Carrie Patel: Five Things I Learned Writing Cities and Thrones

Jakkeb Sato’s revolution transforms the city of Recoletta. He dethrones the old oligarchs, opens up the secret archives, and establishes a new government based on change and transparency.

Months later, Recoletta is in shambles, the farming communes have revolted, and neighboring cities scheme against the crippled behemoth.

Inspector Liesl Malone, now chief of police, must protect her city from black market barons, violent insurgents, and the excesses of Sato’s new government. Meanwhile, Jane Lin has fled to the city of Madina, where she learns of a plot to crush Recoletta. Jane must decide whether—and how—to save her old city from her new home.

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SEQUELS ARE HARD

Writing is a lot like hiking through a snowstorm. You set your eyes on a distant summit and press forward despite pain, toil, and the fussing of your own better judgment. You tell yourself that, once you reach that shining peak, you will find a nice, warm hut with hot chocolate and a place to pee.

When you arrive, you find that you’ve still got a long ways to go and nothing but a windswept crag for relief.

After I finished writing my first book, I thought the second would be easy.

Oops.

It turns out that writing a sequel isn’t easier than writing a first novel. The challenges are just different. The first draft came out cleaner, and I was better able to dodge structural pitfalls without sinking thousands of words.

But even improvements can be mixed blessings. In some ways, I think my growth as a writer slowed my progress. I was more deliberate with my plotting because I was quicker to recognize the ideas and impulses that didn’t work. I was more cautious at the keyboard because I was choosier about the words I was typing. I would break the first rule of drafting—which is to keep the words flowing—when I caught myself writing convoluted or insipid prose.

And we haven’t even gotten to deadlines yet.

KEEP IT FUNKY, KEEP IT FRESH

Yet in some ways, writing a sequel can be relaxing. After all, you’ve already established the world and introduced the characters, so the groundwork is laid. Now you get to play with pieces you already know well.

But this can also be a danger, for familiarity often breeds complacency. You need to keep your second book as fresh and exciting as the first. If it’s not fun to write, it probably won’t be fun to read, either.

In other words, approach the second book as a new race, not as a victory lap.

Take risks with your characters. Push them, prod them, and discover something new about them. Flip the world over and see what’s crawling along the underside. If you can surprise yourself with new twists and developments, chances are good that you’ll surprise your readers, too.

BALANCE

You write your first book with whatever stolen hours you can cobble together from work, sleep, and playtime. You become a miser with your free moments, the Ghost of Shouldn’t-You-Be-Writing always hovering nearby. You write, sometimes because you want to and sometimes because you need to.

Writing the second book is still like that, but there’s a clock ticking in your ear.

And revisions to complete on your first novel.

And this ominous thing called an “online presence” to build.

I thought I would have a handle on this squishy work/life balance thing by book two, but alas, I did not figure all my shit out in the span of a year. In fact, I’m now chuckling at the notion that I actually expected this to happen.

In fact, maybe that’s the real lesson. Keep your expectations real and manageable. Give yourself one thing to do well every day, and enjoy the small successes. You probably won’t figure the rest of your life out by the time you’ve written your second book.

But if you do, maybe drop the rest of us a hint?

SO SHALL YE REAP

Some writers have every scene and detail of their nascent series plotted and diagrammed before the first book is sold. Others make most of it up as they go along, which can be both exhilarating and nerve-racking when we introduce that ticking clock we discussed a moment ago.

I wrote The Buried Life without definitive plans for a sequel, but when the opportunity to begin Cities and Thrones arose, I found that I was ready and the way ahead clearer than I would have thought.

Once again, it’s all about groundwork. If you’ve sown your field well in the first book and seeded it with plenty of juicy world building details, character motivations, and story arcs, then you should find yourself with plenty to work with when you return to that territory for the second book.

Some of the pieces you set in motion in your first book will find their targets in the second. They’ll proceed with satisfying symmetry, landing more or less where you’d hoped.

Others will surprise you. They’ll careen along unexpected trajectories, tumbling farther and faster than you’d imagined. Minor characters will fight for center stage. Brief asides will become central plot points. Be on the lookout for surprises like these because they’ll give your story real momentum if you know how to harness them.

TAKE IT TO ELEVEN

At the end of your first novel, you’ve pulled out all the stops, blown the amps, and gone for broke. You’ve held nothing back, yet you’ve got to find some kind of direction for your sequel.

The only direction, my friends, is up.

There’s always something new and big to show, and even if you ended your last book with some major seismic activity, just remember that the aftershocks can often be bigger and louder.

So trace the consequences of events in the first book and pick up the next crisis or question. Take your writerly perspective and zoom out to show how your last finale changed the world at large. Or pan it left and follow the ripples to a new epicenter that’s set to buckle. Or zoom in, nice and tight, and show us what happens to the characters when the rug’s been pulled out from under them.

There’s plenty of story to tell, even when you’ve already pushed everything to ten. You just have to find eleven.

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Carrie Patel is an author, narrative designer, and expatriate Texan. When she isn’t scribbling her own fiction, she works as a narrative designer for Obsidian Entertainment, where she wrote for Pillars of Eternity. Her work has also appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Cities and Thrones is her second novel.

Carrie Patel: Website | Twitter

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