When I was in second grade The Empire Strikes Back was on television and my father randomly put it on. I had never heard of the Star Wars trilogy but by the end I was hooked. When (spoiler alert) Han Solo is frozen in carbon and the good guys lose many of the gains they made in the first film, I couldn’t wait for more. What I didn’t realize was that this movie had all the fixings for a perfect Book Two.
A Book Two has a very special role. It needs to pick up on the momentum that was built in book one while simultaneously giving the reader deeper and different experiences. The same and different, that’s the name of the game with a Book Two. You want to take from what made your series opener great and build on it. As I was working on The Rise of the Hidden Prince Book Two of my Young Adult Series The Chronicles of Pan, I realized that I couldn’t just write a book that was wholly separate from my Book One, but I couldn’t expect to completely repeat what I had done before as well.
#1. Recap: Catch Up but Don’t go Overboard
Hopefully you have many returning readers coming back for Book Two, but you also don’t want to completely alienate any potential new readers of your Book Two by neglecting to recap Book One a little. Therefore it’s important to add a little bit of background to get readers caught up. This background information should usually (but not always) be given early and quickly. Consider Book One as the backstory for Book Two. Some of this info needs to be recapped but don’t go through highlighting all plot points. Think about what information a reader needs upfront and try to add it quickly. While much of your backstory will come out early, there might be times when book one information would be better given later, when it’s relevant. It is also a good idea, if you have the luxury of planning out your series before you start writing, to foreshadow events as you go.
#2. Raise the Stakes
While you want your readers to see the familiar in your story, you also want there to be more. The reader has already read Book One and if Book Two is too similar it might make the reader wonder why they’re reading the same story again. This is why you want to raise the stakes; maybe things will end up much worse or there are more creatures in your universe to save, to keep a reader hooked.
Another way to raise the stakes is to open up your world. Book One, Into the Fairy Forest, of my series The Chronicles of Pan, takes place in a magical world, The Land of the Fairies, but also in a small town in upstate New York. In Book Two, the magical world is still paramount, but the characters go to New York City, opening up the world to a larger scope.
#3. But Keep the Familiar… Just Make it More
Though you want to widen your world building, you also want to give the reader something they’re used to. This is well done in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Though Book One ends with Katniss having won the Hunger Games, Collins brings back the Hunger Games for Book Two in a way that doesn’t feel too contrived. When you go back to what worked in Book One for Book Two, you want to make sure that you’re not creating a carbon copy of Book One but are exploring new material in a space that is familiar.
#4. Deeper Characters, More World
Book Two is where we truly get to explore. Many times Book One will put a brighter, more shiny face on a world while Book Two explores the much darker and seedier aspects of that world. This is true of character as well. We usually see our hero acting heroically in Book One while in Book Two might show a character’s darker side.
This might be the most important element of Book Two, the protagonist, the central characters, the central plot, should, by the end of Book Two, have taken steps backwards, not forwards. This is vastly different from Book One, where it’s important for your protagonist and major storyline to triumph to draw the reader in. But if they think all your books end in victory then what’s the point of reading more than one? A loss will also add suspense. A Book Two’s job is to keep a reader reading, and suspense and mystery will keep them reading much more than a shiny happy ending will. A loss usually translates to a cliffhanger and that will bring a reader back for Book Three.
While Book Two should be a natural follow-up to a book one in a series it is important to strike a balance between what is brand new and what is familiar to a reader. It is the job of a Book Two to keep a reader hooked and that means digging deeper when it comes to character development, world building, and plot. Book Two should never follow the same patterns as book one and yet the goal is the same, get the reader hooked and leave them wanting more so that they’re waiting on pins and needles for book three.
About the Author
JM Stephen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Into the Fairy Forest, The Rise of the Hidden Prince and Nod. She also publishes literary fiction under the pen name Jessica Stilling. Her articles have appeared in Bust Magazine, Ms. Magazine and The Writer Magazine. She has taught literature and writing at The State University of New York, The Gotham Writers Workshop and The New School.
You can find her work on her website https://www.jessicastilling.com/.
About the Book
With her feet planted squarely in both her home world and the fairy world, Pippa Gardner has an assignment: Find the long-lost son of Queen Mab. Her quest is thwarted by various natural disasters such as geysers, earthquakes, and teenage hormones. With the help of both her human and non-human friends, finding the lost Eros is the easy part. What to do with him is a whole other question, one that might be beyond Pippa’s control.
Meanwhile, the fairy world is preparing for the fight against the long-foretold coming of Ruinae, a malevolent entity which will end both worlds as we know them. While all plan, not all plan to fight on the same side.