My Own Personal Nightmare (Writing Seconds in a Series)


When I first started writing, I always thought that if you chose to create a series, the second book would be easy. Your characters are already developed. Your tension is well and truly in place. The boundaries and parameters within which you’ll set your plot are truly fixed.

And then I went to write my second in a series.

Cue: dramatic disaster music (duh-duh-DUUUUUUUUUUUUH)

This? It ain't got nothing on a second in a series. Photo: Big Stock Photo

This? It ain’t got nothing on a second in a series.
Photo: Big Stock Photo

Because no. Know matter how well I knew my characters, how aware I was of the tension and how much I knew how I wanted the book to end up, writing it was a zillion times harder than I ever could have imagined. SO, for any writers out there looking to start their first second in a first series (Who’s on first? What. What’s on on–) here are my top tips:

1. Keep a bible. I wish, wish, wish that when I was writing book one, I had kept a bible with all the important things in it. Stuff like minor characters’ eye colours. Stuff like it was midday when they graduated school (in the particular book I wrote, I did the entire story from someone else’s POV, so timing was very, very important). Note down everything that could possibly be needed in book two, and then, even if you don’t need it, you still have it there.

2. Let it breathe. In my first drafts, the trap I fell into was of making the story not some much its own thing, but rather a bridge between book one and book two. Let your story breathe. Let it be its own thing and darn it, make sure it has its own beginning, middle and end–otherwise it just ends up being a whole heap of middle. And unlike in in a cheeseburger, the middle is rarely the best part.

3. Get a mix of betas. Obviously you want more than one beta for every book, but for this one, I made sure I had betas who’d read book one AND some who hadn’t. Yes, some parts were a little confusing, but I think it helped me get a better idea on whether the book had the structure of a standalone (even if it’s not). I wanted an outsider’s opinion to just triple check that it had enough story and voice of its own to survive. It was one of the best things I did.

4. Give it its own ID. I have some terrible, terrible news: people are going to compare book one to book two, and there are going to be people who who like book one more. And nothing stings quite like the words “the first one was better.” So, for your own sanity at least, separate the two. Give them different identities. If people compare them, and reference one as being better than the other or vice versa, think of it as a compliment. “Oh, well clearly book one was pretty darn great then.” Because if you are a writer, chances are you’re not the most confident, self-promoting, completely happy within yourself person. In fact, there’s a chance that you are somewhat neurotic, don’t get out much, and drink a lot of tea. And to give you the energy and the strength to keep writing, you need to be able to stop thinking of them as being two parts of a whole. Think of it instead as comparing Peanut Butter to Vegemite. Of a Cosmopolitan to a Martini. Of a dog to a cat.They’re different; comparing them doesn’t make sense. But hey … at least  Crazy Writer Lady is better than Crazy Cat Lady, … right?

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Lauren K. McKellar is an author and editor. She doesn’t really think all writers are neurotic and stay at home, and she personally thinks tea is better with the words “Long Island Iced” in front of it. Her second book in a series, Eleven Weeks, releases January 28.

One Comment

  1. I especially want to +1 the comment about the bible. For my trilogy I even kept a table which listed each chapter, what happened in it, and what time of day it was. I also noted things like phase of the moon if I’d mentioned that in a scene, just so that it would be the right phase next time I mentioned it two weeks later. It was really helpful!

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