Sequels are tricky.
With a first novel, the sky is wide open. You are free to explore and invent however you feel led. If inspiration strikes you somewhere along the way, a new locale or character becomes necessary, you can add them as you see fit. If you get to the end of your manuscript and something you wrote earlier doesn’t quite work, you are free to go back and change it. Want the main character’s hair to be blue? Have at it. Want him to have a pet cat instead of a dog? So be it! Expand, change and erase to your heart’s content. It is all putty until it is between a cover.
With a sequel the rules change. Now you are living within a boundary, a world, a don’t-you-dare-change-it canon. No longer can you arbitrarily reinvent the way your character behaves, or the way he feels about a certain person or subject. You can’t add places to the map that weren’t there before. Change his speech patterns. Assemble new reasons for all that has happened before. The events that happened in the prior book really happened. The characters look a certain way and act a certain way. They are fact. Now you have to deal with the facts as they are.
Another thing you don’t want to do is repeat yourself. One of the comments I heard most about my first novel, A Star Curiously Singing, was how unique it was. It had many well-used sci-fi props in it, of course—robots, space travel, mind control, a dystopian future—but the way those props were assembled together readers found unique. An implanted man of the future is sent to find out why a robot destroyed itself after traveling in space. That’s unusual and interesting, isn’t it?
But in a sequel a writer can’t, or shouldn’t, retread what they’ve done before. Though it has been pulled off successfully, you really don’t want to create (metaphorically) an even bigger Death Star, with an even more powerful laser for your hero to vanquish. In fact, I’m not even sure how that would work in my story world. An even smarter robot gets even more destroyed on an even further voyage? Preposterous. Can’t be done! Shouldn’t be attempted!
There is one final caveat with a sequel, though—the fact that you now (if you’re fortunate) have “fans.” People who have read your previous work and really expect more of the same, only better. They identify with characters. Have preconceptions, both real and imagined. Without you knowing it, an unseen bar has been raised, and you somehow have to get your 80,000+ words of new idea over it. You need to replicate what people liked before, without actually replicating. You need to grow your characters without fundamentally changing them. Please the readers!
Tricky, I’m telling you. Mighty tricky.
Thankfully, at the end of A Star Curiously Singing I left my characters in a fairly new situation. New rules could come into play, within reason. New worlds. I could use that to my advantage. With luck, I could create a new plotline that was equally interesting as the first without duplicating. An implanted man, now astronaut, embarks on a search for the divine…
So did I do it? Manage to live within the boundaries, yet be unique? Please the fans while changing the context and situation? With The Superlative Stream I think so. I hope so.
And now I have to try to do it one more time. Tricky business, sequels.