Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Furthering the Adventures...

Ron talks about writing sequels below, and I mentioned in the comments how hard writing one was for me. I blithely sold a trilogy and then sat down to write the second book in it and realized I had no idea what I was doing. It’s so scary—you want the story to be worthy of a trilogy, you don’t want to repeat yourself, you want to make dramatic and complete what is essentially a bridge between two other books—and, maybe most pressingly, you don’t want it to be significantly worse than the first.

It was agonizing at first. I had overwhelming urges to lie in fetal position in the corner of my office and stay there for about three years. I finished a draft and it burned my eyes to look at it. I would wake up in the middle of the night in panic, and it wasn’t until one of these 4am panic attacks that I finally figured out the story the book needed to tell. I pressed select all on 200 pages and deleted them. Blank slate.

I learned how to write a trilogy by writing one—maybe not the most efficient way to do things, but that’s being a writer for you. Ignorance is a good fuel for ambition. And, for better or for worse, I won’t be as blithe about it next time. I read so many disappointing sequels. Sometimes they’re just rushed—you imagine the publishers hiring some guy to stand behind the author and beat a nightstick in his hands every time she stops to consider her word choice. And then some great ones. The authors follow varying strategies. I am breathlessly waiting for the nice UPS man to bring the sequel to Skin Hunger, which continues the action after a cliffhanger ending. JK Rowling keeps the same basic structure for her sequels, but grows the threat (just about) every time, along with growing her characters a year. Garth Nix takes the world he built in Sabriel and moves the action up a generation. In The Bartimaeus Trilogy the author expands his ambition in the second book and gives the trilogy its emotional resonance. Phillip Pullman in The Subtle Knife cuts a hole in the world he built in the first book and climbs through into a new one.

So, Hamline students and alums and fellow citizens of Inkpot-land, what sequels have you liked? What makes a good one?


  1. I really admire the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart (Emily Jenkins) because I've enjoyed each of the subsequent books as much as I liked the first.

    One thing that I think makes those books work is the compressed time frame--each book is only a period of a few months and so Lockhart didn't have to take her 14yo character to an 18yo one.

  2. Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen of Attolia (and also the third book, The King of Attolia). Everyone loved The Thief, and I thought The Thief was fine, but Queen sizzled. Maybe by the start of the second book I was just so in love with the characters that they could hang drywall or peel carrots and I would be mesmerized.

  3. That's a good one where she managed to continue the story naturally but tell a completely different one than the first book. Also, they cut off his hands.

  4. The Poison Study, Magic Study and Fire Study trilogy worked well for me. (By Maria V. Snyder, I believe). The first person point of view allowed you to feel the rush and anticipation of the action and I liked that I was swept along on the adventure and discovery. I rushed through them, having to "find out" what happened next, unwilling to put them down until I knew the conclusion.

  5. That's right, the hand amputation! And then he falls hard for the woman who ordered his mutilation. How sexy and twisted is that?

  6. I have to confess I was crazy for the Borrowers when I was a kid. That sense of another secret world going on right at our feet, taking our pins for sabres, our thimbles for flowerpots. An oldie, but a goodie.