alight with a flamethrower  for this) then it will just be one novel.

I love reading series and trilogies above standalone books because I get to see characters develop, I like how the central plot twists so much from beginning to end. Writing them - well a series is okay, but I'm very daunted about writing a trilogy. However, I have good encouragement, so I'm just going to see where it takes me (I blame the characters completely for wanting more of their life to be told).

 :yay  Welcome! and join the club ... I agree, it is ALL the character's fault.

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Yunaleska

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Re: The Sequel Support Group
« Reply #29 on: July 19, 2008, 04:42 AM »
 :love Nice to know I'm not strange for having 5 novels on the go at once...and for WANTING to write series/trilogies...