To Be Continued? | Things To Consider About Writing Sequels

In my junior year of college, I had the opportunity to do an Independent Study with one of my writing professors where we worked one-on-one to begin edits on Guises to Keep. 

At one point, she wondered if I planned on writing a sequel because the ending seemed a bit open-ended to her based on the summary I had written up.

It’s been a few years since then, and while part of the ending has changed slightly after working with my critique partner on a different round of edits, the essence of the scene is still very much the same.

I always envisioned it as a standalone work. Even though I do sometimes amuse myself with wondering what would happen after the final chapter and have a good sense of where life would take them a few years into the future, it’s not necessarily something I would write in a canon sense.

However, there are times where an author may decide to write a sequel to their standalone novel or even expand it into a series, but writing a sequel to a standalone is a little different than writing a series.

I consider the majority of my works as part of an anthology rather than a series, so I wouldn’t consider myself the right person to talk about how to write one at this point in time. This post is designed to help you decide if your standalone story can feasibly support branching out into sequel or series territory.

If you’ve been planning to writing a sequel since the get-go or realize you want to along the way, I do not mean to discourage you.

Every story is different, and as such the circumstances will change from one to the next. These are just a handful of things to take into consideration before you take the plunge.

Let’s Talk Logistics

This for me is one of the biggest components in my deciding whether or not to write a sequel for Guises to Keep.

If you read my opinion piece on word counts in fiction, then you already know Guises to Keep is a lengthy read, coming in at around 186,000 words at the time of writing this post.

Among the contributions to this is the story’s complexity. I tend to describe its structure as being similar to that of Downton Abbey because it is set in a country manor house and revolves around not only the upperclass family residing there but the servants, creating a number of interlaced plotlines.

As a result, Guises to Keep acts almost like two books in one but cannot be split up without creating severe plot holes and gaps.

This also makes it tricky to write a sequel. Containing the story within the manor house leads to paths and lines being crossed, however, without giving away too much, that’s not the case for the last few chapters and what would take place beyond them.

To continue this story is really to continue these stories, and I expect it would be done in a more jumbled or disjointed way because of the separation. It would not make sense for me to write a sequel that focuses on Character A’s storyline when it no longer has any bearing or connection to Character B’s. Even if the events were occurring simultaneously, they would be too far removed from one another and taking place in different locations.

Attempting to write a sequel would actually require me to write two books or more, but not in the same sense that Guises to Keep acts like two books.

Some stories simply are not designed or able to support a sequel.

There Is No Story Left To Tell

Sequels can be great because it gives the author a chance to tie up loose threads remaining from the first installment and weave them into something new. Maybe an unanswered question becomes a significant problem for the protagonist, or an unforeseen consequence is making what had been a happy ending into another nightmare.

On the flip-side of that, sometimes everything gets tied up in a neat bow. The central conflict is resolved.

This is another factor in my choosing to keep Guises to Keep as a standalone.

I don’t think readers would necessarily be interested in seeing the lives of the characters after the dust has settled. We read to escape our everyday lives, so why would we want to read about a character going about their day when nothing extraordinary happens to them?

Writers are told not to start the story too early, but you also want to avoid ending the story too late.

Genre Conventions

A continuation of your story does not necessarily need to be a direct sequel that expands on previous events or follows the same characters. A series can also consist of several connected stories.

In romance, for example, it’s not uncommon for authors to write a book intending for it to be part of a series. The first book might follow one protagonist while introducing their sisters; if there are four sisters, it’s easy to expect the series to consist of four books, one following each.

  1. Book One introduces Heather as a protagonist and her sisters act as secondary characters. Heather is married by the end of the book.

  2. Book Two follows the second-oldest sister, Lilly. Heather may be mentioned but not as present.

  3. Book Three is about Rosemary. Like her sisters, Rosemary ends up married.

  4. Book Four revolves around the youngest sister Violet. Her marriage marks the end of the series.

Another way this might be done is through a collection of companion novels, that is to say, a group of books centering around the same timeframe or even but through the perspectives of different characters. In romance, this could be a group of bachelors who have known each other since high school, and by the end of the summer they all find themselves in committed relationships, engaged, or even married. Each book in the set centers around a different man, but they might mention events happening in other books. If Greg finds himself leaving going out of town while the other guys attend a party, Greg’s story will focus on what happens with him, and Chris’s story may talk about what happens at this party. These books take place at the same time and feature the same characters, but cover different, concurrent events.

I find myself taking a similar path, though I look at things as more of an anthology rather than a more distinct series because I’m writing them to be read as a standalone that does not require having read the previous book to understand. I also refer to them as spin-offs rather than sequels or being part of a series because while they share events and characters, they are not direct sequels in the sense that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a direct sequel to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Trilogies are especially common in YA Dystopian, for example. Books like The Hunger Games and Divergent have relatively tied-up first installments, but branch out to a sequel with a more open ending and the final resolution in the third book.

If sequels or series are common within your genre, it might be worth considering but not mandatory.

The Sequel Seeds Have Already Been Sewn

One way an author may figure out what direction they want to take with their sequel or series is to figure out what plot points can be explored further or who among their secondary characters could make a strong protagonist.

This is often the approach I take when I do intend to write a spin-off.

If I plan to expand on a project, I like to leave hints about their possible storyline in the story in which they are first introduced. Against His Vows is about William, but his decisions impact his brother, Francis.

Francis will eventually be getting his own story focusing on his adjustment to the sudden changes in his life that took place because of William’s actions.

If you introduce a character that you feel could be worthy of their own storyline, a sequel could be worth exploring.

It does not have to be a character that builds this bridge. The fallout of Forged in the Salle sets up one of the main conflicts in Against His Vows. While there are not any characters that appear in both stories, the plot of one influences the other.

Fan Service

If you’re unfamiliar with this term, Fan Service is generally defined as something thrown into a work of fiction with the aim of pleasing the audience.

There are times where a standalone book becomes widely popular and has its fanbase clamoring for more content.

Popularity can impact a publisher’s willingness to publish a sequel. This is why a common piece of advice for authors setting out to write a series is to end the first book in a way that doesn’t leave readers hanging. This way, on the chance the sequel does not get the green light for one reason or another, the audience can still feel some level of satisfaction rather than disappointment. Once the second book is out, this advice is flipped on its head and the writer is encouraged to leave off on a more ambiguous note, making readers wanting to read the next installment, and to keep up this pattern until the final book in the series.

Popularity should not be the deciding factor when it comes to continuing a story.

I talk about this idea in the piece I wrote after the announcement that The Good Place would end after its fourth season because that was what the writers wanted.

Writers often have a pretty good sense of what their intentions for their book are. Whether they go in with the intention of writing a trilogy or start off writing a standalone and realize along they way that there is plenty of potential for a sequel, they tend to have a better grasp on its future than its audience.

They just know.

This is why sequels can sometimes feel unnecessary or even like a cash grab.

You can tell they were written solely because the fans wanted them, not because the author wanted to. The heart isn’t there. The author didn’t have as much fun with it or maybe felt like they were writing it because they had to, and it shows.

If you write a sequel, write it because you want to, not because readers want you to.


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