Wednesday, January 23, 2013

SECOND VERSE--NOT THE SAME AS THE FIRST: Writing The Sequel by Pamela Sherwood


So far, that's the first achievement of the New Year. The edits for A Song at Twilight--a loose sequel to Waltz with a Stranger--are done, and, pending editorial approval, the book will be released in October 2013.

I have a love-hate relationship with sequels. As a reader, my love of sequels knows no bounds--when an author creates a fascinating cast of characters playing out their dramas in a well-developed setting, I am always eager to see more. And when I'm well and truly hooked, I'll read every successive book until a) the author is finished with the series, or b) the series changes/deteriorates to the point where it no longer possesses the elements that drew me to it in the first place.

For a writer, I think the sequel/series situation is trickier. Even when you love your characters and look forward to chronicling their adventures, an ongoing concern becomes how to keep a series fresh. How do you avoid boring the reader and yourself with repetition?  How do you build excitement and interest within the series as a whole? And when should you pack it in, and move on to pastures new?

I faced a few of these challenges in writing my second book. While finishing up Waltz with a Stranger, I came to the conclusion that the next book had to be distinctly different. That’s one of the reasons I resolved the romantic fate of my heroine’s twin sister in the first book. Although Aurelia and Amy are distinct individuals, they have identical backgrounds--as sheltered, virginal American heiresses--as well as identical features, and they possess strong similarities as well as differences. I worried that a certain sameness might creep into Book #2 if it was devoted to Amy, which would ultimately dampen my own enthusiasm and result in a less involving story. (Amy and her hero may yet receive a story of their own down the road, however.)

My solution was to leave some threads unresolved in Waltz with a Stranger, especially a budding romance between two supporting characters: Sophie Tresilian, the hero’s seventeen-year-old cousin, and Robin Pendarvis, the mysterious aspiring hotelier with the past he refuses to discuss. When I started working out the plot of A Song at Twilight, I knew that something had happened to tear them apart, and they were now four or five years older, sadder, and wiser. And to my way of thinking, more interesting.

The changes in Sophie are more dramatic: she’s become a professional singer, a rising star in the Victorian music world. She’s no longer the wide-eyed innocent she was in Cornwall. Time hasn’t stood still for Robin, either: he’s known betrayal and deceit, along with one of the most life-altering experiences any person can have. And yet his passion for Sophie--and hers for him--burns as brightly as ever, even though the obstacles between them seem no less insurmountable. Or are they?

I’ll leave you now with this short excerpt, in which Robin lays eyes upon his lost love for the first time since their heart-wrenching parting of four years ago. And with the following questions: Series writers, how do you keep sequel fatigue from setting in? And readers, what are some of your favorite ongoing series and what keeps you coming back for more?

 Exterior and interior of the Royal Albert Hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1871.  The heroine of A Song at Twilight is first seen performing there. At a glance, I'd say the venue probably is big enough to contain those 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire--oh boy!


London, July 1896
            He’d been a fool to come, but he couldn’t have stayed away if his life depended on it.
            All around him, Robin could hear the rustle of programmes, the faint coughs and murmurs as the audience settled in before the performance.  Down in the pit, violins lilted and cellos thrummed as the orchestra tuned up its instruments. The concert had sold out quickly--he’d been fortunate to secure a prime seat in one of the lower tiers, with a clear view of the stage. But even the galleries and balconies were full tonight.
            He smoothed out his programme with hands that shook only slightly, read the lines of print over and over until the words ran together in a meaningless blur. David Cherwell, the promising Welsh tenor, and Sophia Tresilian--one of the finest young sopranos in recent memory--performing together for one night only at the prestigious Albert Hall.
            Sophia. The name seemed to belong to some glamorous stranger. In Cornwall, among those who knew her best, she was just Sophie. Sometimes “Snip” to her brother Harry. “Lark” to her sister Cecily. And to Robin himself . . . he pushed the thought away, reminding himself that he’d lost the right to call her anything at all four years ago.  Lost it, renounced it, thrown it away . . . and for the best.  What could he have offered her then, but heartache and ruin?
            And now here she was--celebrated, adored, at the start of a brilliant career. And here he was, watching and waiting. To see all that radiant promise fulfilled. To comfort himself with the knowledge that he’d done the right thing. And for one more reason, that he could not, dared not, put into words yet.
            One way or another, tonight would tell the tale.
            The house lights dimmed and the orchestra launched into a brisk overture that Robin barely heeded because his attention was fixed on the stage. As the last flourish sounded, he saw the slender figure walk out to take her place before them all.
            Not tall, Sophie, but she carried herself with a poise that made her appear so. Stage lights caught the coppery glints in her dark hair, shone on the smooth ivory heart of her face, the slim column of her throat, rising from the décolleté neckline of her gown--a gown the color of midnight, almost void of ornament, severe but becoming. She’d worn white the first time he saw her--a young girl’s dress, artless and unsophisticated, but even then the woman had begun to emerge. And here she stood now, the blossom to the bud, so beautiful it made him ache.
            And not just him. He sensed the heightened awareness around him, the way so many of the men in his vicinity seemed to come to a point.  Like hunting dogs catching the first whiff of game, or orchid hunters sighting a rare, elusive bloom.
            Unseen, the piano rippled out an introduction, the somber chords echoing through the hall, now hushed and reverent as a church. Onstage, Sophie raised her head and began to sing.


  1. Love the excerpt! It is definitely a good feeling to finish the next book :-)

  2. Shana, it's definitely a relief to have a book completed and off one's hands, at least for a while. But creative Empty Nest syndrome may be setting in--I'm already pondering what to work on next. Glad you enjoyed the excerpt.

  3. Loved your post. I'm editing number 7 in the Spikes & Spurs and hoping that it's original enough to keep my readers wanting more!

  4. Carolyn, that's always the challenge, isn't it? Keeping readers interested and wanting more, whether it's the first or tenth title in the series. Best of luck with your #7!

  5. Love the cover to your new book!

    As a reader one of my favorite series is the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward. I like to read that series partly because of the ongoing overall arc and the revisits with my favorite characters. She adds new characters to her stories too with their own sordid pasts and that helps to keep things fresh.

  6. yadkny, the cover is growing on me, despite my having doubts about what a shirtless guy is doing in a music room! Haven't read the BDB, but it sounds like the author has a large cast to draw on for her series--always a good resource!

  7. Fabulous excerpt! I need to read more of this one!

  8. As a series writer, I feel your quandary over how the heck to keep things fresh. It's always a struggle. But readers seem to LOVE a series, so what do we do? Well, we give them a series!

  9. Cheryl, glad you enjoyed the excerpt. Hope you like the rest of the book as well.

    Julie Ann, I have to admit that, as a reader, I love series too. And most of the time, I enjoy writing about connected characters--but I think after 3 to 5 books, it becomes more of a challenge to keep things fresh and lively.

  10. Love the term, sequel fatigue, but as long as the characters are walking around in my head, and as long as I have the patience and tenacity to listen to their stories, a sequel is less difficult to write than a stand alone. I've had the entire first book to subconsciously puzzle out the next story, and that helps.

  11. Grace, you're fortunate in having such a talkative cast of characters to keep you going! Most of the time I prefer writing series to stand-alones too--until I encounter a character who shuns the spotlight and refuses to open up. Then it's drag him/her kicking and screaming into the light or find someone else's story to tell.