How Do You Setup For Writing a Sequel?

Apologies, I’m not sure if this is the right forum or not…

I’m not necessarily asking how to write a sequel. I’m asking about how to leave a story open for the possibility of writing a sequel or even turning it into a series (depending on the success of the original ofc). It is pretty clear in Hollywood at least, when a story hasn’t been thought through to the end, a sequel doesn’t quite fit, or unexpected success creates several seasons.

It seems a cliffhanger is one way of doing it. An unanswered question leaves room for multiple possibilities, but that wouldn’t work for a series. Is it something that needs to be seen throughout the original story in order to fit in? How do you make it all feel cohesive? The point of my question is to avoid it seeming like a sequel came out of nowhere and that it doesn’t fit with the original story.

And how does this compare with writing a story in the same world but is not necessarily a sequel?

I think it really depends on the reasoning for your sequel or potential series. Is there a possibility that you can leave it as a stand-alone? If not, why?

When you write a stand-alone book, you’re making sure all the answers were answered so the story was brought to a full-close. When you write a sequel or want to leave room for a sequel, you make sure some questions aren’t answered or you answer most of the questions, but have new ones that can be answered in another story.

Writing a sequel or series, in terms of continuing the storyline, is all about creating new conflict and new plots, but continuing the original story. If you look at series and books with sequels, you can see that they continue the plots, further and deepen them, but they all contain new storylines (like their own stand-alones) and conflict and stakes.

So when you’re writing that first book, you have to determine which route you want to take. Of course, you can always give each book closure, but continue the storyline by giving more ideas into the world around your characters. Harry Potter, for example, leaves each book closed, all questions answered. But each book takes us on another journey, deepening the world and plot of the overall storyline. The series is all about Harry defeating Voldemort for good, and while he defeats him, it’s only for a short time in each book. Plus, each book does have other subplots for Harry to figure out.

For me, I typically know when I’m writing a sequel or series before I start the book because I have the idea already in my head on how it’ll go.

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Excuse the impending word vomit, I tend to rant lol

For my current WIP, as I was planning it and writing it I thought it would be just one book but suddenly I was on the 45th chapter with 71,000 words and no end in sight… So I did some rearranging to my outline and I am planning the sequel now. The first book is written(obviously, 45 chapters sounds good to me lol) but if I were to look at the overall plot of my MC’s story, I would say the first book ends on the “rising action”/(almost)“climax” part in her life. She’s in the city, she’s marrying the brother of her former fiance, who happens to be the Emperor, in order to save her friends and family and get rid of the Empress Dowager(aka her new husband’s evil mother). She still has many things to go through to achieve her goal but at this point, her alliances and goals are shifting. She’s becoming her own person. So, I thought what better place to end it? Her story isn’t done yet and it’s clear. It’s an unexpected ending because it was never hinted at throughout the book so it’ll catch readers off guard enough for them to want to read the second book, which will pick up right where the first book ends. I’m learning that this is a taboo way to do it (and is very hard to pull off) but in the end, I think what matters most is if it’s what happens to work best for what you envision your book’s sequel/series looking like in the end. I have no intention of changing my plans and if they do change it’s only going to be where the second book picks up from(which won’t be very off than the original plan).

Overall, I don’t think it really matters how you end the first book in a series as long as you know it’s going to be part of a series while you’re writing it(bc readers can tell when authors didn’t plan to make a series but it inevitably became one). I think that’s very important. Because it’s not like authors write the first book, publish it and then say"you know what? Its a series now". I mean, I’m sure some do but that a very risky and amateur(IMO) move to make. It takes a lot of foreshadowing skills to write a series. I think the most important thing to do is to make sure you make your character’s overall/“main” goal known at some point in the first book(whether it changes throughout the series or not) and, depending on how many book you want in the series, focus on achieving small goals in each book that ultimately leads up to achieving the main one in the last book. I mean, look at Harry Potter. 7 books long and never gets boring throughout the whole thing until the very end of the last book where Harry and Voldemort (finally) face off for the last battle. I’m sure Rowling did a lot of planning to make HP into a cohesive series that wouldn’t bore readers.

It’s important to always keep the reader guessing. Whether it’s with old, unanswered questions or brand new ones. But don’t solve a character’s problems and then not introduce new ones until a sequel comes out. If the character is going to go through more problems, foreshadow it in the first book that way the flow between books doesn’t seem forced.

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Don’t end your first book on a cliffhanger, please

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Wow these posts have been extremely helpful and thorough! Thank you so much for answering! So there has to be some sort of unfinished business or overarching plot/theme. It has to tie in with the story, but doesn’t necessarily need to be foreshadowed. Thanks again!

and don’t worry @Thedude3445 I most definitely won’t! It’s so cringey and it takes finesse to pull it off right.

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I think it’s okay to leave a story on a cliff hanger of sorts, as long as it’s a new issue altogether. A book needs to pretty much cover its bases and wrap things up, but I don’t have an issue with stories that leave you on a cliff hanger unrelated to the original problem.
Like, in the movie Back to the Future. Although in the end they fix all of the issues that were set up throughout the film, in the very last scene the Doc shows up and tells Marty he needs to come with him to fix his kids (or something to that effect).
I think cliff hangers can be a good way to bring interest in your next work, without disrupting your original story. It would have to be well done, of course, but I think they can be effective.

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The Back to the Future cliffhanger works because it’s so silly and sudden that there doesn’t HAVE to be a sequel, like you said; everything is finished off so we don’t NEED to see what happens next to be satisfied. I like these kinds of cliffhangers.

You can see this a lot with older franchises versus newer ones: the very first Star Wars movie ended on a very solid note, with a few plot points still left open (Darth Vader’s still alive?? Luke is gonna be a Jedi now??) but with everything mostly wrapped up. Then the sequel left off on a cliffhanger, of course, with Luke’s Hand being cut off, his father being revealed, Han Solo being kidnapped, and the Rebel Alliance fleeing into space. The prequel movies did it the same way, with the first one being completely standalone except for some mysteries, and the second one having a very cliffhanger-like conclusion. With the sequel movies, though? The first one leaves off on some really big cliffhangers with almost none of the questions answered! It worked because Star Wars is such a big franchise, but it is definitely not a template to follow when it comes to writing a new book, I think.

It depends. In one story I’m writing, the main characters are two young psychopaths, dealing with their urges in very different ways, (one embraces them, one tries to get rid of them). The story ends with a new pov, that of a police detective who has picked up on the crimes of the one embracing them, and her getting authorization from the brass to peruse it

The other way, I find at least, is to create a whole new world where there are no foregone conclusions. I did this through an alternate history method

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I have no idea if I’m doing it correctly, but I keep a few plots on the go. One - the most prominent one - concludes within a book. That way it’s a satisfying story and you don’t need to read on. But in that book universe there’s a background problem working its way towards resolution. The further you get in the series the more that other plot is developed. So each book is complete in itself, but it builds a bigger picture.

At the end of a book I zero in on the single-book plot almost to the exclusion of the other. But the reader knows there are loose ends. Eg that X went off to find the lost continent and hasn’t returned, or that Y found the Empress’s missing necklace and its just sitting on her bookshelf.

I copied the system of book series that I read as a child. I’m sure there are other ways to do it.

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Foreshadowing seems like a great path to go if your sequel has a different conflict than the first novel. It definitely gives the feel that you always intended for there to be two books rather than you’re stretching things to get more content out. Doing this sorta thing is very different when making a sequel than when making a series, as a series is multiple books with a single stringed plotline. It’s okay to leave cliffhangers and lots of unanswered questions in a series, so long as the base plotline wraps up. In a main book-prequel situation, you don’t want to have tons of questions.

Take Frozen as an example. In the first movie, we see a map fall from the book that the king grabs to find the trolls, and this map comes back to show where their parents were heading when their ship sunk. In the same way, we know that Elsa was born with magic, yet no one knows why. It clearly doesn’t run in the family or else they could better help her to handle it, right? We also know that Christophe and Anna are a couple, but will they tie the knot? These are all things in the first movie that got resolved in the second, yet having them unanswered in the first movies did not impair the experience. Most people wouldn’t even care about them until the second movie. And there is the repetition of certain elements in Frozen II that makes it feel more like it was planned all along.

I was going to explain how a series has lots of conflicts like that, but I think @/Thedude3445 summed it up pretty well in that description of Star Wars. Lots of unanswered questions and perfectly fine cliffhangers.

I guess my main advice is to set up your first book with the second book in mind. Try to tie it in, even if only by subplots and impressions. Let us know that they are a pair, not one as an afterthought.

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