A Thought On Writing The Second Book...

I recently read the second book of a series that proved to be a bit of a letdown. It was too concerned with setting up stuff for the third book to truly be its own thing. I don't care about another sequel when the plot of the thing I'm reading would be solved very quickly if not for all the sequel baiting. It may appear that everything going on in the book is building towards that book's finale, but then you start to realise that certain characters' actions actually mean nothing in this particular book and, oh yeah, the chapters dedicated to them don't serve any purpose other than to build up the third and currently unpublished book...

*sigh*

I enjoy complex narratives because they are so satisfying when all the twists come off just right. But when a book is complex for the sake of complexity, and predictable "twists" are buried beneath pages upon pages of "stuff we'll deal with in book three!!!!", I'm left feeling a little underwhelmed. I also feel kind of cheated. Let's use one of the best film trilogies of all time as an example. Back to the Future Part II is sandwiched between two brilliant films, but it stands alone. Marty goes to the future, screws up the 80s, and then goes back to the 50s to fix it. The film's central problem is fixed, and the cliffhanger ending leaves us desperate for the third film without cheating us out of a proper conclusion to the events of Part II EVEN IF 2015 IS NOTHING LIKE THEY PROMISED.


...Cuteness doesn't help with THE LIES!!!

With Conspiracy of Echoes, I decided I wanted each book's main crisis to stand alone. There are callbacks to previous stories, but the second book's problem isn't linked to the first book's and isn't linked to the third book's. I really didn't want any of my books to exist to for the sole purpose of setting up the next one, or to fill the space between one book and another. If I was to boil it down, each story features a ghost or haunted building my main character wants to blog about.

And yes, I am writing a series without having found an agent for the first. So what? Gotta go where the muse takes me.

How do you feel about "filler" books? Does it bother you, or are you just happy to have your favourite characters back again?

Comments

  1. Oooh, good question. I'm thinking about this a lot right now as I tool with sequel ideas for my WIPs. I can't tell you what I do like, because I'm still pinning that down... but like this post says, I like self-contained arcs, and I like massive game-changers. I like the stakes to really jump forward compared to book 1, I like big, pivotal changes to the worldbuilding.

    As for what I hate....

    -- Books where the protagonist gets convenient amnesia and has to go through the struggles of Book 1 again. The third book of HUSH, HUSH did that, I presume because the author only plotted a trilogy and had to quickly scrape up material before the fourth and final book. She just forget the last five month of Book 1 and 2, and the entire book was a rehash of what happened before.

    -- A certain sequel to an apocalyptic, Mad Max-ish YA I *adored* pulled this one -- going for action-focussed to romance-driven, with a love... pentagon, maybe... in the center of it all, and one character previously described as a cute, mute child suddenly elevated to love interest (ICK).

    In the right hands, genre shifts can work really well -- an epic fantasy series with a murder mystery in the sequel could be great, for instance, or a high school contemp YA that takes a funny noir twist. But some tone shifts just feel disingenuous, especially if not forecasted.

    -- Convenient coincidences and luck. If the stakes aren't rising and the protagonists aren't going through even more crappy events that the first book, I'm gonna be disappointed. The previously-mentioned apocalypse book had a lot of good luck and kindness, which really didn't lead to any tension, especially compared to the first book.

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    1. Ever since my brief Smallville addiction when I was in my teens, I've been completely and utterly DONE with convenient amnesia. Just NO. No no no. It's not cool.

      Wow, a love PENTAGON! That's a new one on me.

      Yeah, some authors are so damn good at tone shifts. That ain't me :P Maybe there's something bad to be said for us pantsers. Plotters might be better at these things.

      I think I did a post on convenient coincidences ages ago, because they do happen in our real life but they don't always read well. Depends on how big a plot point is and how into the rest of the characters/world/plot I am.

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  2. I really really love the Pixar rules of storytelling, especially:

    #19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

    http://io9.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar

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  3. I've read a lot of middle-book-in-a-trilogy books like that. I think it happens when writers try to stretch an idea to cover three books when it would work better as two. If you have a separate conflict for each book, you shouldn't have this problem (it's one of those things I always check for when plotting!).

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    1. Agreed. Or when they couldn't leave off after one.

      Yes, make sure there's plenty of story to go around.

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  4. Reading saggy middle books frustrates me, so when I wrote the second book in my trilogy, I was determined to make it interesting in its own right. While it wasn't hard to come up with ideas for book two's individual story line, what proved most difficult was recapping book one quickly and naturally, and setting up book three without doing so in such a way that nothing was happening in the meantime (necessary considering the overarching story line). It made for a pretty long book all said and done, but I think (hope) it's interesting and has merit of its own. Like you say, readers don't want to be strung along. I think there really should be more duologies to avoid this problem. Trilogies are great, but only if a writer has enough story to fill three books. And I agree that you have to go where the muse takes you. I wrote my trilogy back to back without an agent too because I couldn't just leave it hanging. I needed to finish it. Glad you feel the same! :)

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    1. It's a fine art, and I think if a book starts out without planned continuations or, as you say, as a duology and not a trilogy, that's when a lack of plot can become an issue.

      Can't wait for the day I can pick yours up off the shelf in my local bookstore :D

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