• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

I have more/better ideas for the sequel than the main story. How to go about it?

Vafnir

Dreamer
Hello everyone!
So I am writing a fantasy story I've already thought of a sequel for. I didn't intend to, but the idea just came to me out of nowhere, so I wrote down anything that came up in my mind regarding that sequel.
However, recently I noticed a problem in my mindset when approaching the story and the sequel, and started getting more and (in my opinion) better ideas for the sequel than I'm getting for the main story, thus partly losing motivation to continue writing the main story and gaining motivation to deal with the sequel even more.
Some would probably advise me to focus on the sequel and make it a story of its own. However, the way the stories are structured, I think the sequel wouldn't be understandable without the previous main story, because the sequel is kind of the result of the main story, taking place some hundreds of years later.
I'm going to try and summarize both stories. I am not going to go into too much detail, since I've been told that I am not good at summarizing things (which is true, I admit), so if there are open questions which might help you give me a piece of advice, please ask away.

The main story:
It takes place in a somewhat Victorian setting, at least there are dukedoms and noble families, masked balls playing a big role in the story (I LOVE masked balls). Bella (the protagonist, short for Belladonna,) is trapped in a so-called "forced contract" with Chlare (the second protagonist, pronounced "Clair" and is an anagram of "Rachel"), and that's why Bella has a chain put around her heart. The contract gives Bella certain active as well as passive abilities and improvements, she can also unleash Chlare's true power and let her fight along, but everytime one of them uses their gifted power, damage is inflicted to Bella's body, which can leave her with permanent damage (one of the characters, for example, ends up blind and using a walking stick). Additionally, as time passes, the chain around Bella's heart becomes tighter and starts to squeeze her heart and cause pain, which can lead to a heart attack. Both protagonists join an organisation which investigates "the clockwork" (a place comparable to an underworld) and anything connected to it, including contracts created by monsters that exist there. With help from the organisation, they hope to find a way to release Bella from the lethal contract before it's too late for either or even for both of them.
For clarification: The clockwork itself is supposed to be a kind of a purgatory, where souls of the deceased wander until it's their time for a reincarnation. However, the clockwork is damaged and creates distortions, which makes people turn into monsters inside the clockwork instead of being reincarnated. I'm done digressing.
Anyway, Bella and Chlare fall in love throughout the course of the story and the adventure ends with them spending the rest of the time they have left together (Thus, they were not able to reach their goal and undo the contract, but it's one of many goals they had and they were able to reach the other ones, so it's more of a bittersweet ending). As the contract almost comes to an end, Chlare keeps her company while Bella lies in her bed, slowly losing her last breath of life due to too much damage caused to her body and her time being up. They promise each other to meet again in one of their reincarnations, despite knowing well that it is a promise nearly impossible to keep, because reborn people initially don't have memories of their previous life. Some memories can be triggered by certain objects and events, but people are rarely able to differentiate between a dream and a memory from their previous life, the scenes they see are mostly blurred and vague.

That is longer than expected... Let's continue with the sequel:
This one takes place in a more modern world, kind of comparable with ours. Chlare is the main character of this story. After several reincarnations, in which she couldn't remember Bella or remembered her too late to take action due to growing old, she manages to remember her love from many centuries ago and tries to find out whether Bella has been already reincarnated, and if so, find out her name and location. While traveling through all Fjungard (which is the WIP name of the world the story takes place), she collects information on Bella and learns that, to her surprise, Bella is an owner of a giant financial company, which focuses on research in areas as technology, gene and time manipulation. Although still lively and enthusiastic as in her forelife, Bella is the complete opposite of the person Chlare knew a long time ago, as her goals now are mainly control and manipulation, which the "old" Bella despised. She wants to become equal to a deity and mess with the whole reincarnation concept, and in the end overthrow it with her own vision of an "afterlife". Chlare finds herself in a dilemma: On the one hand, it seems unthinkable for her to abandon her old love she has spent lifetimes on to find. On the other hand, she can't sit and watch Bella mess with lives of every living being, including theirs. Chlare must decide whether she becomes an ally or an enemy.

I really tried to keep it as short as possible, I swear. I hope I made it sound at least a little less confusing than I imagine. So technically, the main story is the essential backstory for the sequel to really make sense. Is there a way to go about it or should I really just try and finish the main story, maybe by finding motivation somewhere else?
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
You start where the story starts. If you feel that the meat of the story happens in Book 2, then that's where your story starts.

Team Lowan's second book, Ties of Blood and Bone, was originally intended to be the first in our series, but we eventually realized that the story began much earlier, and thus Faerie Rising was born.

This is one of those rare occasions where I recommend probably holding off on finishing your current project, and take some time to give your story a good, hard think. Only you know where your story actually begins.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Why not both? Interlace the two stories into one book, showing us who Chlare currently is and who Bella used to be. Show us the person Chlare fell in love with but is now so hurt that she's changed so much. Having them as two separate books requires enough people to give a hoot about the first one for you to write/sell the second, which isn't a guarantee....but if from the beginning it's both stories/timelines in one cohesive book, then that's going to be something really interesting for people to see.

Will it be harder to write? Oh absolutely. But you can have two short/tight stories that weave together into this love story that spans eons and I think that's really compelling. It'll also force you to only write about the stuff that's REALLY important, too.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I think that in your situation I'd continue to write text and, once you've got a rough draft and worked out your story arc, work out in which book the various bits of text should be. You may find that your first book is in fact better structured as a series of short stories which lead towards the sequel - which then becomes the main book. When I wrote my first novel and its sequels I found that I'd included references back to events before the first book and these eventually developed into short stories.
 
I personally would focus on finishing the first story, while keeping notes of anything you think of for the second.

The reason is that it's very well possible that you're either simply in a "Muddy middle" or have "Shiny new object syndrome". It's hard to tell if this is really the case, but it's fairly common. What I mean is this:

Many writers, while writing, hit a point where continuing to write the story becomes harder (often referred to as the muddy middle). You've spent a lot of time writing this story, progress seems slow and the end is far away. This is often coupled with the fact that many writers know where a story starts (and have a few scenes in their head before they start writing) and know more or less what the climax of their story will be. So those are written faster and easier than the middle, where you actually have to think about the story you're writing. The only way I know of to get through this is to keep writing.

Shiny new object syndrome is similar. While I write I get a lot of exciting ideas about different, new stories. Either for sequels or for completely different projects. They're new, they're shiny and they're exciting. Because the story is still only an idea in my head and perhaps a bunch of notes somewhere, the possibilities are endless. My fingers just itch to start on this project. The problem here is that doing so would never let me finish a project. There's always something new and exciting to write. Again, you just have to keep writing and finish the story.

Two tricks which might help:
remind yourself of why you're excited about the first story. Why is it such an amazing tale to tell?
Write more / faster: the faster you write the sooner you get to the sequel. Of course, getting more words down per hour is tough for most people, but you could maybe get an extra hour or even 10 minutes a day in. And that adds up. So, use it as a motivational tool.

Lastly, remember that there is value in writing to the end of a story. The first few stories we write are learning experiences and there is a lot of value in learning to finish a story. Both in knowing you can do it, and also because writing a complete story line and an end is different from writing a beginning. So my advise is, especially if this is one of your earlier attempts at a longer story, to keep writing and finish the first story.
 
You start with the sequel as your first book. Don't write an OK story just to get to the good one. Write the good one. You want to start where the meat of the story is.
 
I tend to have the opposite problem, where backstory turns into a major plot idea, but the truth is the only right answer is the one that works. On the one hand, there’s no way story 2 can’t be written before the first. The first could just make great backstory to be woven into the second. On the other hand, #2 could put on a patina and begin to corrode as you write it and another shiny might catch your eye. That can be a troubling trend, or it could just be growing in your storytelling... flail your arms like Kermit the Frog here... The truth is inside of you, and any correct answers you get from the outside or more than likely coincidence, luck, and just by receiving answers in all directions, one is bound to be right.
 

Vafnir

Dreamer
Why not both? Interlace the two stories into one book, showing us who Chlare currently is and who Bella used to be. Show us the person Chlare fell in love with but is now so hurt that she's changed so much. Having them as two separate books requires enough people to give a hoot about the first one for you to write/sell the second, which isn't a guarantee....but if from the beginning it's both stories/timelines in one cohesive book, then that's going to be something really interesting for people to see.

Will it be harder to write? Oh absolutely. But you can have two short/tight stories that weave together into this love story that spans eons and I think that's really compelling. It'll also force you to only write about the stuff that's REALLY important, too.

Wow, this is really interesting and your reply really made me think about it. Though, it really sounds like a challenge and I just struggle to imagine how I am supposed to go about it. What I mean is, do I literally tell two stories in one book, like, interchangeably? Or should it be more like having Chlare tell the essential parts of the first story when it's fitting and, if so, only the parts directly connected to their love story and the way they both are and used to be? Or what other ways are there?

I think that in your situation I'd continue to write text and, once you've got a rough draft and worked out your story arc, work out in which book the various bits of text should be. You may find that your first book is in fact better structured as a series of short stories which lead towards the sequel - which then becomes the main book. When I wrote my first novel and its sequels I found that I'd included references back to events before the first book and these eventually developed into short stories.

I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean. Are these short stories embedded into the sequel or is the series of the short stories a book of its own, in the end? I'm not an expert on short stories, but this would be more like jumping from one important scene (one short story) into another (next short story), not paying too much attention to whatever would happen between these scenes, right?

Whatever method I decide to go for, I would probably end up cutting out a lot of stuff from the first story that is not directly connected to Bella and Chlare, such as other characters they were acompanied by, events and other things I may find interesting, if I understand you guys correctly. It seems quite unavoidable at this point. I know this is a part of the writing process to discard some ideas, it just doesn't feel good, which it probably never does.
 

Vafnir

Dreamer
I personally would focus on finishing the first story, while keeping notes of anything you think of for the second.

The reason is that it's very well possible that you're either simply in a "Muddy middle" or have "Shiny new object syndrome". It's hard to tell if this is really the case, but it's fairly common. What I mean is this:

Many writers, while writing, hit a point where continuing to write the story becomes harder (often referred to as the muddy middle). You've spent a lot of time writing this story, progress seems slow and the end is far away. This is often coupled with the fact that many writers know where a story starts (and have a few scenes in their head before they start writing) and know more or less what the climax of their story will be. So those are written faster and easier than the middle, where you actually have to think about the story you're writing. The only way I know of to get through this is to keep writing.

Shiny new object syndrome is similar. While I write I get a lot of exciting ideas about different, new stories. Either for sequels or for completely different projects. They're new, they're shiny and they're exciting. Because the story is still only an idea in my head and perhaps a bunch of notes somewhere, the possibilities are endless. My fingers just itch to start on this project. The problem here is that doing so would never let me finish a project. There's always something new and exciting to write. Again, you just have to keep writing and finish the story.

Two tricks which might help:
remind yourself of why you're excited about the first story. Why is it such an amazing tale to tell?
Write more / faster: the faster you write the sooner you get to the sequel. Of course, getting more words down per hour is tough for most people, but you could maybe get an extra hour or even 10 minutes a day in. And that adds up. So, use it as a motivational tool.

Lastly, remember that there is value in writing to the end of a story. The first few stories we write are learning experiences and there is a lot of value in learning to finish a story. Both in knowing you can do it, and also because writing a complete story line and an end is different from writing a beginning. So my advise is, especially if this is one of your earlier attempts at a longer story, to keep writing and finish the first story.

Well, my pace of writing definitely slowed down lately and I've been getting many new ideas, at least for the sequel. It may be related to the fact that, in general, I am a person who gets enthusiastic about new things very quikcly, but find it hard to fully dedicate to one thing.
Also, you are right, this is my very first attempt at a long story. So far I've been writing lyrics and poems. One possibility to go about the long story would be as you said: Keep writing the first story, and even if it turns out to not be as compelling as it should be, I would have collected the learning experience on the way and can do better with the sequel (and then make it a bit more of a story of its own) and maybe even write a better version of my first story.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean. Are these short stories embedded into the sequel or is the series of the short stories a book of its own, in the end? I'm not an expert on short stories, but this would be more like jumping from one important scene (one short story) into another (next short story), not paying too much attention to whatever would happen between these scenes, right?
My short stories are freestanding, though they have the same setting and fit within the overall timeline for the main books.

When I wrote what became my first novel I mentioned several previous incidents (previous to the time of the novel, that is). These previous events don't have any real bearing on what happens in the novel, though they do provide a sort of background and explanation for why some characters act in the way they do. Later, after I'd written the first sequel I went back and described some of these incidents, more for my own amusement than for any real intention of publication. My editor liked these descriptions when she read them, and they became a collection of short stories.

When I write my novels I tend to write the main scenes and conversations first, then add the bits that connect these various events. I always have a mental picture of the story arc, so the method works for me. The reason the short stories aren't part of a novel is that they are too separated in time and in terms of other events in the setting to form the basis for a coherent novel.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Wow, this is really interesting and your reply really made me think about it. Though, it really sounds like a challenge and I just struggle to imagine how I am supposed to go about it. What I mean is, do I literally tell two stories in one book, like, interchangeably? Or should it be more like having Chlare tell the essential parts of the first story when it's fitting and, if so, only the parts directly connected to their love story and the way they both are and used to be? Or what other ways are there?

Yeah, you'd tell them interchangeably. Like alternating chapters with your 2 timelines (and each timeline has the 1 POV character). I mean, in any book you should really only be showing the essential parts so you don't end up with a 300k word behemoth and the pace doesn't turn to molasses. But by having the two timelines you'll really be forcing yourself to think about what is really IMPORTANT and how those things compare and contrast. I imagine that these characters are, at their core, the same "nature" since they're reincarnations, but they've turned into very different people because of their circumstances and experiences ("nurture"). A character who was kind in timeline A is now cruel in timeline B because they had a rough childhood and had to be selfish to keep themselves alive, stuff like that.

Multiple POVs is complex, multiple timelines is complex, but when done well they can tell a story that you can't do without them.
 

Vafnir

Dreamer
When I write my novels I tend to write the main scenes and conversations first, then add the bits that connect these various events. I always have a mental picture of the story arc, so the method works for me. The reason the short stories aren't part of a novel is that they are too separated in time and in terms of other events in the setting to form the basis for a coherent novel.

Dang, I never thought of this, but it actually sounds like a method that would appeal to my style of writing! Especially since I have all the main scenes summarized in my (physical) notebook and I have quite a full prsentation of them stuck in my head. I believe that method would help me progress a little faster and maybe even decide whether I'll make one book or two out of both stories.

Yeah, you'd tell them interchangeably. Like alternating chapters with your 2 timelines (and each timeline has the 1 POV character). I mean, in any book you should really only be showing the essential parts so you don't end up with a 300k word behemoth and the pace doesn't turn to molasses. But by having the two timelines you'll really be forcing yourself to think about what is really IMPORTANT and how those things compare and contrast. I imagine that these characters are, at their core, the same "nature" since they're reincarnations, but they've turned into very different people because of their circumstances and experiences ("nurture"). A character who was kind in timeline A is now cruel in timeline B because they had a rough childhood and had to be selfish to keep themselves alive, stuff like that.

Multiple POVs is complex, multiple timelines is complex, but when done well they can tell a story that you can't do without them.

I was going to have multiple POVs anyway, so that wouldn't change that much. Although, I planned on having about three POVs in my first story and probably just one in the sequel. Now, if I really merge both stories into one book, I would probably go with one POV per story (as you said): Bella for the first story and Chlare for the sequel.
However, one more questions came up in my mind. I've seen a lot of criticism towards flashbacks or ,more generally, passages going back in time. While I am not opposed to the idea of flashbacks and I'd probably have some in my first story (if it becomes a book of its own), wouldn't chapters about the first story feel like a big load of flashbacks, if I tell the stories interchangeably?

Also, you couldn't have put it any better, it's exactly like that. I believe I mentioned in my first post that Bella still is a lively and enthusiastic person, but instead of smiling at the thought of a bright future, she smiles at the thought of taking control of time and reincarnation. So yeah, at their core, they are still the same, but influenced and changed by other aspects in their lives.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
However, one more questions came up in my mind. I've seen a lot of criticism towards flashbacks or ,more generally, passages going back in time. While I am not opposed to the idea of flashbacks and I'd probably have some in my first story (if it becomes a book of its own), wouldn't chapters about the first story feel like a big load of flashbacks, if I tell the stories interchangeably?

The "problem" with flashbacks (and by that I mean flashbacks being used indiscriminately) is that they interrupt the flow of the story. Generally a story should be like a river, it should always be moving in one direction to its goal. Yes, sometimes it'll get a little side tracked but there's still that forward momentum (which is why it's really rare to see a river do a U turn). A flashback can be teleporting to a random pond before teleporting back to your river.

However, that's not what you're gong to be doing. You'd be telling two stories in two timelines simultaneously. You have two rivers flowing parallel to each other....and right at the end they're going to interesect. I know I give him a lot of crap, but George Lucas's "It's like poetry, it rhymes" isn't all that terrible of a way to look at stories. The "rhyming" can be the same thing each time (jedi gotta beat sith) or it can be opposites (luke rebukes the dark side while anakin embraces it) or a mix of the two. Showing similar characters handling similar situations very differently shows you something about those characters that's deeper as to who they really are. Luke is such a Good Boy he won't fall for evil, and Kylo Ren was really a Good Boy all along since he wasn't 100% committed to being evil, while Anakin just wanted power because he came from such a powerless situation (something something power corrupts). Your story, technically, is about two characters, but it's more like 4 since they're so different in each life, even if who they really are (soul or what have you) is the same.

{yes we can get into arguments about this star wars stuff but it's for illustrative purposes since it's an IP everyone knows}
 
I think the reason that flashbacks are often disliked is the same reason as why people dislike prologues. They can be used as a lazy and unimaginative way for the writer to info-dump, which is boring, unescessary and tends to throw readers out of the story. If you have a clear story purpose for a flashback or a prologue then it's fine.

Chasejxyz is correct that the story you describe isn't so much filled with flashbacks as simply two stories set in different times which are related and flow together somehow. I think it's a reasonably common trope in some romance genres. Though not my genre, I think Isabelle Allende has a few of these types of stories, and I think the current romance hit series The Seven Sisters from Lucinda Riley has a similar story structure. Though that's just from hearing my wife talk about them, I haven't read them... So read them at your perril.
 

Vafnir

Dreamer
There I am again. First, I want to apologize if there's any problem with bumping up a topic that's been silent for a few months, but I thought it'd be smarter and less of a spam than creating a whole new thread with basically the same topic.

So the current state of affairs is as follows: I continue to write my main story while keeping my notes on the sequel updated as soon as I get new ideas. The more I think about, the more the concept of writing two storie parallely appeals to me. And a few questions came to my mind lately.

Firstly, for the main story, I've planned on having about 3-4 points of view (Bella, Chlare and one or two more characters who are essential for the story). However, if I understood Chasejxyz correctly, when writing two stories at the same time, it would be wiser to choose one character per story, right? Which, in that case, would be Bella for the first story, and Chlare for the second, since they are the "very" main character of each story, respectively. I guess more POVs in such a concept might cause a lot of confusion?

Secondly, while the stories are supposed to intersect in some point, should the first story (which takes place a few hundreds years before the second story) end sooner than the second story does, right? Both stories shouldn't be melt together just a fiew pages before the book ends, I suppose?

Also, I've been thinking about a way for the reader to tell the stories apart and not get them mixed up. I think the easiest way would be to call the chapters of the first story "Recollection XY", while the ones of the second story would just be called "Chapter XY". Seems quite easy and self-explanatory to me.

Last but not least, are there any fantasy novels out there with this concept of "double story-telling" done right? I appreciate the example from Prince of Spires , but I am not into the romance genre at all, myself.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I think that given the time differences between the two stories I'd aim to write them as separate and relatively standalone books. By that I mean that you should be able to read either book without having read the other, but that means you can't have the story lines merge in either book.

You can have more than one POV per book, but I tend to focus on one or two characters and then have the other POV characters take a smaller role. I did try to limit my POV to only one character, but found that this limited the scope of the story and made things unclear - and my beta readers didn't like it.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
I mean you can have as many POV characters as you want per story. But you gotta keep in mind that each one makes things more complicated since thre's more things to keep track of and unique things to think about. Like my story has 4, they all need things to do, which was a problem writing the first draft. There's 2 that are much bigger than the others, so the parts with the lesser two need to be worthwhile and move things forward. It's tricky. Another project has 2 POVs, the "main character" and the rival/love interest, and since 90% of the story is them fighting against each other, there needs to be sufficient reasons for them to be in those positions and why it is they cannot lose. There's a bunch of other problems I can think of that might happen but I haven't gotten very far into the actual writing of it to speak on that.

It's okay to read something like a romance novel to help you with your own writing. Reading outside of your genre (or even medium) can still teach you things, as stories are stories and characters are characters, no matter what they're doing. Don't think of it as "I'm reading this to learn how to write a good romance" but as "I'm reading this to see how, mechanically, they handle two concurrent storylines and how it best serves the stories and character development."
 
Top