On the Fun Challenges of Writing Our Very First Sequel
By Matt Carter
From the very start, Fiona and I knew that we were going to make a series out of Splinters. The world and the number of ideas of what we had to take place in it was too vast and great to just be contained within one book. So with some time and a lot of scribbled-through notebooks we wound up with a rough outline, then a pretty thorough outline of the series as it will be written. It will be big, it will be fun, it will even be heartbreaking (we hope). When we wrote Splinters, we knew we had a solid first act, a book that could stand on its own yet would still leave this door wide open to further adventures of Ben & Mina in their creepy little town of Prospero.
When it came time to jump into the second book in The Prospero Chronicles series, Shards, we were ready, but we knew that there were going to be some new challenges that we would have to face head on.
The first, and biggest problem we wanted to avoid, was preventing the book from being more of the same, which would have been easy to do. At the end of Splinters, protagonists Ben and Mina are trapped in the small town by the titular, shapeshifting aliens who mean to keep a close eye on them. Trapping everyone in a pressure cooker like this with the same characters antagonizing them would have made it easy to fall into the old traps of the first book, so we forced ourselves to go out of our way to give them newer, more difficult problems to have to work through. So we spend most of the first book with the Splinters attacking people physically? Fine, now we’ll have them try to destroy our heroes mentally, or socially; give them some problems that can’t just be fixed with brute force. Our heroes have proven themselves apt at handling and taking down this particular breed of monsters? We’ll introduce some new creepy-crawlies they haven’t seen, forcing them to stay on their toes and have to adapt as the readers no doubt will.
Tying into this was another problem we wanted to avoid, in that we didn’t want to expand too much, too fast. By necessity a sequel has to be bigger and better, but go too big and too extreme and you run the risk of being a jumbled mess that runs the risk of losing sight of everything you did right in the beginning (something I like to call The Avengers Principle). Whenever we needed to expand the story, be it through new characters, new plot twists or even just some basic new world-building, we had to make sure that everything new we introduced had a point. We couldn’t just introduce a new character because we needed an antagonist for a chapter or two; Prospero is a small town, after all. If we’re going to introduce someone new they can’t just disappear later when their current purpose is done. We have to consider what their presence will involve and require in the long haul and what part, however major or minor, they will play into the series’ overarching mythology. It sounds like a lot of work, but this has led to one of the best side-effects of our particular brand of obsessive planning, in that we’ve wound up creating new and fun characters and story directions that weren’t in the original plan because we just liked the natural flow of where they were going.
Sequels are rough, but they’re a lot of fun too. You’re more familiar with your characters and world, you don’t have to go through the awkward reintroduction of every character’s origins again (a.k.a. the Spider-Man Principle), and you can really start to cut loose in crazier, more experimental directions you may dare not consider for a first book. And if there’s anything we at Titchenell & Carter love, it’s crazy and experimental.
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Ben Pastor and Mina Todd fight a new alien faction, Shards, who are enemies to both sides of Prospero’s precarious treaty, to let the humans live.
When autumn descends on Prospero, Ben Pastor hopes that the normality of the new school year may offer a reprieve from the town’s horrors. Mina Todd knows all too well that there are no reprieves and no normality in Prospero, especially after she starts having crippling, unexplained hallucinations of the dead, but even she couldn’t prepare for what the coming year holds.
On top of the Splinters’ brewing civil war threatening to make humanity its battleground, inside the walls of Prospero High, Ben, Mina, and their expanding Network must face a Splinter campaign to destroy their friendship, a newly human Haley Perkins struggling to readjust to life after the Warehouse, and a Splinter assassin of untold power picking off human rebels.
Ben and Mina’s one hope may rest with a mysterious figure hiding in the woods outside of town, a living legend who may know how to stop this dangerous new breed of Splinter. That is, assuming he doesn’t kill everyone first himself.
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