What Could Be Difficult about Writing a Murder Mystery Sequel?

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Many thanks to Janet Rudolph at the Mystery Readers Journal for publishing my article on the challenges of writing the sequel to a mystery novel.

I’m now bashing out the second book of The Haight crime series, and I’ve learned two big things: first, writing a sequel is not just writing another book; and second, if you screw up the sequel, you can kiss your series goodbye.

A sequel is a special book. It has to prove to your readers that the first book wasn’t a fluke, and show there’s enough meat in this story that they’re eager to read more.

If you look at all narrative art, how many great sequels are there? It happens sometimes in such film series as The Godfather, The Terminator and Toy Story franchises.  But even in Hollywood, it’s rare that a sequel can live up to the first episode. As for books, it’s easy to name sequels that disappointed, but hard to come up with one that matched, let alone exceeded, the original.

You’ve got to wonder how many series were killed off early because the author could not produce that second book that met the criteria mentioned above.

For me, the most important part of a sequel is to intensify the protagonist’s emotional struggle. The writer has to build on the emotional toil of Book 1 and leave enough slack to allow an escalation in Book 3. Close behind that is the need for the sequel to be a free-standing story, that gets the reader turning pages and then delivers a knock-out conclusion.

In my column for Mystery Readers Journal, I tried to examine the nuts and bolts of writing a sequel. I hope it’s interesting not just for writers, but also for readers who would like to dive a bit deeper into authors’ thought processes and strategies.

Please check out my blog on Mystery Readers Journal, and the posts by other writers. They’re a lot of fun for us lovers of crime fiction.

Peter Moreira