How do you tackle a sequel? Not just any sequel, either, but to your first big book baby? In 2017, I decided to finally act and rewrite/revise Silver Hollow. In the process, I started to plan ahead for what I hope to be many sequels (6 seasons and a movie! ;p j/k). I would love to say the road was easy-going, but when is it ever easy for an Indie? As my own boss, with an actual job, plus full-time “mommy,” my writing time is limited. And then there comes the whole struggle with burn out. With biting off more than you can chew.
In 2018, I re-published Silver Hollow, immediately followed by the first three episodes in my Adult Urban Fantasy, Angel Blue. I had originally also planned to release the third in my Wylder Tales trilogy. Yeah… that didn’t turn out so well and I ended up pushing my pub date to January 2019. In hindsight, I’m not surprised I faced a major burnout in 2018. The truth is, while some of us are able to solely focus on our passions, the majority are like me. We work, live and love each day the very best we can. We aren’t always the brilliant masterminds we wish we could be, but we get by, right? The lesson I learned from a year spent recovering my love for writing in 2019 is this:
Sounds simple, right? On the contrary, our society is filled with an endless stream of hurry-up, faster, faster, don’t get left behind. It’s a message that plays in the background of our thoughts and pushes us to deliver. But at what cost?
Last year, I made a choice to slow down and haven’t regretted it since. I take the time needed to make what I create the best it could be. It has helped my work life and personal life. Most importantly of all, slowing down has helped me appreciate every day I get to spend with my little guy. Any time I feel that creeping panic starts to push its way back into my psyche, I push the computer away, go for a walk in the woods, or grab extra hugs from my kid. It makes a world of difference.
Back to my first question, though. How do you tackle a sequel?
I spent the majority of 2019 doing what writers call “stewing” on Blackbriar Cove. I kept my writing chops up mostly through fun stress-free fanfiction and occasional blogging. But Blackbriar was never far from my mind.
The plot I had originally envisioned for the sequel to Silver Hollow didn’t feel quite right after rewriting and replotting my story. Instead, I had a whole new list of ideas and how we could carry these characters to the next phase.
Stewing on your novel is great, brilliant even in the right circumstances. So long as you at least attempt to write. Even if it’s a three-page treatment of the big points of your story, write something. I brainstormed and stewed and outlined the better part of the year until finally, I felt I was ready to begin.
The first chapters came easily enough after I’d refreshed my knowledge of “best sequel practices.” Yes, this is a thing, folks. Especially if you publish at a slower pace. Your audience has no doubt read a dozen books, plus slept in the time since they read the first book. It’s your job to remind them of why they fell in love with the world and characters in the sequel. I took a lot of notes from his fantastical holiness, Robert Jordan while re-reading the Wheel of Time series. Here’s some of what I gleaned.
Ways to draw your audience back in:
Briefly recall past important events. Even television shows often start a new season with, “Previously on…” Don’t info-dump the reader, but bring it up in conversations, or the scenes you re-introduce your characters. Which reminds me…
Re-introduce the major players. Often this means dropping little descriptors here and there. Don’t do a repeat of how you described them in Book 1. Show how they’ve changed.
Tell the story from the POV of another primary or secondary character from Book 1. While I kept Silver Hollow solely from Amie’s POV, in the sequel we see the Unseelie side of the coin through her best friends, Faye and Jo.
Write the sequel as if it’s a stand-alone, and your reader hasn’t read Book 1.
While these are some great methods, I’d advise you to try different things and see what works best for the cohesive narrative of your story. Don’t overdo it. Too much of anything is just… well, too much. Subtlety will go a long way. So will “showing” instead of “telling.” Show, show, show, whenever you can. Stick to these tips and you’re off to a grand beginning!
I would love to report that, upon following the above-mentioned methods, writing Blackbriar has gone off without a hitch. There are occasionally those books you write that come so easily and with little effort. But sequels can be tricky things. You may bring your audience back in, but how do you make them care for other characters and a new plotline? I had a few great ideas on that end, but executing them was another matter.
It all comes back to the heart of the matter.
I needed to figure out the message behind the story. While Silver Hollow is largely a fairy tale for adults, with a lot of wish-fulfillment smattered in-between the pages, Blackbriar is a different animal. A huge chunk of the novel takes place in Blackbriar Cove, the twins’ homeland. The Cove is another Borderland realm, hidden away from the world like Silver Hollow, deep in the Appalachian Mountains. The tone of the sequel, therefore, is not only dealing with the aftermath of major character deaths and evolutions. My inspiration for the world of Blackbriar Cove stems from Cherokee legends and a healthy dose of Southern Gothic aesthetic. Silver Hollow was a genre-bender, and I’m looking to carry on this theme of blending themes with the rest of the Borderlands Saga.
My struggle with the plot and how to bring these characters from Point A to B happened one night while I was workshopping my plot.
What is workshopping a plot, you ask?
The simple answer: Journaling about my frustrations. 😉
I keep an online and physical journal for all my books. Sometimes, if a solution doesn’t present itself onscreen, I try writing through pen. Both methods have helped me piece the puzzle together.
For Blackbriar Cove, I decided to free write the prologue about the twins’ unique upbringing in the Cove. What began as a prologue has turned into a narrative alongside our main narrative. Much like Silver Hollow tells stories within stories, Blackbriar Cove unveils pieces of the past while its characters are forced to face the consequences in the present. Just like that, I knew what to do.
I won’t lie and tell you I haven’t needed to workshop pieces of my novel along the way since then. But I hope you’re reading this and finding hope for your own project. Don’t give up, when the going gets tough in life and in creating. Art and music and literature enrich our lives, but they shouldn’t be our sole reason. Spend time with the people in your life and you’ll find everything else will fall into place. Sometimes we have to workshop our lives a bit to get back on track, and that’s okay. It’s okay to slow down and take a look at the bigger picture.
While the world may say otherwise, we aren’t in a rat race. We aren’t competing. We are in this journey and #writinglife together and I hope you’ve been inspired in some small way today. Keep an eye out for those special little moments. You never know what you’ll discover. Happy creating, friends 🙂