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I wrote my very first novel several months ago and I sold it to a publisher two weeks ago. Now I am thinking of writing something new.

The problem is I can't get the idea of writing a sequel out of my head. There are a few reasons why I should write it:

  • The story is not finished completely. The main arc of the first book is closed, but not all questions have been answered, not all bad guys have been punished.
  • There is a great world waiting for another story.
  • I have plenty of notes and great ideas which didn't make it to the first book, just because I focused on the main arc.

On the other hand, I keep asking myself "Is it a good idea?":

  • Maybe I fell in love with my own characters, because they had made me very happy (The first book is my very first piece of writing I have sold).
  • Stakes are really high in the first book and I am not sure I can make them higher in the sequel.
  • Sometimes it is better to leave some questions unanswered.
  • I could learn something new by writing a different genre, first person instead of the third etc.

That leads me to the question: Is it possible to determine what books should have a sequel? Sometimes it is obvious: there cannot be a sequel for Lord of the Flies, but it would be strange if the Philosopher's Stone was the only Harry Potter book. Sometimes the sequel even hurts the first story, as happened with sequels of A. C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama.

Is there anything books with potentionally good sequels have in common? How can we recognize them?

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    Please, improve my question! English is not my first language. – vojta Sep 9 '17 at 9:16
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    Spectacular Question! and Congratulations on getting Published! I'm going to have to think about this for a while, but I'll reply if I come up with something. Looking forward to other people's answers – Henry Taylor Sep 9 '17 at 16:24
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    I would never have known that English isn't your first language. I see nothing that needs improvement in your question. And, yes Clarke has done that with 2010 as well. Thank God for Kubrick! – Joe Sep 13 '17 at 10:00
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Simply put, books should have a sequel if they are not "done".

Some narratives end with such a satisfying closure, that going on after it would destroy that experience. For example, while legend tells of many adventures that Oedipus undertook after blinding himself (and that could have been told in sequels) his central storyline ends after he understood that he had killed his father and married his mother, and a sequel to the famous play by Sophocles seems unwarranted.

A satisfying end does not necessitate that all questions have been answered and all loose strings tied up. On the contrary, a certain kind of openness can feel inspiring to the reader, keeping the reader's connection to the book alive and active even after the (first) reading has been completed. Books that resolve all issues are often easily forgot.

From a very strict point of view, a sequel is necessary only if the book has been conceived from the beginning to be continued in a second volume (that is, if the story spans several volumes) or if the protagonist has been conceived from the beginning as the hero of a sequence of adventures.

If the books have been conceived as a series, the heroes are often not fighting against their inner demons or for their personal goals, as they are in standalone fiction, but they often rather serve as tools to explore the storylines of changing "secondary protagonists", as for example in detective fiction, where the murderers and their victims are as much or more in the center of attention than the detective.

Finally, a sequel may be written, often after many years, simply out of the author's continued or renewed interest in their protagonist (as for example in Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea cycle) or world (as in L.E. Modesitt's Recluce series), where you will usually see some shift in focus between volumes, or (as in many franchises) in the copyright holder's desire to milk the cow, which often results in uncreative repetitions of a successful schema and a deterioration in quality.

You only really have to avoid the last. That is, if you can keep up the quality and each book is fresh and exciting, then there is nothing that speaks against a sequel.

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Check with your publisher and specifically with the editor who worked with you during final polish to see what they think. That editor is probably intimate with the subject matter of your story and simultaneously may have a more current, less emotional view on its suitability for continuation. They may also have insights into the marketability of a sequel in your chosen genre.

Beyond that, consider what kind of sequel you want to create. Is it a continuation of the character, dragging your protagonist into new challenges and upheavals? Is it a continuation of your plot, investigating the new problems which arise from the solution which was found during your first tale. Is it just another story set in the same universe, with little attachment to the original work. All three of these options have proven precedence and can help you build the long tail which is a recipe for writing success.

The only thing you shouldn't do is write a sequel because you think you have to. If you don't have anything more to say about the characters or issues of your first book, let it stand on its own. You can always come back and add a sequel after your second through tenth unassociated published works are already filling the bookstore shelves. There is no hurry to specifically write this sequel.

The only urgency is that you keep on writing!

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Disclaimer: I am not a novel writer, but I am a screenplay writer and I think the same principles apply.

The key to sequels is thinking about the question What is my character's ambition in life? If the character's ambition in life has not been resolved, then there is still more story to tell.

The ambition of a main character is different than a regular goal. The main thing that distinguishes just any old goal and an ambition is the longevity of the goal. An ambition is something that the character has wanted long before the events of the story.


If you believe me, you can stop reading here, but if you don't, I will give a few examples to convince you of this.

To address the example in your description, look at the Harry Potter Series. Harry's ambition is to find closure with his parent's death. This simple ambition was used as the fuel for 7 books. So there is really no end to how many sequels you can create as long as you have not resolved the character's main ambition.

In Toy Story, Woody's ambition is to protect Andy. As long as Andy needs protecting, we have more story to tell. The Toy Story trilogy ends with Andy going off to college, when Andy doesn't need protecting anymore.

In Star Wars, Luke's ambition is to find and connect with his father. This isn't resolved until the very end of the 3rd star wars movie.

As a bad example (of course this is subjective), look at the Matrix Trilogy. The first movie was great, but the second and third movies, while interesting, did not form a cohesive whole with the original. Neo's ambition in the first movie was to become free from the "system". I would argue that since this was resolved at the end of the first movie, there was nothing left to say about that story, and the trilogy fell apart.

Notice with The Matrix example that the plot of the film was not resolved in the first movie, and actually carried through all the way to the third film. But the ambition of the main character was. So its important to realize that the plot goal is often different than the main characters main goal in life, and that the plot's goal is not enough to carry a sequel. In a good series, the plot goal aligns with the main character's main goal, in that achieving the plot goal also achieves the character's ambition in life.


Edit I wanted to add that if you really like your world and your characters, but your main character's ambition was resolved, there are ways to still make a good sequel. The best way to do this is to use a different main character that lives in the same world. By lives in the same world, I mean that they either affected or were affected by the events of the first story.

You can use a main character that has the same, or similar, ambition as the first main character (this is what they are doing with the new star wars trilogy), or a main character that has the same, or similar, ambition to a non-main character (like in Blade Runner 2049) or even just using a character that was in the first story but had an ambition that wasn't expounded upon in the first story at all (Better Call Saul).

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I think giving your book a sequel would be a great idea, or at least preparing for one. If readers really enjoy your book, they'll probably want more. If you write another book, you'll be able to fill in all the spots you didn't in the first one, and you can add on as much as you like. As for the stakes, I don't think they need to go "higher" than before, BECAUSE if you think about it, there are different levels of "the stakes are high". My advice would be to do something different but just as captivating. When I read books like that, I don't just love it, I thrive off of it. Also, it's easier for me to read a series, because then I have commitment. I don't have to look for another book to read, I just have to look for the next book. Anyway, that's my little tidbit. It's totally up to you, and I'd love to read your book, even though I have no idea what it's about or what it's called.

  • Oh and congrats on getting published. I hope to be published one day as well. – A curious writer Sep 9 '17 at 21:37
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    The stakes getting higher trap is what forces many series to end when they can't believably get any higher. The characters would die of exhaustion! But look at Doctor Who - which apparently isn't out of steam after almost fifty years. As this answer notes, a new work can take new directions. Any good story will have a number of dimensions which can be explored and good characters can have a lot of life in them. See NCIS, for example. I watch it much more for the characters than for the story lines. – Joe Sep 13 '17 at 10:21
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I think I would wait on a sequel, and try another novel first, set in another world. You got published by not taking an easy way out. It is entirely possible the stuff you did not publish was useful but did not belong in the first book and doesn't belong in another book!

I think one danger of a sequel, especially as you describe it, is that fans of the first book will expect a second meal of the same quality, and get served a plate of leftovers from your first book. It may not be as novel and surprising and fun to read, all the fun stuff was described and happened.

A second danger of a sequel is that if it is successful, it defines your career: You'll do another in the same place, then another. Maybe that is what you want, but before you marry that world for life, or beat the horse to death, you might try doing again what you did the first time: Come up with a good story with stakes as high as possible and a new MC and sidekicks, and see if you can do it again.

Many authors stick to the same detective for story after story, but the stakes are always the same. Many more authors that publish dozens of books stick only to their genre: SciFi, Fantasy, Horror, Romance, etc. Their characters and world can be different every time, and although that is more work, it can also be freeing. I'd at least try that route before taking the risks and shortcut of writing a sequel that may not measure up to the first book.

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