Feeling ‘trapped’ when penning a sequel. A fellow writer, Betsy Arnold, sparked a very interesting discussion on my FB page today. She said — with regard to penning a “companion book” to a novel:
“I keep having to go back and check the facts from my first book which were throwaways at the time. Now they are parameters with which I’m stuck. Is that true for you?…I keep having to consult my maps and timelines. Ugh. I want to change a few things in the first book, but can’t. It’s a strange feeling.”
Indeed, it is. And she is totally right. In a sequel, or companion book, you are confined by the “throwaways” (good word!) that you created in the first book — your character was born here, in a place and time that you provided for him, whether purposefully or arbitrarily (it makes you realize how very important every decision you make in your novel is!). As I told Betsy, you can always have a character dye his hair or decide he doesn’t like mashed potatoes anymore. But it’s true that that character has to be born where you decided he was born in the first book — unless, of course, the entire first book was a hallucination or dream (Bobby Ewing, anyone?). Although the novel I’m working on now, In the Red, is a stand-alone, my next book will be a sequel to my first novel, Baby Grand. I’ve started working on it a bit, and already I’m experiencing the things Betsy mentions: Having to check back to the first book to make sure I’m being consistent so that fans of the first book won’t be standing outside my house with pitchforks demanding a public apology or a new edition.
Yes, it can feel confining, but remember that only those starting points have to remain the same (character names, descriptions, etc.). Characters can move, change their minds, denounce their families, find a time machine and do just about anything they want to do. Although some things may be etched in stone, the rest is a wonderfully blank canvas.