Elements Of A Strong Sequel


Sequels are awesome. A continuation of an awesome book or movie that allows you to spend more time with the character you love in a world you adore? Sign me up please! There’s something amazing about being able to really sink into a world through multiple instalments, getting to know the people, the places, and the struggles better. Well-written sequels compliment and extend the story built in the first book. But, on the flip side, badly written sequels can put readers off the entire series. Writing a great sequel is definitely not any easy to thing to do. You have to try and live up to the first book while making the second book engaging, familiar, and unique in its own right. Every book is different, but there are some things that you should definitely keep in mind while writing the next instalment. Here is a list of a few I’ve come up with:

Break-Ups Shouldn’t Be Added Just For Conflict

This is a trend I personally have seen too much of, and really don’t enjoy. You’ve just spent an entire book or even more watching these characters FINALLY get together, or grow as a couple. And all of a sudden that hard work and emotional attachment is rendered void by a sudden, unnecessary break-up between instalments. It feels almost like a betrayal. We loved this pair, and now you split them up just for a bit of tension? Having characters break-up can work if it’s set up right, building up to it gradually either throughout the course of the sequel, or in the book before. But starting your sequel with the characters having magically broken up just so you can add a bit of angst or conflict is lazy writing and can seriously annoy your readers.

Characters Progress, Not Regress

Throughout the first book, the characters should be growing and changing so that, at the end of the book, they’re to how they were at the beginning. Not perfect certainly, but having learned something and developed as a person. This means that, in the second book, these same characters should be starting as the people they were at the end of the previous book. They will need to face new challenges and learn new things over the course of the sequel. The reset button shouldn’t exist for their personalities. Having a character learn to put other people before themselves, and then coming into book two and finding they’re a selfish little so-and-so again is frustrating for readers.

Major Changes Should Feel Natural

Having read the previous book/s, readers feel like they have a pretty good handle on the world and the characters. So springing a surprise on them like a character suddenly switching sides, a large personality change, or a switch in focus from one major problem to another, has to feel natural for readers to accept it. This doesn’t mean that you have to signpost it overtly, but the changes do need to be foreshadowed carefully, either in the previous book, if you plan your series in advance, or throughout the course of the sequel, so that when the reveal happens, readers can see that this isn’t spur of the moment, but actually makes sense.

The Sequel Should Contain A Full Story

A sequel is, of course, a continuation in some form, of the story that you presented in the first book. However, just like the first book needs to have a complete story that has a climax and a resolution, so too does your sequel. Readers have to be able to finish the book feeling satisfied that what you gave them was a story in its own right, as well as being part of a series. Every book in the series needs to have a point, a story to tell, rather than just being there as filler, its only purpose to get you on to the cool action in book three.

Continuity is Key

Readers are smart people and they remember a whole lot more details than even the writer does sometimes. So they’re going to notice if you suddenly change a part of a character’s backstory, rewrite events that happened in a previous book, or if you start adding elements that make sense in the world you presented previously. A good sequel continues the storyline and world seamlessly.

These are just a few of the elements that stand out to me as things writers should consider when writing a sequel. There are certainly plenty of other helpful things to think about. These blog posts and articles have a bunch of helpful advice if you’re looking for more:

Looking for more in the series? Check out some of the other posts HERE.

What other elements do you think go into making a great sequel? What are some sequels you think are really well written (books or movies)? Have you ever written a sequel? Are you planning to write one in the future? Do you enjoy series, or are you more of a stand-alone book kind of person?

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  1. Ahhh I totally agree! And I wish more sequels would follow this list actually XD because so I often I feel like sequels suffer from second-book-blues. Merp. I really dislike that break-up thing that almost always happens. It's nearly frustrating?? Like I nearly don't even WANT to ship a couple in the first book because I know they're just going to have angst and break-ups in the second. :/ But at the same time, if that's done well, it's okay. Because relationships have wrinkles! But the trope is getting a bit old.
    OH. And having the sequel be a complete book on it's own?! YES. I want an adventure, not just people waffling around to build up for the next book. XD I felt like A Clash of Kings (Game of Thrones #2) suffered from this sooooo bad. And I mean 900 pages of FILLER FOR THE NEXT BOOK? *collapses* Not okay.

    Loved the post, Imogen! :D

    1. Ugh, I totally agree about the second-book-blues. The break-up can totally be done well, but I think it's like love triangles. Too many people have done t for it to be anything like compelling, or even interesting at this point. Oh my goodness. If there was a book to be filler for the next one, I wouldn't pick any of G.R.R. Martins'. Those things are GINORMOUS!

  2. Oh I'm definitely guilty of the break up at the end of a book because when I was writing my first story I thought it would be a great idea to put some tension in the sequel. No that big of a fan nowadays. But I completely agree with your list, especially with the progress of the characters, that's I think is really important. :)

    1. Don't you just hate it when you've seen a character grown and change and mature over the course of a book, and then they go right back to their pre-adventure self? I think the only thing that's worse than that is a hero who gets more and more unlikable as the series goes on, when I don't even think that was the intention. I've always thought that if you're going to follow a character for so long, you've got to be able to see them grow and mature and be semi-likable the whole way through if you're going to be expected to make such a commitment. Thanks for stopping by Simona!

  3. THANK YOU! I /hate/ the breaking up in the sequel trope. What ever happened to lasting relationships that endure over time? I want more of those. Totally agree with these points!


    1. I KNOW, right? Like, I understand why it's being done, but couldn't we just for once have a relationship that actually works? Otherwise what's the point of readers getting all emotionally attached to couples if they're not going to stay together anyway?

  4. I love this, and I think these things are all so true. Like, seriously, you've hit it spot on! There are plenty of times when I've given up on sequels because they just didn't do the amazing stuff that the first ones did, but when I think about the sequels that I have adored... This is just the truth. WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO GLEAN THIS KNOWLEDGE BECAUSE YOU ARE SO RIGHT?

    1. It's weird how sequels are so much harder to write than first books, isn't it? There seems to be so much potential for them to go wrong. Which is a pity because those first books are usually pretty amazing. They're the best things EVER when authors get them right though. Haha, I think I learnt by reading too many sub-par sequels. My sister and I love dissecting books and movies so we tend to talk about these things a lot. So glad you liked this post!


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