Writing the Sequel

We’ve talked about planning and writing series here, but now that I am knee deep into writing my sequel, I thought we could talk about what goes into making a good sequel. I’ve learned that sequels are inherently more ambitious, there’s more characters, more going on, and more to juggle to keep it all straight, but I’m also more equipped to do so having written the first book. So let’s look at some things to keep in mind when writing sequels.

  • Make sure you have enough story for a second book. Don’t just write a sequel for the sake of having a series. Or to have another book to sell. Do you have enough plot for another book? Will you be able to develop your characters enough for another book? Don’t write a sequel stuffed with filler and static characters. Story comes first.
  • Don’t add filler. Every scene and character needs to move the story forward or serve a narrative purpose. Don’t fill your book with fluff that doesn’t serve the story. Your reader will get bored and may even put the book down, never to read you again. This is the number one killer of a good sequel.
  • You still have to start with a hook. Don’t just continue exactly where book one left off. You won’t need to go in depth reintroducing your characters and story world, but you do need to intrigue your reader and get them hooked on reading this new story.
  • Your sequel needs to be connected to the first book, either in plot, theme, or both. Usually the theme of the sequel will be a continuation of the first book’s themes or another side of the same coin. Also, unanswered story arcs from the first book are carried into the second one. Books one and two have different subplots and events, but are clearly part of the same overall story. Don’t lose your focus and tell a completely unrelated story in book two.
  • Keep writing dynamic characters. This means your characters continue to change and grow. Don’t stop developing them in book one. They need to react to what is happening to them in book two as well.
  • Keep your tension building. Your protagonist needs to keep facing growing conflict that rises to the climax where something great is at stake. Don’t drop your tension in the second book, keep it building to even greater heights.
  • Don’t overshare what happened in book one. Book two has to work as a standalone novel, but we don’t need to recap every single thing and person that happened in book one. Give pertinent backstory from book one as needed. Don’t go on and on explaining it.
  • Know the ending. Know where you are taking the story and what this book’s climax is going to be before you start. This way you can build towards the ending from page one. You can plant necessary information for the big payoff in the end. Make sure your story builds off the first book. Plan ahead.
  • Take notes on book one for consistency. You don’t want Steve, that blue-eyed hottie, to suddenly have green eyes in book two. Or for the sidekick to suddenly have different parents than in book one. I keep a master journal of all these details, so I can easily look them up as needed.
  • Don’t be afraid to add depth with subplots. Subplots are threads of side stories woven into the main plot. These can include the main characters, like in a romantic subplot, or further develop the theme using a minor character. They add complexity to your story, just make sure to weave them in.
  • Don’t ignore time. The events going on throughout the second book should show a natural passage of time from the first book. For instance, book one of my series takes place in the summer. When we get to book two, the weather is cooling and we move into the fall. It just wouldn’t be believable for two books worth of action to all occur over one season.

So these tips should help you out as you write your sequel. Sequels can be challenging to write, but it is definitely worth the effort. Having a plan will help you move forward, even if you don’t make a detailed outline. What are your best tips for writing a sequel? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

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Signs of Amateur Writing

Now before we begin, I will say that these signs of amateurish writing can be easily fixed once you know what to look for. So don’t get discouraged, especially if you haven’t heard this advice before. Now let’s look at these signs of amateur writing.

  • Using italics or exaggerated punctuation for emphasis. Because seriously how on earth will the reader ever know what I mean to emphasize if I don’t. Write. Like. This? Honestly, they will know because they have a modicum of intelligence and empathy enough to know which words have a stress to them. Trust in their intellect. Also, if it’s not clear, then you can use descriptions, like “he said the last word like steel.” You get the idea.
  • Exclamation points!!!! You may want to use them. You may even want to use multiples of them or use them in tandem with a question mark to make the elusive interrobang. Do not give into these urges. Fitzgerald said using exclamation points was like laughing at your own joke. That’s not a good thing. It’s actually obnoxious to laugh at your own jokes. They say limit one per story. Use it wisely.
  • Using dialogue tags other than said (or asked). Your characters should not eject, articulate, shout, or ejaculate words. These are hugely amateurish and distracting for the reader. This sort of intrusion of the author can be irritating for your readers. Said and asked are non-intrusive and the reader can just glide right over them. Stick to said and asked.
  • Not knowing when you need a new paragraph. Whenever a new character speaks, you need a new paragraph. Whenever a passage of time is shown, you need a new paragraph. If you change place, new paragraph. New topic, new person, new paragraph.
  • Relying on adverbs and adjectives. This is weak writing. Instead use strong verbs and concrete nouns. Paint a strong and clear picture with your words.
  • Purple prose. Purple prose is prose that is too elaborate or ornate. In its flowery nature, it draws attention to itself, inserting the author into the story and becoming a distraction and a chore to slough through for the reader. Remember your descriptions should serve the narrative and push the story forward, not just exist to sound fancy.
  • Head hopping. This is where the POV jumps from character to character without proper scene breaks or sticking to proper POV rules. Stick to one character POV per scene or chapter. Any character switches should be clear and keep each character POV so distinct and unique your reader will always know which POV it is.

If you’re guilty of these signs, don’t forget that good writing is rewriting. You can always make your writing stronger. What are your tips for avoiding amateur writing? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Diversity

Something everybody seems to be talking about these days is diversity and I think that’s great. Diversity is about inclusion. We include diverse characters, not because the agents you want to query are asking for it, but because our communities are made up of all kinds of people that want to be represented in the media they consume. It’s not about a catch word, it’s about acceptance. So what are some things to keep in mind when dealing with diversity? Let’s take a look.

  • Diverse people can’t be reduced to a single trait. Nor do they represent everyone who shares that trait. Don’t tokenize people or resort to hurtful and limiting stereotypes. Diverse characters are more than just their skin color, orientation, or disability.
  • Write them as human first. Human with their own distinct personality. We are all people and can relate to each other through our humanity. Make your character three-dimensional and fully fleshed out. They should have story goals and flaws to make them relatable and real.
  • Research is key to getting this right. You want to accurately portray your diverse character’s story. Talk to people from that culture. Read interviews and articles online. You would do research to accurately describe an archer loosing an arrow or using medieval weapons, so do your due diligence here.
  • Don’t include diversity just to fill a quota. You want them to be fully realized characters that serve a purpose in your narrative. Don’t write a POC just to kill them off first.
  • Respond to criticism with grace. You’ll never be able to satisfy everyone, but listen to critiques and revise accordingly. If someone is giving you feedback, recognize that as a gift. Someone is giving you a glimpse into their story. Don’t get angry, it’s not a personal attack against you. Respond with grace and try to understand where they are coming from.
  • Similarly, get beta readers from the community you’re trying to represent. Listen to their insights. Make sure your story is as strong and well represented as it can be.

Diversity makes our stories stronger and more realistic. This world is wide and includes all sorts of humans. Don’t limit yourself or your characters. What are your best tips for writing diversity? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Building Your Platform

This week we’ll talk about another topic from the writer’s conference I went to. Chuck Sambuchino of former Writer’s Digest fame talked to us about platforms.

  • What is platform? It’s your visibility in the market. Your influence and reach. The channels through which you speak, like a Facebook page, Twitter, or blog.
  • Elements of platform. It’s important to keep in mind that one successful thing is better than a bunch of small attempts. If your Facebook page is really working for you, continue with that rather than start ten attempts to build your platform that have little visibility. Elements include a website or blog of impressive size, an e-newsletter/mailing list of impressive size, article or column writing, guest contributions to successful websites or blogs, a track record of strong book sales, individuals of influence you know, public speaking appearances, an impressive social media presence, membership to an organization, recurring media appearances (TV, radio, online), and free books.
  • When is platform necessary? For nonfiction, always. You need to have a strong platform and social media presence to prove you have an audience for the book you are proposing. For memoir the answer is sometimes. You see more celebrity memoirs because they already have the people interested in hearing their stories. For fiction, platform is not necessary, but an added bonus. You don’t need a platform to get an agent or publisher when you’re writing fiction, but a bigger platform means more money and sales, so it’s a good thing to work on before you get published. And it can be a good bonus when you have an impressive platform when you’re looking for an agent. But your fiction should come first. Work on your platform on those days you just can’t write. And it’s all about the slow growth. Keep at it and keep your numbers growing. Self-published books, it’s important to translate into sales.
  • Important principles. It is in giving that we receive. You make content for others, not yourself. The more difficult the content is to produce, the more valuable it is. Create the content others would look for. Also, you don’t have to go it alone. If there is a successful blog, ask to create a guest post for it. If there’s a successful website, ask to become a contributor. If you want to start a blog, start it with several others and create content together. It’s less work for you but gets your name out there. Learn from what works. If someone is doing something that works, copy it. Start small and start early. Don’t wait until right when you want to publish. You should start building your platform yesterday. Have a plan, but analyze and evolve. Don’t doggedly stick to a plan that isn’t working. Always keep adapting. Direct people to your blog using social media. Incentivize people to click through. Use SEO effectively, be specific in your titles. Be open, likeable, and relatable. You’ll find your audience if you are. Be yourself. Be known as an authority for your chosen topic. Have a focus.
  • Don’t write a blog about your personal writing journey. There’s hundreds of them online, even more abandoned ones. And why would a stranger be interested in your journey when you aren’t published or know the only way to be published (there are many paths). Is your life really that interesting that hundreds or thousands of strangers will want to read your blog? Write about a topic related to your book or what you are most interested in. You start a blog to last, so you need something you’ll be able to write about for years and years to come and still be engaged in the topic. Be an authority in the topic you chose and make it interesting.

These are some tips for how to build and grow your platform. Get started with it as soon as possible and constantly evolve. What are your best tips for platforms? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and writing inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

On Craft and Rewriting

This week we have another installment of what I learned at the writing conference I attended. This talk was given by Dan E. Johnson and covers craft and revision.

  • Read widely and read deeply. Our first job as writers is to be good readers. And not just to read, but to read critically. Read a ton in your genre to understand the expectations and hallmarks of your genre. But don’t stop there, read widely. Read other genres. Learn pacing from thrillers, love subplots from romance, and world building from fantasy. Read beloved books with a critical eye. What works and why? How can you incorporate that into your own story? Read chapter by chapter and summarize the plot and each scene.
  • Write better. Take classes, go to workshops, join a writing group, read books on craft. And most importantly practice. The more you write, the better you’ll write. If you do join a writer’s group, make sure it’s actually helpful. You don’t want people’s critiques to simply say they liked your work. You don’t want them to be too polite or afraid to say what they think. You need honesty to get better. And you have to have a thick skin. You need to be able to take the criticism if you want to improve. It’s all to make you a better writer.
  • Write characters your readers will care about. An interesting character needs to want something. Content characters are boring. You want to fully develop your characters unless they are just placeholders, then you can use simple stereotypes. Write people, not characters. Real people are full of complexities and contradictions. And real people have flaws. Flaws shouldn’t be as simple as they seem at first. A character is what a character does, or more correctly, what they mean to do. The reader has to relate to your character’s motivation.
  • High stakes. You need conflict to make a story and character motivation is king. Put your character up a tree and throw rocks at her.
  • Character arcs. Readers want to see your character change and grow.
  • Plot and setting complexity. Your story is a part of a larger world, so you’ll have glimpses of the greater world behind the story. Subplots are also important. There’s always something going on and you need to create a rich world for your character. Weave the different subplots together. Subplots can increase or slow down your pace as needed and can emphasize something about your character.
  • Immerse your reader in the story. Details make all the difference. Sensory detail and small setting detail will flesh out your story. Load up on the five senses.
  • Good writing is rewriting. Focus on characters first. Do all your characters make sense? Are they consistent throughout? Then look at plot. Does it work with the character? Does it develop the character or move the plot forward? Then do the highlighter trick. Use a different color highlighter for each of the five senses to see what you need to incorporate. Finally, focus on language. Read your story aloud. You will hear the problems in your prose.

Do you agree with these tips? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Writing Young Adult

Young Adult novels are extremely popular right now. I myself write Young Adult fantasy. But there can be a lot of confusion around what YA is. At the writer’s conference I attended last month, one speaker talked about what makes good YA. Here’s what they discussed.

First of all, good writing is good writing. The same things that make writing successful in adult books will work to make good YA as well. Character, plotting, and theme apply to YA as much as they do adult books.

The biggest difference is the audience. YA actually has two audiences. One is the adult gatekeepers, like publishers, teachers, and parents. Two is the actual teenager who will read your story. This is children age 12 and up. Really successful YA fiction appeals to both adults and teenagers. To do this you need to have age appropriate subjects and adventures. This includes the vocabulary and language you choose. But don’t oversimplify and don’t talk down to your readers. Teenagers may be inexperienced, but they are not dumb.

Another key is character. The protagonist should be 13 to 17 years old, with most characters averaging 16 in YA books. They have to be likeable, relatable, or both for your readers to connect with your story. No one wants to follow a character they have no interest in for 200 pages. Your protagonist should also act their age and behave age appropriately. Remember your audience and write a character they’ll believe and will want to read about.

Next let’s talk about POV. YA books are usually in first or third limited POV. These are the POVs where the reader is very close to the character and are therefore more immersive, which teens prefer. Also, be sure to limit the number of different POVs you utilize in your story. Especially first person POVs, which can get confusing when there’s more than one.

Finally, we have tone and plotting. Listen to how teenagers really talk and write in that tone. When it comes to plot, YA books are simpler than adult books with less subplots. Once again this doesn’t mean to oversimplify. YA books are just more focused. Outline your story when you are finished (if you didn’t start with an outline) to make sure the story structure is strong and that you’ve hit all your plot points.

These keys should help you to better understand YA and how to write it. What are your best practices for writing YA? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

What You Can Learn at a Writer’s Conference

On Saturday I attended the Michigan Writing Workshop outside of Detroit. I’m here to share my experience with you today. The event was peopled with agents and Chuck Sambuchino, author and former editor for Writer’s Digest. It was an opportunity to learn about craft and publishing and to pitch to agents.

Needless to say this was a great opportunity and step forward in anyone’s writing career. Whether you’re a beginner writer who can learn a great deal about craft from agents and speakers in the event, or a more advanced writer looking to get an agent or get published, any writer can benefit from a good writer’s conference. They didn’t just have classes on craft, from how to write a great mystery or YA story to how to revise, but they also had classes on self-publishing, what you need to know about agents, and how to build your platform. Obviously, every conference will offer different classes, but will usually provide talks on both how to improve your writing and how to get published. If you are a novice writer, focus on learning the craft of writing. What’s the point of publishing a story that isn’t ready yet? Agents only accept the best, so learn how to perfect your story first. Then worry about agents and publishers after.

Pitching is another big part of writing conferences. This is great because you get the time and attention of an agent you’re not guaranteed through anonymous email. You only have ten minutes of their time so your pitch has to be concise as well as intriguing. I talk about pitching here. It is vital you research the agents before you sign up for your pitching sessions. And agents appreciate the research. I prefaced my pitches by saying why I wanted to pitch with them specifically and explained why they would be interested in my story based on what they had said they look for in a story in their bios and online. It definitely got their interest in my story. I pitched to 4 agents and got 3 partial requests for my manuscript. One lesson about pitching that Chuck said that stuck with me was that pitching offers have no expiration date. Yes, if you wait too long, the agent will probably forget talking to you specifically, but they will definitely say no to a manuscript that isn’t ready. Get your work perfected, then query. Just make sure to mention you met them and where.

Conferences are a great opportunity, both towards getting published and as a learning opportunity. Plus it’s a chance to network with other writers. I definitely recommend going to one yourself. Read how to prepare for your first conference here. What are your experiences with conferences? Share below and happy pitching!

Julia

Follow my blog at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.