The Secret of Sequels by Rai Aren

Author: Rai Aren

First, I would like to thank Sherry and everyone at Printsasia for the opportunity to be a guest on this very fine blog. I’m delighted to be here! My name is Rai Aren, and I co-authored the archaeology adventure/historical fantasy novel, Secret of the Sands. My co-author and I are in the process of doing the final edit for the sequel to this story, entitled Destiny of the Sands, which is slated to be released in 2011. I’m very excited about this, and I’m deeply immersed in the project, so I thought this would be a timely topic. We receive a lot of interested and enthusiastic fan mail asking for the sequel (yaay!), so believe me, I am taking my own advice to heart! I hope my insight into the writing of a sequel is helpful to you.

Rai’s 1st Secret of Sequels – Make them each a standalone book

You never know in what order readers are going to pick up your books, so it’s important to make each one able stand on its own. They may be sequels, but they still need their own legs and a fully formed book presence. They are linked, and each adds something to the other, but one shouldn’t be dependent on the other for the bulk of character development, story ideas, or its own well-formed story arc. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien, I think it’s a good idea to keep each book in the series a fully fleshed out, beginning, middle and end, kind of story. I don’t want to hijack readers into getting each book (though I certainly hope that they do!). I want them to choose to do that willingly, not begrudgingly because an incomplete story left them no choice. I don’t think that’s fair at all. Having a bit of a cliff-hanger can be quite tantalizing but it’s not fair to leave them completely hanging. That can be very frustrating for your readers. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Be honest and respect your readers. Give them their money’s worth with every instalment!

Rai’s 2nd Secret of Sequels – Help your readers by bridging the gap between books

Of course we all hope that our readers will read both/all of the books in order, but that doesn’t always happen for any number of reasons. Maybe they came across them out of order, maybe one story appealed to them more than the other, maybe they found the book at a used book sale, where the first one wasn’t available. I’ve even been gifted books that were not the first in a series. There can be lots of reasons why people might read the books out of order. I believe that it is up to the author to bridge the gap between books in a series sufficiently for readers to get up to speed well enough that the story flows for them, without them constantly thinking “what’s going on?” or “who is this person” or “what the heck happened to get these characters to this crazy point?!”.

There are probably a lot of different ways that an author can tackle this issue. My method is to write what I hope are interesting intros to the story that give the reader enough pertinent information to get them going, without laying all the secrets of the first story bare. I still maintain an air of mystery with it in how that information is given. What I hope is that they will be intrigued enough to pick up the first book, but I certainly don’t want to force them to do that. So, I’ve written bridging sections that speak to the overall journey, fill in vital blanks to make it easy to get up to speed, but hopefully also whet their appetite to want to read more. I also refer to past events within the current story where appropriate, and where it will enhance things for our readers, but always staying mindful of pacing. You don’t want do it to such an extent that it stops your story in its tracks. Stick to the story and keep the momentum going.

Rai’s 3rd Secret of Sequels – Add new layers

For a story that carries on into a sequel, you want it to grow and evolve into something ever more meaningful, more fascinating, and more rewarding for your readers. To me, it is very important to show how the journeys of the various characters mirror real life reactions and changes, that they are authentic and real. Sure, the circumstances my characters find themselves in are extraordinary in various ways, but at the heart of any story should be truth. Truth in how events affect the characters, how they react, how it changes them – maybe it damages them, maybe they recover, maybe they don’t, maybe they get stronger, maybe they crumble, maybe they lose their joy, or find it, maybe they cling to hope, maybe hope finally deserts them, maybe they begin to change, for better or worse, subtly at first, then the changes become more pronounced. The point is that the human race experiences a kaleidoscope of reactions to an infinite number of personal, and global events (and beyond…), but they are all ultimately reflected in human reactions and feelings. A sequel should also reflect that growth and change as it relates to the story’s path.

Personally, I find it endlessly fascinating to observe how the events of people’s lives change them. In fact, I would say that is, and will continue to be, a driving force in every story I tell. My mission is to communicate that as honestly, truthfully, and authentically as I can to my readers. Every story, no matter how far the setting is from our own lives, should show, or at least hint at, something about ourselves and our own lives. I am drawn to explore the deep places within, to see what journey awaits, and see what the world looks like on the other side. A sequel is a fantastic way to express this and should contain new depths for your readers to explore and enjoy. You want them to recognize the characters they’ve grown fond of, to find them familiar, but now let your readers get to know them even more, warts and all. Let them appreciate your characters in new ways, peel back the onion, as it were, then launch them forward into new twists and turns.

Not only should your characters have new layers added to them from the first book to the second and beyond, but so should the events they find themselves in. What was begun in the first story, should have new paths that are just as interesting, winding and compelling, as the first, maybe even more so.

Your readers will have (hopefully) come to love the place you have taken them to in the first book, and love the characters they came to know along the way – let’s take that further, and deeper, so that they come away feeling very satisfied that the sequel(s) made for an even richer experience of your core story.

Rai’s 4th Secret of Sequels – Have a story arc in mind

Now every author will have his or her own process in approaching a sequel, but I think having at least a general story arc is helpful. Developing a rough idea of the overall story arc before you get started is helpful in staying on track. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you flounder, or where one book is fully formed, but the next is somewhat wanting. You want each book to be fulfilling on it own, but clearly part of a unified whole. That is the whole purpose of writing a sequel or a series. The continuation of the journey should be well-thought out and carefully planned for. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for it to evolve or change, but zooming ahead without a map in your mind of where you’re going can leave a story wandering. Having a story arc doesn’t mean backing yourself into a corner, though. Think of it as a rough guide that is completely up to your discretion (or your characters’ discretion, as many authors can attest to!) to bend and change it at will.

Having a story arc outlined to some extent – whatever extent works for you – helps to tie things together, and allow for the adding of new layers of insight and story elements, without losing your way. This paves the way for the creation of a coherent, meaningful story that doesn’t let things drop. It’s been amazing to me how sometimes the littlest things are picked up on by readers, these little things can mean a lot to them, and they will be eagerly looking forward to reading more about it. It’s up to us authors to ensure our tapestry is well-designed, especially for those folks with a keen eye for detail. Novels are big undertakings, it’s a challenge to keep all the pieces together, especially when a sequel is involved. Create a roadmap for yourself to ensure your course is well-plotted and to keep you from forgetting anything!

In summary

These tips are what I’m following in the finalization of our own sequel. As authors, it’s our responsibility to make the journey a rewarding one for our readers, they’ve chosen to take extra steps with you with a sequel. As any author should, I am pouring my heart & soul into our sequel, Destiny of the Sands, to make sure that those awesome readers who vote with their hard-earned dollars are treated to the best experience I can possibly make it. It’s an honor and a privilege to do so.

I would of course, welcome the comments of others on this topic – both from readers and fellow authors. This is my first sequel, so I am learning as I go and grow :) It’s really a rewarding experience to continue this journey, with the writing of a sequel. Not starting from scratch, but rather deepening everything and evolving the story, is so different from the writing of the first book. I want to share these new depths with my readers. Now I am blessed to have readers and fans who have expressed a great deal of interest in the sequel, who know the story and are eager to carry on with the adventure. I’m very, very grateful for that and intend to do right by them.

Thank-you very much for your time! You can also visit me online and contact me through my website at:

I always welcome letters and feedback from readers and from my fellow authors. Happy reading always!

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