Starting the Sequel

So I took the past two days off from official work — I’m on vacation, right? — in order to make some real headway on my next novel. I’m now about 5% into it (as seen in the progress meter at left), and I have to say it’s been an interesting experience so far.

I’ve never written a “sequel” before, and I’m finding that it raises thorny problems. None bigger, of course, than the question of how much I can take for granted. That is, can I count on the fact that readers will read Book 1 before hitting Book 2? And even if they have read Book 1, how much can I count on them remembering?

I knew that this problem existed in a theoretical way, but until I sat down to start up this book I didn’t know it in a practical way.

My prologue to Book 1 was 3,830 words long, which is fairly massive for a prologue — though in my defense it operates in a much different way than most traditional prologues. The longest chapter in Book 1 was one of the climactic ones, at 4,924 words, and the average length was probably around 3,100 words.

The prologue to Book 2, the first draft of which I just finished? 5,399 words.

Some of that is taken up with action and basic character development — though it’s a character that we grew to know pretty well in Book 1 — but I fear that far too much of it is giving recap of basic plot data from the first book. I’ve tried to parcel it out, tried to be subtle, but I found it much more of a problem than I thought it would be. I’m longing now to take Tolkien’s approach and just assume that the reader will slog straight through the whole series, giving no help at all to anyone joining the show part way along.

Am I over-thinking this? How much can I trust you readers? Any advice for the Tolkien approach versus the give-some-background approach?


  1. Send it to me if you’d like some reality-based feedback. Speculating theoretically about that line is wasting time that should be spent writing, although, my guess is that you wrote more than you need.

    I served as Wise Reader for all three books in James Maxey’s series. I thought he did a fine job of walking that line. They are fast reads if you think you might want to look at them.

  2. I suspect you’ll be getting something shortly, Cathy.

    You’re right about James handling it well. But, then, he’s a really great writer.

  3. I find that if there is too much recap from a previous book I have a very difficult time getting through the recap and on to the rest of the book (read as: I put the book down and rarely pick it up again). If there is a point or two from the old book that is particularly crucial to the new book I would say work it into the story somehow.

    I believe the type of reader your book will attract will more often than not remember the details from the previous book. So a brief recap, at most, is all you would need.

    I wouldn’t cater to those who will pick up a book from a series and read it out of order, they are the same folks that flip to the end to find out what happens. They will get all caught up once the movie is released.

    On a side note: I always thought it would be cool before a story started in the second and third books of a series if there is a picture drawn that basically acted as a trigger to the points that should flash in ones memory from the previous book. If you don’t read the previous book it makes no sense, but if you had it’s like a little bulb turning on.

  4. Good advice, Kate. Sounds more or less like my impulse, which is especially welcome news.

  5. Heck, you know what I’d say. Do it Tolkien, all the way…though as I remember you saying in class, doing it Tolkien-style (whoah…ok, just going to go with that sketchy-sounding phrase for now) might not go down well with a publisher these days. Then again, what do I know? I’ve never tried to get anything published.

    I do know, much as I love The Wheel of Time series, that Book 10? Crossroads of Twilight? Where NOTHING HAPPENS except character development/plot recap through the entire, like, 800 pages? pissed me off a little. In short, if it were me, I’d risk it and skip all the recap.

    You are inspiring me to write more on my own. I can’t wait to read your series!

  6. That’s good advice in general, though “doing it Tolkien-style” technically tends to involve large, hairy feet, which is something I’d like to avoid. 🙂

    I hope very much that you get the chance to read these books. If that agent would get back to me…

    (Oh, and for what it’s worth, a lot of folks had issues with Crossroads of Twilight.)

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