Some writers start at the beginning of their writing plans and know that they want to write a series. Others have a vague idea. Still others, however, may not realize they are writing a series until either, they near the end of the draft of the first book, or they get feedback and reviews from readers who want more. More about the characters, more plots like this one, more stories set in this “gorgeous little town.”
So today’s topic is going to be how to go serial when you didn’t at first, and the first book is out there, so pulling it back in to rework isn’t really a viable option. This post is about how to find the truly open threads and use them to write one or more follow up stories.
Those of you looking to write a serial from the beginning can pay attention too. You’ll want to make sure to “seed” your planning with threads that can be pulled along in later works.
There are two types of character-based series:
- same characters, new adventure
- supporting characters, similar plot arc
“Same characters, new adventure” means the same main characters but the last journey they went on is all “buttoned-up.” That plot has played out. Mostly. If you wrote a romance, the characters reached an HEA (happily ever after). If you wrote a detective who solves mysteries, it means they solved that one. If you wrote a fantasy adventure, the characters fought down the rebels, thwarted the kidnap attempt, etc. And things are calm.
Sequel romances with the same characters can struggle with this in particular. Often a sequel romance will have a fluff plot and end up with an entirely different tone than the first. In the first romance the MCs getting together was the plot’s point. They’re together now. But your readers have written they want more. They might even say “I wanna see the wedding!” or “Can they have a baby, please?” or “But her ex is still out there somewhere!” or just “that can’t be all there is!”
So what makes a viable follow up plot? If your genre is the rom-com, you can create a lot of “external” problems: the caterer gets drunk and messes up half the order. The rented hall is no longer available because there was a fire in the kitchen. The florist flirts with the groom. The prospective in-laws can engage in “my child deserves more than your child” squabbling, catching our couple in the middle. Etcetera.
But if the tone of your first book was more dark, or serious, suspense- or character-driven, then you need to find more suspense and/or character issues for them to work on in the next book.
Let’s say you drew your MC1 as a hard loner and the MC2 softened them, made them see that caring for someone doesn’t make you weak. What character-developing plot would help MC1 grow even more? How about trying to create or recreate family? Look back at your first book, or the first notes you made on the character. Do they have blood or chosen family? Ask yourself why they don’t see them anymore. But now that MC1 has a new partner, and this new outlook, could they be coaxed to share their news with one or more of them? Could the MC2 create the inciting incident with a well-meaning question: “if we’re getting married, shouldn’t I meet your family?” Once you have that conflict, your second plot is off and running. Cause and effect, push and pull, and old skeletons (and past flames) can all challenge the couple’s stability.
To effectively write a sequel from these types of plots, the character(s) who will be returning need to face a new crisis or problem. The detective needs a new client, the fantasy adventurers need to realize that they only defeated the territorial leader, but there’s a bigger, worse baddie out there to defeat. Almost always these series books will be sequential, and readers will need to read them in a particular order.
Note: since the first book is done, it’s less likely that any plot or timeline will overlap, because you weren’t planning for that next book. But that doesn’t mean that subsequent book(s) in the series can’t have the seeds of future book plots planted with a line or two setting up the conflict for the next book (becoming aware of a bigger baddie’s plans but not (yet) being in a position to do anything about that until later).
“Supporting characters, similar adventure” is the world-building version of sequels. These are the series which get subtitled “The Gannon Sisters,” “Scataway Island,” or “The West Hollywood Witches.” The MCs of the first book have siblings and/or friends who were supporting (or even orchestrating) parts of their plot. A sequel will be where this supporting characters get their own emotional journey. The best friend finds a love of their own. The sibling takes on their own first job in the “family” (think the mafia/mob). You keep the same genre and setting, but you center the story around developing one of the supporting characters through a story of their own. The first book’s main characters become the supporting characters to the MCs of book 2.
These books can and often do overlap in place and time with the supporting character at least getting a wish line to set up their want/need that will be the basis of their story goal when they star in their own book. Again, it won’t be in the first book if you didn’t plan it that way (consciously – subconsciously you may find the seed was already planted by what you originally thought was a throwaway line).
Let me know in the comments if you’re writing a planned series, a second book after a first you didn’t plan, and if any of these ideas help you with writing that sequel.