Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rob: It Was Easier The First Time

So, I wrote a book, and I loved it. I sent it to Sara, and she loved it. She sent it to editors and they loved it (some more than others) and it sold in a 3-book deal.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Until it came time to write Book 2. Man, this thing is killing me.

Writing sequels is hard. When you write the first book, you can do anything that you want. You can create any kind of characters with any kinds of flaws and arcs, and you can send the plot in any direction, in any setting. But when you write a sequel, you're locked in. While you still get some elements of discovery, there are an awful lot of places where you have to color inside the lines. Think of it like building a house: your first book lays the foundation and puts up the first floor. Your second book has to build on that: If your first floor is a 1000-square-foot bungalow, your second floor simply can't be a 3,000-square-foot Colonial. That would be a really ugly, structurally-unsound house. Instead, the second floor needs to be a continuation of the first--more or less in the same structural footprint, more or less in the same architectural style. It all has to make sense and look good as a whole.

But here's where the architecture analogy breaks down: if you're building the second floor and you want to make a major change that would require some adjustments to the first floor—you can do it. You can pay your contractor extra, and he'll grumble and knock down a few walls to accommodate your changing tastes. That can't happen with books. ARCs of Variant are already distributed. Readers have already seen it; reviews have been written. For all intents and purposes, Variant is written in stone.

Not that there's anything I really want to change, but there are a few details that, as I was writing it, I thought were minor. But now that I'm writing the sequel I realize that those things are REALLY important. For example, close to the end of a book, a major character suffers a significant injury. The injury was necessary to the plot and even to the characterization, but what wasn't necessary was how severe I made it. So now I'm writing the sequel and I have to really struggle with the consequences of this injury. I write fiction--I even write science fiction--but there's very little I can do to write my way out of dealing with this major injury. It's there, and I have to make it work.

Fortunately, most of the problems I'm having with the sequel are of that variety: dealing with inconvenient details. But the pitfalls of writing a sequel could be much worse. The first sequel I ever wrote—The Counterfeit, sequel to Wake Me When It's Over—I made a much bigger, rookie mistake. The first book had a good, solid character arc, but I hadn't even thought about that for the second—I'd only focused on the plot. (Because I'm a dummy.) So I had to invent a new character arc for the protagonist, and if I'm being honest, it was pretty contrived. Suddenly, he has new character flaws! Flaws you've never seen before!

Anyway, my editor emailed me yesterday to kick me in the butt and tell me it's time to finish the book. I'll be glad when it's done.

After that: happily ever after.


  1. Very impressed by the architecture analogy. See, this is why I write all my sequels before the first one is accepted. (wink)

    It'll be awesome. Can't wait for VARIANT!

  2. I will second all this. Sequels are tough!

  3. Good luck! I know it'll be awesome, Rob.

  4. Eep! I've never written a sequel before, but I'm plotting one now. I've really stressed about it. This is REALLY helpful--thank you!

  5. "After that: happily ever after." <-- Until book 3. ;) Then you get to do it all over again, and I have a feeling the final piece will be the hardest of them all.

    Writing a sequel is an obvious challenge. Hopefully we all become better writers from doing so.

    Great post, Rob!