Once More Into the Breach: A Writer Examines the Art of the Sequel by Ammi-Joan Paquette
So, there was a day—not too long ago, although it seems like decades to this jaded eye—when I would have told you, quite sincerely and with a straight face: “Sequels? Wow! They are so much easier to write than stand-alones.” This was, of course, the voice of assumption rather than experience. But it made sense, right? After all, the world was already created. The characters were set, traits and all. And the story arc was primed and ready to fly. What’s not to love?
Oh, sweet summer child!
Let’s just say that my views have . . . matured ever so slightly. My first series launched with gusto in July 2015 with Princess Juniper of the Hourglass. In this book, a headstrong young princess asks her father for a very small country, all her own. Over the course of the book, she and a group of kid-subjects set up this kingdom—only to find that not everyone agrees with her rule.
So this was book #1: Princess Juniper has to set up her new all-kids kingdom, has to defend it from boisterous interlopers, and has to do a whole lot of growing in the area of leadership and dealing with people. That neatly rounded out the book, story arc and character arc.
But there were threads extending outward from the book, also: The reason the kids were packed off to this mountain kingdom was to escape an enemy invasion. They soon discover that their king and castle back home have been taken over, and they may be the only ones left free to help. So the arc was set to prime outward from book #1. Time to launch into the sequel: Princess Juniper of the Anju!
Here’s where things start to get dicey. Let’s look at my assumptions a little more closely.
The world is already created. Yes—your world is already fully formed around you. But that also means that you have to remember it. What did they call that big cave they use as a gathering place? How far was the river from the cliffside? Where exactly were each of the buildings located? To my surprise, these were details that fled very quickly from my mind. And instead of reenvisioning them, as one would do for a stand-alone novel, I had to search back through the first volume to find out how other places were described and to make sure that my new information aligned.
The characters are set, traits and all. There’s little I love more than a satisfyingly rounded character arc that tapers off to a neat conclusion with every end accounted for (except maybe butter croissants, but I digress). But the very best thing about those arcs—satisfyingly wrapped up, concluded—is what it makes it so hard for them to, well, continue! What do you do, seed new character flaws for each person? Rehash old ones? These well-rounded people get no peace after all: they’ve got to pick up their growth burdens and get started again, pronto.
The story arc is set and ready to fly. This one actually is a plus: You’ve got a broad sense of where the story is set to go already. The only catch is that it doesn’t always work that way. For example, in Princess Juniper of the Anju, the kids were supposed to make a brief detour, then head down to begin their adventure in saving the castle. That detour ends up taking the entirety of the book. And the castle? Ah, no sweat! We’ll worry about that in book #3, won’t we? (Past Joan and Future Joan may come to blows over all this someday.)
So those were the unexpected challenges. And I did learn some tricks along the way that helped greatly. On my final pass through book #1, I wrote out a list of all the descriptions and details related to places, people, and cultural or historical elements covered in the volume. This gave me one easily searchable document I could skim through or refer to when writing the sequels. While I did struggle with launch new character arcs, what I found was the circumstance and new story elements do great at providing new challenges and prompting new growth. And for the story arc, I worked hard to seed plenty of big-picture tension throughout their newest localized adventure.
It was hard work. Harder than I’d thought. But in the end, I think I love the resulting book even more for it. My views on writing sequels has changed for sure: they’re probably never going to be my favorite thing (and don’t even get me started on last books in the series, my current challenge!). But there is something uniquely satisfying about taking a created world and going ever deeper into it—something you can’t quite find anywhere else.
Ammi-Joan Paquette is the author of the Princess Juniper series, for which book #2, Princess Juniper of the Anju, is newly out this summer. Her other books for young readers include Ghost in the House, Nowhere Girl, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, and Rules for Ghosting. She is the recipient of a PEN New England Discovery Award honor, and her books have been recognized with starred reviews and on a variety of “Best of the Year” lists. In her non-writing life, she is a senior literary agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency, representing many top children’s and teen authors. Visit her on the web at www.ajpaquette.com