Hello, writers, and welcome to my guest blog for The Spinning Pen! Haylie Hanson here! I’m incredibly excited to be here, teaching you the secrets of sequel writing. Light Hunter, the sequel to World Diver, book one in The Luminaut Trilogy, is about to release on April 21, 2022 with Uncommon Universes Press, and I was honored The Spinning Pen approached me with this wonderful opportunity to share all the advice and writerly wisdom I gleaned during the process.
Are you ready to get started? Grab your favorite beverage, settle down in your coziest writing spot, and put your fingers to your laptop (or pen to paper, if you prefer to write by hand), because today, I’m going to give you my top tips for sequel writing. Let’s dive in!
First of all, congratulations on writing a book! Writing is a strenuous endeavor, and takes more time, dedication, emotional investment, and hard work than anybody could possibly imagine. One book would be enough, but you, my dear writer, have decided not to stop there. Stand-alone novels are not for you, and you have taken it upon yourself to write a series. Three books? Four? More? The possibilities are endless. But the fact remains, when you have committed to writing a series, after book one comes book two. And that brings us to—
Tip #1: Forget How To Write A Novel
“I know how to write a book,” you tell yourself confidently, sitting down at your computer. That blinking cursor on the blank page is full of infinite possibility, and you are so excited to get started. At least, I was when I sat down to write Light Hunter.
“I put in the hard work, got a publishing contract, the first book was successful, and readers have been enjoying it,” I reasoned with myself. “What’s so difficult about writing a sequel?”
Well, let me tell you something. When you sit down to write a sequel, everything you assumed you’d mastered about novel writing will magically fly out of your brain to join the rainbow unicorns in Cotton Candy Cloud Land. They will watch you from afar and chortle at your struggles.
At least, that’s what happened to me.
For example, the beginning didn’t work because I info-dumped a recap of book one in the very first chapter. My main character, Callie, was standing there, waiting for me to make her DO SOMETHING for about fifteen pages. Inciting incident? Oh, right, I needed one of those, too. Except, I was five chapters in and forgot to include that extremely important bit. So I went back and awkwardly inserted it somewhere in chapter three with a note in the margins to “fix it later.”
Don’t be afraid if it happens to you, too. Because guess what? It gets so much worse!
Generally speaking, everything really starts to implode in the messy middle. And oh! What a glorious dumpster fire that will be! If you are anything like me, you’ll ask yourself questions like “what’s my character’s goal again?” And “what happened to that side character I introduced back in chapter two that hasn’t done anything meaningful in over one hundred pages?” I can’t even tell you how many times I rewrote the middle, only to toss it all and start over. Finally, by some miracle, I moved past that wasteland of tears and misery, limping to the end with my writer self-esteem barely intact. My poor main character was as wrecked as I was. Both of us took a nap. We deserved it.
What is the takeaway from this slightly depressing tip? Embrace the suck, my friends, and then, continue on!
Tip #2: Rewrite And Revise Your Novel. A Lot.
If you have arrived at tip two, that means you’ve survived the dreaded first draft phase. When I finally got Light Hunter drafted, I sat back, looked at my creation, and realized… It was bad. An absolute hot mess express train to Nopeville. I knew it wasn’t good, but what I read was worse than I imagined. This wasn’t the novel I meant to write! What happened to that perfect plot I spent two weeks outlining? And the character arcs? They all fizzled out somewhere around chapter eighteen or nineteen. How could this have occurred? I already wrote and published a novel! I am better than this!!! (See TIP #1).
No, I didn’t expect to write a perfect first draft, and neither should you. But it’s important to shift your perspective here.
A sequel is an entirely different kind of creature than the first book, which introduces the main character and the problem they must solve—without yet solving it. You see, a sequel must shoulder the very difficult task of acting as a bridge between the starting point of the journey and the beginning of the end, all while remaining its own unique story. But the bridge that was supposed to be Light Hunter was on fire and crumbling to ashes. Why? For starters, it was too complicated. I had made everything too hard on myself, and my poor characters. Nobody knew what was going on, myself included. A sequel book is often a dark and questioning period of time, both for the main character and the author. Light Hunter was no exception to this rule.
Remember this: something has to move your character from Point A to Point B before they can barrel headlong into Point C, and that, my dear friends, is what a sequel accomplishes.
Point B is often not as complex as we think it needs to be. Sometimes, it’s as simple as going from one place to another. Keep It Simple, Silly. I rewrote Light Hunter from scratch three times, focusing on streamlining the plot, fine-tuning the character arcs entirely around the midpoint of their journeys, and using them to inform my plot rather than the other way around. Oh, and that doesn’t include innumerable rounds of revision. But it became the strong bridge I needed it to be.
Perhaps it won’t take you as many tries as it took me, but my takeaway point is this: get really comfortable with rewrites, and focusing on your characters—where they’ve been, and what they have to learn in this sequel to accomplish their ultimate goal in the final book(s). Sometimes, you have to rewrite your Point B a lot. It doesn’t make you a bad writer.
Tip #3: Be Open To Learning, Growth, And Change.
Do you remember how, in tip one, I told you to forget how to write a novel? Now we are at the point where we build back our novel-writing skills even better than before, but it’s not easy.
In a sequel novel, your character must make sacrifices, screw up royally, and learn very hard lessons before they can begin the end of their journey. You, as the author of that character’s journey, will also make sacrifices, screw up royally, and learn very hard lessons.
What I can tell you is this: embrace your flaws as a writer, friends, and learn in your own way to move past them. In my case, I tend to be very independent and want to do everything alone, especially when it comes to my books. My journey with Light Hunter—the flaw I had to overcome—was to learn to accept help from writer friends (which, ironically, is a flaw one of my characters must overcome, but that’s spoiler territory). I have a few trusted colleagues I was vulnerable with about my struggles with this book, and they took me aside and helped me. Even when that help felt frustrating or wasn’t what I wanted to hear, it was done in love. More important than the asking, writing Light Hunter involved humbling my lofty opinion of my skills to take criticism graciously. Ultimately, I did better work because I had people in my corner who were committed to helping make it better. But getting there took time, and more patience than felt comfortable.
My takeaway tip here? Sequels involve the main character of a novel learning that not only are they flawed, they have to face those flaws and work through them in order to reach their goal, and this is absolutely the same for writers. We often learn during the process of writing a sequel what our flaws are as an author, and how we can overcome them before we continue on this journey with our beloved characters. They challenge us, and make us doubt we were good writers to begin with, but ultimately, sequels grow us in ways we didn’t think we needed to grow.
Tip #4: Don’t Fear The Sequel.
There will be darkness and tears, pain and uncomfortable growth, and relearning how to do something a different way—a way that works better.
And no, I’m not just talking about the main character of your book.
You as a writer must go on a similar journey. But I promise at the top of seemingly insurmountable Mount Sequel, there’s the bright light of a shiny new book waiting for you. All you must do is persevere.
And say hi to the rainbow unicorns in Cotton Candy Cloud Land on your way to the top, okay? Haylie signing off.