What do you look for in the second novel of a series?

Last night, after being poked and prodded by my son who wants to “talk books” with me, I stared reading Divergent. I mentioned this to an author friend of mine and she said “Loved Divergent. Insurgent [Second book] not so much. You know how second books go.”

“You know how second books go.”

This phase has been haunting me since she said it.  As most of you know, I am currently writing a “book two” in a series. I am already feeling the stress and strain of trying to make ASHES IN THE SKY just as good, if not BETTER than FIRE IN THE WOODS.

Sometimes, I fear I’m falling short.

Read-hold up PKO_0016876Are their chase scenes? Yes

Are there near misses? Yes

Are their explosions? Yes

Are the stakes higher? Yes

Are strong relationships built, ripped apart, and rekindled? Yes.

So what am I worried about?

“You know how second books go.”

I don’t want people finishing book two and saying that I missed the mark. I don’t want people saying they wish there was more of this, or why did there have to be so much of that.

The scarier thing is that book two is due before book one even comes out. So I can’t even wait for reviews or reader commentary of what they hope for in book two.

So….. I’m asking. If you are reading a book two in any series, what do you look for?

What “book two” blew you away, and WHY WAS IT SO GOOD?

What “book two” came up short, and WHY DID IT SEEM LACKING?



23 responses to “What do you look for in the second novel of a series?

  1. There are a few things I look for in a book 2. I love character driven books, so growth in all characters is a must. I also like to know more about all of my favorites. The deeper I know a character, the more of their demons are revealed, the more I care about them.

    Even though it’s a continuation of book 1, the story in book 2 has to have its own conflict & a beginning and ending contained in that book, while still building up to a book 3 if applicable. I don’t like picking up a book 2 and feeling like it’s just carrying on with the same conflict as book 1. Sure, there can be a common story arc that spans the series, but I want something new to be nervous about in book 2.

    Lastly, I want the pressure that started to build in book 1 to continue building toward the ultimate climax in the last book in the series, and the end of book 2 should leave me thinking about what will happen in the next one.

    I still contend that book 2s are the hardest to write. You’ll come up with a good one, I know it. 🙂

    • Thanks. I’m really mulling over these comments and I think I have all the bases covered so far but one for character development of a single character. I need to look at her closely and make sure she grows.

  2. Book two’s are too often more of the same. The protagonist needs to learn something new, needs something different to lose. Myndi Schaffer’s second book in Shrilugh series works, maybe because it’s set in an entirely different world.

  3. Ravena Guron

    I sometimes have an issue with second books. Sometimes I’m just like “was there any point in having a sequel?” I dislike them when it feels as though the story is dragging, the conflict was unnecessary, or the characters do complete one eighties and basically become different people. I like it when the characters are developed further e.g like in Catching Fire, The Harry Potter series, Narnia e.t.c. or when the world was so brilliant I couldn’t wait to go back. As vague as it may sound, I like second books when there’s actually a story to tell.

    The main thing that puts me off regarding sequels is the romantic aspect, because it’s so hard to get right, especially when you’re returning to a world. As bad as it may sound, for me the most interesting part in a romantic story is when the two people are getting together. I dislike sequels where their relationship is secure and they spend the entire novel proclaiming “I love you” to each other. At the same time I don’t like false conflict e.g. the introduction of a new love interest who you know the MC is never going to end up with anyway. The Princess Diaries is a good example of sequels done well. Ten books about Mia and Micheal’s relationship and I never got bored of them once. Meg Cabot always managed to keep it fresh and cute and things still went well, but there was still conflict.

  4. I can offer perspective on a couple of series where book two was equal or stronger than book one. Narnia and Earthsea. I like A Wizard of Earthsea all right, and I like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all right, but I really love The Tombs of Atuan and Prince Caspian.

    Both these books come at the material from the first book in a very different angle. Arha is the POV in Tombs of Atuan and the setting is desert, very different from the seagoing first book. The same four Pevensey kids are in Prince Caspian, but the beautiful kingdom they remember has fallen into ruin and must be rebuilt through their alliance with the title character.

    So my advice as you plan book two is to approach the material from a really different direction. Bring in new characters or use a character who was present in your first book but wasn’t a POV then. If many “second books” feel like retreads, I think it’s because the authors were repeating too many of the same elements.

    Hope this helps!

    • Interesting — but there are elements that need to be repeated (at least I think). I couldn’t possibly write a deep introspective piece after writing a high-adrenalin novel. The trick is keeping it fresh. I’m hearing some interesting things here.

  5. Okay, I loved Catching Fire as much as The Hunger Games. I loved Scarlet as much as Cinder, although I wasn’t sure at first (someone else mentioned the Lunar Chronicles) and I liked Prince Caspian as much as Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.
    Now, do all of these have similar things done well? Sure. I liked them as much as the first books for different reasons, though.
    Prince Caspian brought back characters we loved into a changed Narnia, thus introducing a new setting (but with remnants of the old world they loved). There were new character arcs for the protagonists and a new story problem.
    Catching Fire delved deeper into the problems of the world in which Katniss lived and her arc involved her induction into that world. She couldn’t just focus on saving her little corner of the world anymore. The arena was more intense than the first time (and I didn’t think that was possible). The story was about Katniss (and she had an arc – learning who to trust), but it was about so much more than just her problems and that made it riveting.
    Scarlet showed us a different timeline in Cinder’s story and answered questions we had about where she came from and why she had cybernetic parts. We met new people with different problems. The scope of the antagonistic evil deepened as we saw the bigger picture. We still got to spend time with Cinder but we met new characters we could love and relate to, as well.
    In all three, we learn more about the world at large and how its problems are the catalyst for the change the characters must make in order to beat their personal demon.
    Hope that helps. I’m really excited about reading your book. Trust your instincts and be true to your characters. The story will be excellent if you do that.

  6. I look for consistency in the main character’s personality, but I also want to see new characters join the story. You’ve done well so far and you’ll continue to be great at it. I think everyone worries about the quality of their writing. Maybe that’s what makes you strive to get better.

  7. I started reading the Lunar Chronicles, and I was nervous about the second book because its focus went to completely new characters. But I loved it! I had the chance to have the ‘new story’ feel, fall in love with the characters, yet it’s still the same story, and the old characters are there too. I love that the focus shifted and it felt so new and so familiar at the same time. I don’t know that I’ve ever liked a sequel just as much as the first book, and I think I loved the third book even more than the first two for the same reason.

    • Interesting. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • I completely agree with you! The Lunar Chronicles is probably one of the best series I’ve ever read and I can’t wait to get my hands on “Fairest” which is Queen Lavana’s story. Each of these books introduce new characters but they all surround the main character, Cinder. I imagine the last book in the series will bring all of our favorite characters together for a rip-roaring space opera finish! The series is ingenious. The writing is a rich tapestry of simple and fantastic words woven expertly together, and the pace and unraveling of mysterious characters is always there.

      As for the Divergent series: I thought Divergent was amazing on so many levels. Insurgent (book 2) felt and read like a connector book. I felt Tris whined way too much. I wanted some additional growth, for something more to happen. I have yet to read Allegiant. It’s sitting here, staring at me, but I worry about the ending. I’ve read other’s reviews and the general consensus was that it fell flat. That it didn’t end right. That it wrapped up to easily and with little effort. I know I’ll have to break down and read it but I’m hesitant.

      Other series that I thought were phenomenal? Graceling/Fire/Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore; Shatter Me/Unravel Me/Ignite Me by Tareha Mafi; and of course The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

      • Oh my god! I’m not the only one that felt that way about Tris in Insurgent?!

        I swear, the entire time I was reading it I was like: “Oh my god, just grow UP already!”

        Anyway, I don’t really have much to contribute, just that I had to FORCE myself to read Insurgent.

        I suggest that you read Allegiant though, I personally LOVED the ending. Though I will warn you, it’s not a happily ever after ending. But then, bitter-sweet has always been a favorite of mine.

  8. I haven’t read any series but I have read a Canadian mystery writer I enjoy immensely. The same characters come back book after book and I fall in love with them all over again. The characters are still fresh and the environment vivid. The story unfolding seems to reveal something more about the on-going cast of characters with a new couple thrown in for the new mystery.

  9. More of the bits that made the first book distinct.

    Considering the primary qualities (one or more of character/background/&c.) as graphs:

    If the first book was roughly circular, I am interested in seeing the world around that circle in the second book.

    If the first book was linear, I am interested in seeing the line go further, or branch off.

  10. Truthfully. I want you to enjoy writing the second book as much as you enjoyed writing the first. I want you excited because your excitement will flow through. It doesn’t matter the expectations.. It’s the story that you will remember ten years from now. So give yourself the chance to enjoy that new story.. Dive into it.. let it becomes part of your bones. Only then will the rest of us enjoy the “second” book.

    • You are right. It s the days that I am not pressuring myself on word count that the writing flows easy. The days I am struggling I know I am in for a lot of rewriting.