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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Anxiety of Writing a Sequel by Susan Jane Bigelow

I actually never set out to write a sequel at all. My first book, Broken, was supposed to be a stand-alone novel which would allow me to purge my brain of those characters once and for all, and get down to the business of writing Serious Literature about People Coming to Terms With Stuff instead of adventure stories about superheroes. But then I got an idea about one of the side characters, and started typing out a scene. By the time I resurfaced from my writing trance, I had the dim sense that I'd begun my second novel. I finished the rough draft about a year later.

It went through all kinds of ups and downs. At one point, after I'd waded through rejection after rejection for Broken, I tried to graft the two books together in the hopes of creating a Frankenbook that was somehow more salable. It didn't work and I separated them out again. I added characters, and took them out. I changed some of the characters beyond recognition. The books sold, and revisions changed them even more. You know, the usual process.

But sequels, I learned, can be different animals from stand-alones or first books. One thing I had to keep in mind was the relationship this book had with the one that had gone before. It turned out I'd casually established several things in the first book, like the spelling of certain organizations and a few throwaway bits of chronology, that loomed surprisingly large in the writing of the second. Also, because I hadn't planned on a sequel, there wasn't a lot in the first book to foreshadow the second. This may not seem like a big deal, but Broken's protagonist can literally see the future. This could get awkward. I added a few things during revisions for Broken and promised myself that when I wrote the next sequel I would do this better (I did).

I also had to make sure that I stayed consistent when it came to timeline, characterization and other things mentioned in the previous book. This became even more difficult when I started work on the third book in the series, The Spark. I kept digital copies open and left myself notes about this or that. It's a lot to keep track of. I still suspect I may have missed a few things.

There's also lots to worry about. Because the books are running in sequence, it's easy for readers to compare them. What if they don't like the new one as much as the book(s) that went before? What if readers don't like the way characters develop? I get anxious about book releases anyway, and it's just going to get worse with two sequels coming out this year (The Spark is coming out in November).

But writing sequels is also immensely satisfying in a way that writing stand-alone books isn't. It's amazing to further character arcs set up in previous books while exploring all kinds of new territory. Best of all, when readers tell me how happy they are to see the return of specific characters I feel like it's all worth it.

Now I have to figure out if I want to write even more books in this series! Trilogies are nice and neat, but I keep having more ideas. I do suspect that I'm not going to be getting around to Serious Literature any time soon, though, and that's just fine. I'd rather write science fiction adventure stories anyway.


Susan says... I'm a librarian, mostly, but I also write. I write on what might be called “a range of topics,” from politics in Connecticut to memoir-ish nonfiction to science fiction/fantasy stories and novels. I’m in my 30s and live in northern Connecticut with my wife and cats.

My first novel, BROKEN, was published this January. You can find more of my writing every week at the awesome Connecticut political website, CT News Junkie, where I write political opinion and analysis for the Nutmeg State. I also write monthly pieces (and sometimes reviews) for 30pov.com, an online literary magazine. From 2005-10, I wrote for and operated the Connecticut political blog CT Local Politics.

I also like biking, reading, walking, Doctor Who and all kinds of other things.


  1. Thank you for stopping by! I'm looking forward to reading BROKEN. :o)

  2. As someone who is currently struggle to edit the sequel to my upcoming release, I share your pain! :) Thanks for the post, it makes it a bit easier to know I'm not the only one.

  3. Thanks for the opportunity, Liana!

    Pippa, sequels really are a special kind of frustration! But they can be very rewarding, too!

  4. I am whining a lot at my sequel. Unlike with Broken and FiF I knew writing the first that I wanted a sequel. It... doesn't help that much. Although what I'm struggling with the most is figuring out what to include from the previous book and what to skip. I'm not generally a fan of 'Last time on...'

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