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Nick Chiarkas on Writing a Sequel

Nick Chiarkas is the author of the thriller Weepers, and is working on the sequel. You can find out more about him here, visit his website here, and see his books here. This is his first post as a Blackbird Writer.

I am writing a sequel knowing full-well I am not talented enough to do this…but for some reason, while having tea and pound cake with my insecurities…I must go on.

Countless horrors from “Breaking News,” fill my head. My loving cats, and needy Golden Retriever, fill my lap and arms, demanding my almost constant attention while I research, write, and edit Nunzio’s Way, a stand-alone sequel to my novel Weepers. I find writing a sequel to be more of a challenge than I expected and yet great fun. So, thank you for my 50-minutes (listening, helps), I will say a word or two about the three-character touchstones or questions you must ask yourself when writing a sequel with a time gap.

Let me start by saying, I do not think all series or sequel fiction should also stand-alone. This is something that authors must decide for themselves. In some respects, it is a choice between ending with a cliff hanger or complete the story with a few daggling questions and a sense of continued character development. Most importantly, I want the reader to love the ending, the story, and the characters enough to want more.

Now, all of this assumes the reader is starting with the first book in the series. But what if the reader picks up book two having never read book one. Many authors manage to do this as an art form and have developed an extraordinary ability to give just the right amount of backstory threaded seamlessly (I prefer “seamlessly” to “organically”) throughout each subsequent novel in a series to inform the reader who picks up the second or third novel first. This reader will understand the story as “free-standing” while at the same time wanting to read earlier books in the series. This is not easy, even for the best writers, but you have a winning sequence when it works.

So, here’s what I’ve discovered on my writing journey so far. Since there is a time gap (three years) from Weepers (set in 1957) to Nunzio’s Way (set in 1960), I had to ask myself three questions (these are the touchstones).

1. What have my main characters (Nunzio, Heather, Angelo, and Rico) been doing over the past, three-years – 

(a) that is consistent with the characters,

(b) of interest to the reader, and

(c) moves the series arc along.

2. In what ways have my main characters affected the story’s environment, including each other. And finally.

3. How do I show all this to my reader without using an “information dump,” (not even a “as you know, Bob” dump).

After working my way through all of that and considering how the world, politics, music, clothing, etc., changed, I now must decide on an ending that will be both inevitable and a surprise. And in doing so keep my reader wanting to know more about my characters and where the story will take them. But that’s another blog.

If you’re looking for support groups for writers, I highly recommend the Blackbird Writers, and the Wisconsin Writers Association https://wiwrite.org/

Thanks for listening,

Nick

Nick Chiarkas

Nick Chiarkas is the author of the (multi)award-winning novel WEEPERS. You can find out more about her on his website, nickchiarkas.com.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan

    Nick — Standalone, series, or series books that can stand alone, you hit the nail on the head with, “I want the reader to love the ending, the story, and the characters enough to want more.” That’s the deal maker!

    Oh, and I love the photos of your animal companions!

  2. Nick, love your cat and dog pictures and this blog about the difficulty of writing a sequel. Your touchstones are a great guide for anyone. And when writing a series, we get to ask ourselves those questions time and time again.

  3. Sherrill Joseph

    Nick, I will be using your helpful touchstones for my own series writing. Thanks so much. And what adorable pets you have! So glad you’re flying with our flock. Just don’t let the cat know you’re now a Bird.

    1. Nick Chiarkas

      Thanks so much, Sherrill. The cats (and the dog) know they own me.

  4. Chris Norbury

    I’ve written two sequels now, as well as a prequel! That’s because I published the middle book of my three first, then the first, then the third. (2-1-3). (yeah, I know. I’m weird.) The biggest challenges were how much backstory to include and to maintain continuity with the recurring characters.

    And a word of warning about PREquels: DON’T WRITE ONE! 🙂 Seriously, it was much harder than I thought because you can’t change what’s in print in book two to make it easier and more convenient to write book one. Especially tough if you happen to think of an even better plot point or outcome for the prequel. Never again.

    1. Nick Chiarkas

      Wow, tough way to do it. But I know how good they are, brother.

  5. Tracey Phillips

    Thanks Nick for your insights! I’m with you all the way. Writing seconds and now thirds to my TWO series is challenging. But somehow so rewarding.

  6. Jacqueline Vick

    Those are really good points to consider. I’m curious to see how you handle it.

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