1. Where To Start
Choosing the point at which you need to pick up your story again in a sequel is a delicate process. It’s best to end each book in a series in a well-rounded way, not on a cliffhanger – though some authors would disagree – so picking up exactly where you left off may not be an option. Consider these qestions: does this opening work for someone who did not read the previous book, and does it contain the seeds of the story ahead?
If your first few pages are a summary of the plot so far, you will bore everyone, including yourself. Dripfeed information only when required, preferably through dialogue, but especially whenever a new character enters the scene. Never assume the reader has read or remembers your previous books. But keep references to backstory very light, more stage asides than whole paragraphs, and introduce them into the narrative as organically as possible, don’t let them clunk about, knocking the furniture over. Don’t use flashbacks to reveal backstory unless you have an excellent reason for doing so; for instance, because you need to introduce a character that cannot appear any other way at that point in the narrative.
3. Character Development and Continuity
If your main characters have not changed since the start of the series, you need to ask why. Since character development is best revealed through action, have them do something they did in a previous book, but show them experimenting and learning. Keep developments logical and consistent. Early on, briefly touch base with characteristics/plot points familiar from the last book. This allows readers to relax and remember how much they enjoyed your previous story.
4. Plot development and continuity
There are two story arcs in a series. First, your overall arc, which may contain several threads. For my Lust in the Tudor Court trilogy, one of these is: ‘Will Queen Anne Boleyn survive all these accusations of adultery and witchcraft, and keep her head?’ (Spoiler: sadly, no.) The other is each book’s individual story arc. This should reach a satisfactory conclusion in each book. It can carry on to the next, especially if it’s a major sub-plot providing continuity, but it should be seen in a new light in your sequel. Same romance, new circumstances.
5. Middle and End Books
Middle books suffer from not really having a beginning or an end. But this can make them great! There’s no rush to draw story threads together, so concentrate instead on character development and narrative voice. Conclude your story arc, but leave the ending tantalisingly open to seduce the reader into returning. For end books, hit the ground running and beware having too many endings as each sub-plot concludes. There never feels like enough time in the book of a series. So make the most of each chapter.
My Lust in the Tudor Court trilogy, set at the court of Henry VIII and the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, begins with Wolf Bride, out in the States in paperback May 5th. Pre-order from Amazon US here.
An earlier version of this article first appeared on the Romantic Novelists' Association blog in 2013.