I’ve written a few trilogies and a couple of series. I’ve stumbled and struggled and made mistakes and learned from them. During book one, I’ve worried how to create the world AND focus on a smooth storyline, and during book two, I’ve stood in front of my planning board and worried about how to overcome that bad sequel rep. You know the reputation I’m talking about. Book two must be better than book one, but it cannot outshine book three. In fact, book three is supposed to outshine book one and book two combined. I have bitten my nails over this…and then I realized how silly that was.
Here’s the deal: Book two gets a BAD rep. It is often the most hated book in any trilogy—by writers and readers—because it’s seen as a transitional book, a book that takes the readers from the brand-new world in book one to the mighty explosive ending in book three.
Book two is boring. But it doesn’t have to be.
I honestly believe we are looking at book two in all the wrong ways, so here are some writing tips to consider.
1. Give Book 2 CREDIT
You’ve built a world in book one. You’ve created characters and described a setting and started a story and set up the tension. Book one is the adventure…and then there is book three, the explosive ending. It’s the climax of the series. It’s the ultimate tension and resolution. Book one gets credit for being creative, and book three gets credit for being explosive, so where is book two’s credit? It’s called a transitional book like that’s a bad thing, but I see it as a great opportunity. This is the book where you can focus on the story without worry. You have already built your world and your characters, and while everything is still going to grow, you have much more room to focus on the storyline. Give book two credit for all the wonderful, crazy, and brave elements you’ll finally get to explore in-depth. Let it be important. For me, book two is where my characters are often the bravest, because book two is where my characters DECIDE book three will happen. For me, this is the book I love writing the most. In fact, book three is the hardest for me, because I have to let everyone go. So enjoy book two while you’re there.
2. Consider Your Subgenre
This is completely different scenario, but I’ve spoken with a lot of writers who were absolutely enamored with book one but simply don’t feel the same spark going into book two. Well, maybe it isn’t a trilogy or series. That’s always a possibility. But if you’re sure this is a trilogy and you’re unsure how to continue your trilogy, consider sub-genres. What is a subgenre? Exactly how it sounds. It is a genre that pushes your main genre forward. Think of it like a subplot. In a story, we have a main plot, but then we have subplots or character arcs that push the entire plot forward. In a genre’s case, this subgenre could help tone the novel. Example? So you have a sci-fi book. Analyze your book by stripping out the sci-fi and consider what the plot would be without it. Maybe it’s a thriller. Now look at book two and consider changing it up. Maybe book two will be a sci-fi mystery instead of a sci-fi thriller. It will force your characters into a new situation and mindset, and it might just be the element you are missing to have each book stand on its own. The podcast Writing Excuses is covering the elemental genre right now, so they dance on the topic of subgenres a lot. Definitely recommended!
3. NEVER Hold Back
Since there’s this expectation that book three MUST be better than book two, I’m terrified when I read articles suggesting authors hold themselves back during the sequel, so that book three will be the most exciting. Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. As I tweeted out during my research of this topic, NEVER hold yourself back. Always write the best book that you can, and worry about “overcoming” book three later. Even if you’re writing book two and it seems extremely explosive, write it. Even if you have no idea what you’ll do in book three, write it. I am an author who believes in trusting your characters. If your story is asking for it, listen to it. Let book two be great. Let book two break the stigma. Let it be the best book in the series as you’re writing it. Write it in the best way that you can. That is the only thing you should be worried about. Everything else can happen later. As an example, I worked with a client who kept worrying about their protagonist. He insisted on killing the villain in the second book. But what will I do in book three? I couldn’t answer that, but I could advise them to try it. They did, and it turned out book three gained a new villain. The protagonist himself. Trust your characters. Trust your work. Give book two its dues. I played with this concept myself in The Timely Death Trilogy. The trilogy revolves around the idea of a “prophecy” and everyone automatically assumed it would happen in book three. Of course readers were quite thrown off when it happened in book two. I wish I could say I planned that from the beginning, but I didn’t. I did, however, listen to my gut. I listened to book two’s heart, and I let it live.
Now, go write book two with confidence and excitement.
If you’re interested, I wrote another article revolving around this topic: Writing Tips: Sequel, Trilogy, Series, Etc.
The content disclosure for November Snow released yesterday! Read the details by clicking here.
Bad Bloods in 35 words or less: 17-year-old Serena is the only bad blood to escape execution. Now symbolized for an election, she must prove her people are human despite hindering abilities before everyone is killed and a city is destroyed.
Add Bad Bloods to Goodreads:
#AuthorinaCoffeeShop Episode 12 starts this Thursday at 7 PM (CDT) via Twitter’s @AuthorSAT. What is Author in a Coffee Shop? Just as it sounds. I sit in a coffee shop, people watch, and tweet out my writer thoughts while hanging out with you. I hope to see you there!
“Don’t worry. I think he’s weird enough that he’ll get my weirdness.” – coffee shop love stories 💘 #AuthorinaCoffeeShop
— Shannon A. Thompson (@AuthorSAT) March 18, 2016
Since today’s post was about book 2 in a trilogy, here’s an excerpt from Seconds Before Sunrise, book 2 in The Timely Death Trilogy:
The lights were a collection of creatures I couldn’t have imagined on my own. Some had three arms. Others had weapons that looked impossible to carry. Their fingernails outstretched like blades, and their flushed faces suggested they were waiting longer than I thought.
“They aren’t human,” Pierce muttered, tensing.
I smirked, fighting the urge to correct him. None of us were.
Read Minutes Before Sunset, book 1, for FREE:
Seconds Before Sunrise: book 2:
Death Before Daylight: book 3: