For the past ten weeks, I have been posting excerpts from my new novel, The Scent of Her Soul. I hope it helped you see how to develop the beginning of a hero’s journey story.
Today, I am moving to a different story, the second book in a series. Many people have asked me about how to start a sequel. I find this task to be more difficult than a first book, because I have to reestablish many facts that readers learned in the first book as well as character qualities and abilities that were gained in the story.
This looking back carries risks. When an author revisits old ground, the story often halts. The text becomes an information dump, especially to readers who have recently read the previous book. Yet, reminders are important, because in many cases, readers haven’t read the first book in a long time. Striking the right balance is difficult.
Below is the beginning of Beyond the Gateway, the second book in the Reapers Trilogy. This is an early draft, subject to great change, but it should provide some pointers. I inserted footnote numbers within the text as markers for discussion after the reading.
(***Spoiler Warning***) There are many spoilers ahead, so if you want to read Reapers without any spoilers, I suggest that you do so and come back to this post later.
Here are links where you can purchase Reapers.
Ghosts rarely shocked people anymore, especially Reapers.(1) We were accustomed to seeing the souls of the dead. We carried them in our cloaks, conversed with them, comforted them, and, at times, even scolded them. (2) Nothing surprised us. Yet, when the phantom image of Singapore hovered over my hand as I clutched her photo stick, my heart pounded. She was just a hologram, not even a ghost, but she still haunted me far more than any ghost ever could. (3)
As she posed with her hands folded in front and her cloak’s hood raised, her eyes pierced deeply—intense, determined, focused. The whites around her pupils stood in contrast to her milk chocolate skin, black cloak, and dark mood. She was a Reaper on a mission. (4)
Shanghai stood next to me below my apartment, early morning sun shining on her from the alley opening. The light revealed rips and bloodstains at the elbows and knees of her Reaper ensemble—forest green pants, black shirt and running shoes, and a hooded cloak. The damage made her look like she had been in a fight with a bear. (5)
As Shanghai watched, she whispered, “Sing looks so serious.”
“She does.” Pain still ripping through my body from the recent battles and loss of energy gas, I leaned against the staff Shanghai had given me. (6) “I think she’s about to talk. Listen.”
“Phoenix,” (7) Sing said, “since you have my photo stick, I assume that I am now dead. (8) As I am recording this video, I don’t know if you killed me or not, but if you did, I know you did it under pressure, probably to save other lives, so I hold no anger toward you. (9)”
She brushed a tear away before continuing. “You see, I sent my mother, Tokyo, to the Gateway, thinking that a Reaper as powerful as she might be able to return. She wanted to learn the Gateway’s secrets and come back to tell the world what she discovered. Unfortunately, she has not returned as quickly as we had hoped, so I volunteered to go myself to check on her. There is a theory that one soul can bring another back from the Gateway, though one must stay behind forever. Of course, returning might simply be impossible, and my own journey could be a fool’s errand. Yet, for my mother’s sake, I decided to try.”
Sing lifted a metallic disk, no bigger than a small coin, from behind her shirt and let it dangle from a thin chain around her neck. “This medallion was anointed with Reaper blood, so it is genetically encoded. Soon, if the Eagle is correct, Alex will show you how she plans to track you with a specialized device. Pay attention to how she uses it, and you will learn how to track me with a similar device my father gave you.” (10)
1. Sequels still need a hook sentence. We always need to grab attention from the start.
2. Quick reminders of what Reapers do with souls, still part of the hook.
3. An early-as-possible reminder of Phoenix’s great loss.
4. An early description of an important character. Make it fast and natural.
5. This establishes another character, the story setting, and the time with a light source in order to give readers a firm visual. This also provides a quick description of Shanghai in a natural way. The light reveals rips in her clothing, causing Phoenix to take notice of what she was wearing. Normally, he might not take note of typical clothing if it has no flaws.
6. Quick reminder of Phoenix’s condition, done through action–leaning on the staff. In other words, the action gave me reason to provide the reminder.
7. Reminder of the point-of-view character’s name as early as possible. With first-person point of view, we might not have much of an opportunity to state the name.
8. Reminder of what happened to this character.
9. Reminder of the terrible dilemma Phoenix faced.
10. These two paragraphs set a goal for the hero character and provide a reminder of what created that goal.
My hope was to provide these reminders to readers without a contrived information dump. The provision occurs within the action, even though the action is simply characters speaking. The hologram device grabs interest, and it is natural for the hologram character to provide the explanation, because she doesn’t know if Phoenix is yet aware of the information she is providing.
So the story is taking shape even while readers are prepped with what they need to know from the previous book.
More next week. If you have questions or comments, please post them.
Categories: Story Development