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February 14, 2012

Daisy Whitney on Writing a Sequel

Posted by Katherine
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Daisy Whitney is a new-media producer, a reporter, an internationally known web show creator, and author of THE MOCKINGBIRDS and its sequel, THE RIVALS. She lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband, kids, and adorable dog. Daisy believes in shoes, chocolate chip cookies, and karma. 

 

Writing a sequel is super easy.

(Snort. Snort.)

But at first blush it seems like it would be, right?

You know the characters, you know the setting, you just keep going. Put your foot on the gas and take the next turn in the road, and voila --- instant novel.

But I learned very quickly when writing THE RIVALS, the sequel to THE MOCKINGBIRDS, that penning a book two in a series is no trounce through the spring woods. Because what’s most important to any story, in my view, is the character’s emotional growth. I’d already put my main character, Alex Patrick, through the wringer in THE MOCKINGBIRDS. She started that novel the morning after she’d been date raped and went on to summon the guts to not just speak up against her assailant but also to trust a boy again. She’d come out on the other side, in many ways, so all I had to do in a second book was just keep going, right?

 After all, Alex was tapped to be head of the Mockingbirds at the end of the first book so the recipe was clear --- have her lead in book two! Piece of cake! I had it all figured out, and guiding her through her first case investigating a prescription drug cheating ring at her boarding school would be a cinch.

Until, of course, I started writing THE RIVALS. The trouble was, in the first few drafts Alex was this entirely new person. Okay, she still played piano like a prodigy, she still went out with Martin, and she still had a dry sense of humor. But she didn’t come across like a rape survivor. She seemed just like any other girl leading a group of vigilante students bent on delivering truth, justice and the Themis Way.

As it turns out, writing a sequel isn’t as simple as turn right at the light, go up the hill, and you’re there. Rather, a sequel is about plumbing a whole new depth of emotions from your characters. And in those early drafts as Alex was uncovering clues about the tawdry underbelly of cheating at Themis Academy, she wasn’t reacting as someone who’d recently been through a rough year.

It wasn’t until I finally let Alex bea survivor and let her be affected by the circumstances of the year before that I was really able to help her realize a whole new level of emotional growth in THE RIVALS. Her past --- what happened to her in THE MOCKINGBIRDS --- is now an indelible part of who she is. She is a survivor and she isa fighter and she is a public figure, and everything she’s been through understandably affects small and big decisions, such as when and where she chooses to kiss Martin and if she is ready to have sex with him. Nor can she hang signs on campus for the Mockingbirds without being aware that she is, yet again, in the public eye. And she can’t walk around the Themis campus like she used to, unnoticed and unseen. She can’t walk into a classroom now without everyone knowing her sexual history.

She is now the girl who was date raped. And she is also the girl who spoke up.

It wasn’t until I actually let Alex feel those changes and make a choice about whether she is going to own her past or be owned by it, that I was really able to write what I hope is a meaningful sequel.

One that looks to the reader as if it was, in fact, super easy to write. 

 

Follow Whitney's writing blog and new-media adventures at DaisyWhitney.com.