What happens to the characters in a novel after the writer types The End? Usually nothing. The author is finished, happy to leave things where they landed and move on to another project.
Unless it’s part of a series. Then you have to figure out what follows happily—or unhappily—ever after. Does the marriage last? Does the adorable child turn into a troubled teen? Who cleans up the mess after the big party? How do they rebuild after the bomb explodes?
Write a series, the marketing gurus advise. You’ll get more readers and have built-in job security. But make sure each new book stands on its own. Okay, but how?
The bookstores are filled with beloved series from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who …” series. We collect the volumes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Dune, or Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford stories about an Episcopal priest in a small town. We love revisiting our old friends in one book after another, but writing them is not as easy as you might think.
When I promised readers of Up Beaver Creek, published in 2016, that there would be a sequel, I had no idea how challenging it would be. I put it off for a couple years, then started writing the second book, working title Back to Beaver Creek, for National Novel Writing Month in 2019. I cranked out my 50,000 words, but I got lost along the way because I hadn’t taken time to think through the whole story before I started typing. Then life happened, and I didn’t finish it. I am determined to get it done this time, but sometimes I get very frustrated with the author I was when I wrote the first book.
Why did I say the initials P.D. stood for THAT? Why did I give her such a stupid car? Why did Rick behave the way he did? And what am I going to do with this other guy? Readers wanted romance, so now I have to find some. If you hear groans from my office, you’ll know what’s going on.
I am developing a great admiration for authors of book and TV series. The challenge is to remain consistent with what came before and find something for all of the characters to do or a way to get rid of them. I can’t change any of the names or identifying details. I can’t change PD’s job or the house she lives in without making it part of the new story. If her house didn’t have a fence before, it can’t have a fence now unless she builds one. I can’t change the voice, so I have to write this book in first person, present tense even though a big part of me wants to write in past tense this time. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle where you create the pieces and have to make them fit together. You can’t start sawing off the edges to force them into place. Readers who enjoyed the first book(s) will call you on it.
You should see my pile of notes, file cards, and clips, not to mention the bits and pieces on three different computers. But I love puzzles, and I love PD and her friends. After much stewing about it over the last few days, I think I’ve got the story figured out, and I think you’ll like it. But next time, instead of a musician, maybe PD ought to become a detective.
Here’s some great advice on writing sequels: