Monday, April 13, 2015

HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL by Sylvia Halliday

Or maybe how not to!

Diversion Books has just released several of my backlist titles on e-books. They have titled the trilogy I wrote as the French Maiden Series. They are MARIELLE, LYSETTE and DELPHINE, the first three books I ever wrote.

Now, when you write a sequel, there are several things you must keep in mind. First, you must leave enough threads in the previous book to hang a new plot on. That means enough characters, as well. And enough unresolved issues, without “cheating” the book you’re working on, or leaving the reader with a sense that there’s still a major problem left hanging.

As an example: my book, PROMISE OF SUMMER, by Louisa Rawlings. It’s set in France, though the hero has a plantation in Martinique. He had been a pirate in his past, and had run afoul of his captain, who had vowed to kill him some day. In the book, he’s uneasy when he’s in a seaport, still concerned that the captain is searching for him, though he’s not obsessed with a sense of danger. His heightened fearfulness and awareness is what reveals to the heroine his dark past. It’s a small point, and doesn’t hang over his head later on in the book. But I knew, when I wrote the book, that I had planted a thread I could use if I ever wrote a sequel, particularly since the book ends with the lovers boarding a ship for America and the islands. (And a pirate ship assaulting them on the voyage?)

Another thing you must keep in mind is that the reader may not have read the first book. You’ve got to approach the second book as though it were a “first”, and the first book is merely the backstory. You fill in the details bit by bit, as you would do with a “first” book, and resist the urge to put TOO much backstory in. The readers who have read the first book can fill in the gaps themselves; the readers who haven’t might become bored with too much detail.

Okay. Got it? Now, back to my first trilogy. I wrote MARIELLE, then got encouragement from editors I contacted to keep writing, though no one was buying historicals at that moment, since Judith Krantz and “Glitz and Glamor” had become fashionable. LYSETTE was easy to set up, since the hero in Book One had a best friend, who made a perfect hero for the sequel. And since Marielle herself didn’t appear in Book Two for quite some time, it was easy to introduce her without the tedious backstory that might be necessary in the beginning of a book. She simply appeared as the wife of hero #1 and became friends with Lysette.

Now comes the problem. I was still in touch with several editors after I wrote LYSETTE. One of them steered me to an agent. (In those days, it was easy to contact editors--difficult to get an agent.) The agent asked me to write an outline of a third book, so she could sell it as a trilogy. I was stuck. The books were set in time of Louis XIII. If the third book dealt with the children of Marielle and Lysette, I would be in the era of Louis XIV, a very complicated time, which would involve heavy research---very intimidating for a novice like me.

What to do?

I had left no interesting characters to carry on the story. I looked over my four principals, and decided that, all things considered, Marielle could safely die, and her husband would sooner or later find another woman. And so, DELPHINE begins with the hero still mourning the loss of his wife the year

before. I never realized it was a No-No until I was at a conference and a reader came up to me and said accusingly, “You killed off Marielle! How could you?”

At any rate, the trilogy was sold to Pocket Books. MARIELLE launched their Tapestry line and had a print run of 300,000. And I learned, belatedly, how NOT to write a sequel!♥

Award-winning author Sylvia Halliday’s first historical novel, written as Ena Halliday, was chosen by Pocket Books to launch their Tapestry line. She subsequently wrote for Popular Library/Warner and Harlequin Historicals under the pen name of Louisa Rawlings, the name of her maternal great-grandmother. She has written for Kensington/Zebra under the pseudonym of Sylvia Halliday. She has published 14 historical romances. Her FOREVER WILD earned 5 stars from Romantic Times and Affaire de Coeur, and was a RITA finalist for the Romance Writers of America. Her latest offerings, published by Diversion Books, are MARIELLE (The French Maiden Series, #1), LYSETTE (The French Maiden Series, #2), DELPHINE (The French Maiden Series, #3), DREAMS SO FLEETING, GOLD AS THE MORNING SUN, THE RING, AND SUMMER DARKNESS, WINTER LIGHT. FOREVER WILD, STOLEN SPRING, and PROMISE OF SUMMER, written by her as Louisa Rawlings, are available from Samhain Publishing. Visit her blog, Life Lessons From An Old Bitch, at and follow her on Facebook @SylviaHalliday.

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