Series books, sequels, are perhaps more complex to write than readers think. Yes, certain things are given. For example, if you’ve established that your continuing protagonist has blue eyes, they are going to remain blue in subsequent books. But the fact that there are things that must remain consistent demands that things also be different, otherwise why write a sequel? In other words, certain things must be a given, even as other things must not be a given.
At the moment I am writing a new Poppy book. There are already six in print, and the current project is not really a sequel. Rather, it fills a gap in the overall arch of Poppy’s story. It will indeed become Book Two in the overall sequence, revealing how Ragweed and Poppy met. But then the books were not written in sequence to begin with. Poppy, the book, was written first, with no intention of doing a series. The first in the series (as it stands now) is Ragweed, and it was written a good while after Poppy.
I sent a draft of the new book to Brian Floca, my esteemed illustrator/colleague. He is also a writer, a good one, and our process of collaboration has always been to share my text for his input. Along with some specific, productive suggestions for changes, his response was encouraging:
I don’t know if you had to work to find those voices again—Poppy’s, and Ragweed’s, and Lungwort’s, etc.—or if they seemed just to be there waiting there for you.
In fact, for the Poppy books I have been lucky. Over the years the Poppy books have been written (almost twenty-five years!) I’ve always been exceedingly fond of the characters. Being fond of your characters can mean you know them, hear them, which makes the writing so much easier. It’s like visiting an old friend—I’m sure you have had the experience—you may not have seen them for years but you just jump right in with the friendship, the talk, the fondness.
All the same, when I took up this narrative—how Ragweed met Poppy—I had no preconceived notions as to how it all happened. I had to find my way. But knowing the characters so well suggested ways of telling the story, their story, as it were.
As noted above, I am working on another sequel, an extension of Murder at Midnight and Midnight Magic. Even here, the chronological order of the books was reversed. Murder at Midnight was a prequel to Midnight Magic. The current book is proving harder to write, as it has taken time to get into the characters without simply repeating the earlier books. Here, so to speak, I’ve had to struggle to renew the friendships. I am making progress, slowly.
Writing the Crispin series was a different experience, insofar, as when I first thought of the story of Crispin, I contemplated a multi-volume tale. From the beginning I sensed what I was going to do.
That said, the fourth and final volume, has never been written.
In summary then, the writing of a series, can, on the surface, seem relatively simple. In fact, it’s a complex process. My guess is that if you have been successful in creating full characters, you do best when you let them tell the ongoing story. I just watch and record.