word craft


Series and Sequels

It’s not unusu­al for me to get a note from a read­er ask­ing me to extend the life—if you will—of a char­ac­ter in one of my nov­els or sto­ries with a new tale. I take it as a com­pli­ment that the read­er was so engaged with that char­ac­ter that they want­ed more. I’ve done so rarely, but over the course of my writ­ing, I’ve com­posed a few sequels and some series, which is not quite the same thing. Here’s a show­ing of all my sto­ries in this cat­e­go­ry.

In only one instance did I plan to write a series (the Crispin books), but I was nev­er giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to write the last and con­clud­ing vol­ume. It was made more com­pli­cat­ed by the series being split between dif­fer­ent pub­lish­ers. Still, some­day I’d like to write that con­clud­ing vol­ume. I do have the plot in my head. 

The Beyond the West­ern Sea books were nev­er meant to be two books, but one. The pub­lish­er felt they would be bet­ter received as two books, a deci­sion with which I con­curred, but in ret­ro­spect, came to regret. More­over, the way the books were pro­mot­ed, many read­ers thought a third vol­ume was to come. At one point I agreed to do it, but it was nev­er written. 

The Pop­py books, sev­en in num­ber, were not writ­ten (and illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Flo­ca) in sequence and they took twen­ty-five years to com­plete. It was not so much to tell an extend­ed sto­ry that drew me back time and again, as it was my affec­tion for the char­ac­ters that inspired me to write the mul­ti­ple vol­umes. The truth is, it was great fun to write about Pop­py and Ereth and the oth­er Dim­wood For­est char­ac­ters. To coin a phrase, when writ­ing is fun, it’s done. I have mused about doing yet anoth­er, but I think sev­en is enough. 

The End of the Begin­ning and A Begin­ning a Mud­dle and an End, share the same char­ac­ters, and hav­ing fun with lan­guage, but there is no exten­sion of a story. 

Mid­night Mag­ic, Mur­der at Mid­night, and City of Mag­ic share the same main char­ac­ters but are all stand-alone tales. 

Now I am about to pub­lish a sequel to The Secret School. Titled The Secret Sis­ters, it is very much a true sequel, inso­far as it extends Ida’s (the main char­ac­ter in the first book) sto­ry log­i­cal­ly and expansively—not just about what hap­pens, but the growth of Ida’s life and being.

That said, writ­ing a true sequel is com­plex. To begin The Secret Sis­ters, I had to go through The Secret School and set down all the fac­tu­al mate­r­i­al I had created—twenty years ago—created with­out any notion that the sto­ry would go on. Some exam­ples: How old are the char­ac­ters? What did they look like? What are their names? What are their rela­tion­ships? How did they dress? How did they talk and were there any expres­sions that they used as a way of giv­ing life to the char­ac­ters? And so on. 

Since Ida’s first sto­ry is root­ed in a spe­cif­ic time and place (rur­al Col­orado 1925) all of those aspects had to be con­tin­ued, even as the char­ac­ters had to evolve to become more in an engag­ing way. All those first-book fac­tors were but start­ing points if I desired (and I did) Ida to grow. 

That said, even as drafts of the book emerged, the edi­tor and copy­ed­i­tor would bring to my atten­tion some mis­steps. “In book one, you said it was five miles to that place. Here you are say­ing it’s six.”  If they had not spot­ted those mis­takes, you may be sure read­ers would have—and let me know about it. 

All in all, the writ­ing of sequels is even­ly bal­anced by some things: cer­tain basic fac­tors have been estab­lished so you don’t have to invent them.  And read­ers do find plea­sure in a return to char­ac­ters for whom they have devel­oped affec­tion. At the same time you must extend those char­ac­ters’ live so as to make the sto­ries suf­fi­cient­ly engag­ing to read. 

As the writer, I loved expand­ing Ida’s life and story. 

My hope is that read­ers will find that to be true for The Secret Sisters. 

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