And Now for Book Two: How to Write the Second Book in a Series

My favorite Book II wasn’t a Book II at all, but the second film in the Star Wars Trilogy. When I was in second grade in the early ‘90s, my father interrupted our TGIF watching to show my siblings and I a movie from his youth - The Empire Strikes Back. We whined a little at our Urkle interruption, but ten minutes into the movie, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of Luke’s training with Yoda and when (spoiler alert) Han Solo is encased in carbon after a harrowing chase scene that ended with an “I love you” and an “I know,” I couldn’t wait for the next installment. And I wanted to go back to the first book as well.

When I started working on the Rise of the Hidden Prince, Book II for my Hugo nominated Young Adult Fantasy Series, The Pan Chronicles, I knew I couldn’t just write Book I Continued. I also knew that I needed to find a way to progress my story, grow my characters and enhance the overall themes of the first book without carbon copying what I’d done before. A Book II in a series of books, does not just replicate Book I, but Book II also doesn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater either. It’s important to find a middle ground. It’s also important to change it up and craft your Book II so that it packs all the punch it needs to catapult a reader’s interest to Book III and beyond.

The job of Book II is not only to hook readers for a single reading experience. Book II needs to convince new readers to go back and read Book I, even if they know what might happen. It should also catapult readers into Book III and beyond. It’s a tall order to fill and that is why Book II is uniquely poised in any series to leave readers wanting more. There are a few ways a Book II is different from Books I, III and beyond. While no series is the same, many follow a set of suggestions that help Book II stand out. 

  1. Recap for the Returning and the New Reader: We’ve all seen the “last time on” segments before most television shows. While it can seem a bit hokey, summing up the important details in a first page or paragraph, helps a new and returning reader understand where this story starts. Try to use subtlety when recapping. Slip important pieces of information into dialogue. A new character who isn’t privy to Book I (like a new reader) can densely ask, “What’s going on?” You don’t want your new and old readers to have to slog through dense paragraphs of back story, but offer the reader enough information to understand Book II, even if every detail isn’t included. It’s also important to trust a new reader to be able to fill in some blanks on their own.

  2. The Plot Thickens: Any creative writing class will tell you that plot is about tension, and tension is about conflict, and conflict is about raising the stakes. Conflicts big and small should get worse, not better, in Book II. Pick up where your protagonist's problems left off but try to make them worse. This can be done in a number of ways. A reader (and a protagonist) might get more information, just as Harry Potter learns more about magic and his past in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In The Hunger Games Catching Fire, the stakes are raised through heightened drama, when Katniss is put in a similar situation re: the Hunger Games, but now there is no hope of escape.

  3. Remember What Works: When it comes to world building it’s important for a reader to understand that while aspects of the world you built in Book I have changed, due to plot developments in your story, there are still elements of the familiar. In Book II of The Pan Chronicles, a new character, Eros, the son of the Fairy Queen Mab, is found after being lost for many years. While there’s a new character to contend with, he remains off to the side, so that he doesn’t disrupt the friendships that have already developed. It’s not until late in the book that Eros is fully integrated into the inner circle of the story, giving readers a chance to get used to a new normal.

  4. Things Get Dark: Book I draws a reader in, Book II ups the ante. Book II is where a protagonist’s inner demons really come out. Consider Luke Skywalker (okay, not a book). He’s a happy-go-lucky wannabe soldier with grand ideas about saving the universe in Installment I. Though he maintains some of his original character, difficult training with Yoda and learning that the Force is not all it’s cracked up to be, really do a number on his wide-eyed innocence. We see the cracks in the world that was built as well. Sure, the Jedis were good guys, but they also spawned the man responsible for the Death Star.

  5. You Lose: In many Book I’s the protagonist, and the larger story, get a happily ever after. The big bad is thwarted (though probably not defeated if you’re in for a series). Some little bad probably meets their demise. The good guy looks good, maybe he/she doesn’t get the love interest yet, but the romantic tension is definitely there. Just like things get dark in Book II, the end should be just as dark. Think (spoiler alert) Sam being separated from Frodo as they enter Mordor in the Two Towers. Surprise is extinguished when every book in a series ends happily, or at least well, for the protagonist. An upsetting ending, where the protagonist not only does not get what they want, but loses something, will leave a reader wanting more. 

Book II’s job is to build (and keep) a readership for Books III and beyond. This is done by balancing the familiar with the surprising, the ups with the downs, and the dark with the light. You want to close some doors that Book I opened, while opening more doors for Book III through surprise, suspense and better and deeper world and character development. In Book II we often see what isn’t pretty, but in those faults, we find better ways to see the light.

 

About the Author: Jessica Stilling  is the author of three literary novels, Betwixt and Between, The Beekeeper’s Daughter and Just So Many Places. She has published the young adult fantasy novels, Into the Fairy Forest, The Rise of the Hidden Prince and Nod under the pen name JM Stephen. Her articles have appeared in Bust Magazine, Ms. Magazine and The Writer Magazine. She has taught literature and writing at The State University of New York, The Gotham Writers Workshop and The New School. You can find her work on her website https://www.jessicastilling.com/.

There are a few ways a Book II is different from Books I, III and beyond. While no series is the same, many follow a set of suggestions that help Book II stand out.

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