Friday, July 1, 2016

Writing More Than One Book? How to Storyboard with a Sequel in Mind

Annette from the UK recently sent me this question:  "I'm currently reading Your Book Starts Here, plus I've been watching your storyboard videos on YouTube. You've helped me come unstuck after years of block with my half-written 'epic', which feels amazing!  I'm writing to you because I'm struggling with how to apply the W structure to a two-book story."




Annette's first book ends with the heroine being killed.  In the second, she's reincarnated.  As Annette says, "the problems and quests left unfinished in book one are finally resolved."

She wondered if it was best to storyboard each book separately, or fit the whole story into a larger W that spanned both books.

Sequels are great fun.  When you have characters and situations that don't leave you alone, even after the first book is completed, you know you probably have a sequel on your hands.  Sequels are also fun to sell--it's an instant certainty for publishers that you'll keep producing books.  But there are specific structural challenges too:  when do you end, how do you transition enough to the next book but not make readers crazy if they have to wait for it, how do you carry through the backstory of the first book yet make the second a stand-alone story so that readers won't be tied to reading the first book first.  Whew!

I've only written one sequel but I've worked with many sequel writers.  I find it easiest to first do separate W's for each book and make sure they are solid.  Nothing worse than having a poor structure because you're depending on the sequel.  You've probably read books out of order in a series--think of the Star Wars movies, the Matrix, the Golden Compass series, or the Harry Potter books.   

Readers won't follow the rules with your series either.  Make each book work, on its own.  Create a satisfying conclusion that wraps up the main quest of each book, if you can, as you lay the groundwork for the next.

For instance, if Annette's heroine dies at the end of the first book, there needs to be a hint that she's not really gone.  Maybe a scene where she's reviewing her life and choosing how to come back to resolve her quest?  Something to let the reader know there's more to come.

To plan this out and make good decisions, craft a giant W, as Annette says, for all the books in your series--you'll find it invaluable as you decide what to foreshadow and how to hint at characters or situations to come. 

Your all-books W acts as a checklist of sorts, a chart to keep you honest as you plan your events, characters, and problems--and where you place them.

You may be having enough trouble figuring out one book; if so, ignore this week's post.  But if a series intrigues you, try a giant W this week.  Watch my video to get a sense of how the W storyboard works.  Feel free to email me questions that I can answer in future blog posts.  (Email is at the top of this post.)