Writing the Sophomore of a Series
Originally published at Erzabet Bishop, Erotica With an Edge.
I was dubious about writing a series to start with, because it takes a lot of stamina to sustain momentum across several installments of a greater plot. I knew going into Alpha, the second book of The Scattered Dark Series, the challenges that would be ahead, and… I wrote it anyway!
Before we get into the challenges of the sophomore book, let’s talk about what a first in a series must do. Each book in a series must stand-alone, yet tie neatly into its sister books. The first book gets to be the darling—one hopes. It sets up the core conflict, introduces enticing characters, and jets the plot along so well that the second book is set up sublimely. Everyone falls in love with the freshman, or is so incensed by its setup that they want to know more.
So what about The End? The final book (we’ll assume the third one, for brevity’s sake), reveals all characters’ true colors, resolves individual character arcs (at least mostly), and to some degree brings an aptly satisfying resolution to the greater plot. With all of that candy, what’s sweet about the second in a series? Are they all just Jan Brady?
Well, that’s the question every author who writes a series has to clarify from the beginning. The sole purpose of the middle book is to get readers to the final installment. That’s it. Simple enough, right? Yet the majority of the time, the middle book is the one readers complain most about. The first book gets all the action, all the proper introduction, while the finale pushes toward thorough resolution. That said, there can be no lag, no deviating, no grand flourishes in either.
Apart from giving characters the chance to step up their role in plot resolution and possibly explain their connection to it bit more, second books allow a tad more room for dabbling. The very fact that they tend to focus on character development a bit more and rounding out the story allows them wider berth in how the story is told.
There’s a reason second books fall into what’s called the “sophomore slump,” or “sophomore syndrome.” It’s hard to live up to the hype generated by a first book, and sustain the interest to the finale. The truth is, there is no one formula for writing the second of a series. When a concept is created to develop across installments, the power of its story has to be strong enough to carry through.