The challenges of writing a sequel
By Justin A Orton
I’m deeply honored to be invited back to Mary’s blog and thought it would be fun to take the opportunity to talk a little about the challenges of writing a sequel.
This past year has seen significant demands on my time at work (even authors need to eat, pay the bills, and feed the cat). At home we’ve just completed a major kitchen renovation (my honey-do list would rival War and Peace) and last month I finally became a US Citizen!
But despite all this – I have continued to work on my true passion, which is writing.
Following the release of “To Raise a King” I found myself embroiled in the minefield of marketing. The Internet seemed suddenly filled with book promotion opportunities. Weeks went by trying to short list all the opportunities out there, and those weeks became months as one learned that not all options were as genuine as they might seem. For a time, I literally became consumed with trying to gain visibility to my work, when I should have just been focusing on the sequel. But there was always tomorrow, and writing the sequel would never be as time consuming or as challenging as the first novel, right?
My first mistake was the thought that writing a sequel would be easy.
Gulp. I said that as a guest author on a blog produced by the author of a stunningly successful series of post Arthurian novels that many, myself included, have come to love! I’m not worthy, but I’m here, so I’ll continue…
When writing a novel, a lot of work goes into the setting and the characters, not just the plot. A great story will be empty without interesting characters, realistic dialog, and scenes that unfold in locations the reader can feel, see and smell. With a sequel it would be easy to assume that work has already been done. The author knows the characters intimately. They know every detail of the scenes, the settings, and the costumes. The author has lived with their creations for months, even years, and the first fundamental mistake one makes is believing the readers know everything too!
This poses four problems:
• Readers may not start with Book one. So how much do you retell without boring those that did read book one?
• In the unlikely event the readers really do know the characters as well as the author, then what is left to tell in the sequel? The second book must have a stunning plot to replace the pages normally spent introducing characters.
• If the readers really don’t know the characters as well as the author does (or thinks the readers do), then almost as much work goes into character building in the sequel as went into the initial book, sometimes more!
• The author is faced with the challenge of ensuring each character stays within the framework created in the previous books, or grows in a manner that is believable and consistent.
Maintaining continuity becomes a nightmare!
Characters often have a nasty habit of changing their story on you, sometimes in ways you don’t even realize. In a sequel you are not only continuing the story, but you must also strive to give your readers more. Each character needs more depth, delighting the reader as they make new discoveries. As the words start to flow across the page you suddenly realize that a simple innocent scene in the previous book has impacted book two in ways you never imagined.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I wanted to go back and just remove a scene or have someone unsay a line of dialog that at the time of writing seemed to have no significant bearing on the books to follow but has annoyingly committed me to a path or history I would not have chosen.
When I began “To Raise a King” I knew who I wanted the characters to be. I knew their backstories (most of them anyway). I knew how the entire series would start and end, with a high-level view of the journey in between. But despite that roadmap I’ve still stumbled.
So, as book two has been written, re-written, scrapped, and written again, I’ve found myself taking much greater care over every scene. Everything is analyzed not just for its immediate value to the story, but for its potential impact on the finale. I’m making much better use of the writing tools I have (Scrivener), to track characters, locations, objects and even the weather! That effort now, will allow me to spend far less time fact checking book three against its two predecessors, which means I will have more time to spend doing what I and my readers want, which is producing the next book!
Another unexpected challenge came from the fans. Those that enjoyed the book and were gracious enough to leave a review or contact me personally have directly or indirectly impacted some of the events in the next two books. Side characters that I never expected to see again turned out to be popular, and some of these (no I won’t tell you who) have found their way into the series. In some cases, this has meant finding a place for them in a way that enhances the story, not distracts from it. I must confess this has been a delightful distraction for me as it has not only challenged me to grow characters that I didn’t know well, but it feels that I’m really giving something to the reader that they influenced.
Then there’s the critics. I've had a lot of reviews on the first book, and even won a few awards. But not all reviews are good, and not all feedback is kind, but every single review, critique and comment has been appreciated, and more importantly has had an impact on the sequel. I’ve learned so much along the way and can honestly say that not only characters grow through the development of a series, but so does the author. I've tried very hard to wring every lesson from every comment and it is my hope that those that enjoyed “To Raise a King” will love “To Save a Queen”.
So, if I haven’t bored you to tears yet, allow me to tell a little about the upcoming book, which is now going through its final author cut before being sent for editing.
To Save A Queen
*Possible spoiler alert for To Raise a King.*
“To Save a Queen” picks up right where the first book ended. “To Raise a King” focused heavily on stage setting, and backstory, with Matt’s immediate quest to recover the fragments of Arthur’s crown. The sequel focuses more on the characters as they jostle for position in preparation for the final showdown.
An exhausted Morgause, now in possession of the Rod of Dardanos must crush the newly returned Arthur before he can rise to challenge her, but that leaves the upstart Aldivon at her back.
Aldivon, in possession of the Crystals of Dardanos, has retreated, his plan to overthrow Morgause and Merlin in tatters. Should he seek an alliance or fight on? His prisoner, Valina, may hold the answer as she comes to understand that Aldivon’s mind is not necessarily his own.
Merlin has collapsed. Pushing himself too far, he has drained himself to the point of death, and Matt finds himself torn between love and loyalty as Arthur and Lancelot struggle to put their differences aside.
Amid this three-way power struggle a fourth character emerges. Hunted by the queen, Guenevere narrowly escapes death, and decides to take matters into her own hands.
With the future of the world hanging in the balance, each group finds themselves embroiled in a bitter effort “To Save a Queen”.
I wish I could provide a release date for “To Save a Queen”, but all I can promise is 2019. I am working hard on the project, but I want to bring you a tale of magic, mystery, romance and action that will leave you clamoring for the final installment. You’ve had to wait, but I hope you’ll find it was worth it.
Now, in closing I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to my readers, critics, friends and family. You’ve encouraged and challenged me! Lisa, my wife, who despite the afore mentioned “Honey Do” list knows how important my journey as an author is to me, thank you for your support.
And finally - special thanks to Mary for allowing me a place on her ever-popular blog.
Happy reading everyone!
Justin A Orton
I spend most days delving into the world of computer code and unraveling programming mysteries for many major corporations, but my true passion is fictional writing.
My work is always supervised by Oliver (my cat), who’s four-legged contributions can often be found in both my coding and writing (all spelnig errors r stritcly his!).
I was born and raised in England, but now live with my beautiful wife Lisa in Florida (famous for its theme parks, beaches, the occasional hurricane, and a certain mouse).
My hobbies include: reading, movies, history, travel (I want to see mountains again Gandalf – mountains!), and exploring the latest gadgets and gizmos.
I’m rather fond of single malt scotch and it’s not uncommon to find me of an evening, sipping on a fine dram, while pondering how to get a character out of the very awkward situation I recently put them in!