One of the first things you need to do is decide when your sequel is taking place. Are you setting it immediately after the first book or there is a gap between the two stories? There is the third option of slight overlap between the two stories but it turns out that’s harder than I thought to pull off.
Overlapping is fine as long as the timeline in both stories lines up believably. The last couple chapters of my book Catalyst take place at the same time as the first two chapters of Beacon, Catalyst‘s sequel. I was fine with the timeline I established but when I got Beacon back from my test audience “I don’t think enough time passed for this to happen” appeared in a number of places. Dang.
Thriller not Filler
Now I have the difficult task of adding to the story without if reading like filler. I need real substance and action for my chapter one character – it’s Lynn by the way. This will be easy for some parts where I just expand on the action that is already there but it will more difficult in other places where there isn’t really anything she needs to be doing or anyone to cause her trouble. For the timelines to match here I just need her to do nothing for a while but reading about that will be boring and boring my audience is a capital offence. Especially for chapter one. I’ll figure out something but I skipped chapter one rewrites for now to tackle other issues.
How to Avoid Timeline Questions With Overlap
This is a problem that is easily solvable as long as you aren’t me. I don’t have a good concept of distances. I don’t measure things but miles or kilometres I measure things by how long it takes to get there. I don’t know how far my parents house is from mine but I know it takes four and a half hours to get there.
So in Catalyst when it came down to defining how long it took Mac and Lynn to travel from Earth to Ronos or where the front line was in relation to these two planets I was deliberately vague. I have no idea how long it would take to travel between planets and now it’s coming back to bite me in the butt. Because I didn’t say things like it “takes a week to get to Ronos from Earth” my test audience fills in the blanks. The trouble is what they filled the blanks with aren’t what I filled the blanks with and they don’t believe the timelines add up.
Now I have to add a time frame to the beginning of Beacon so that you don’t get taken out of the story trying to figure out where all the settings are in relation to each other and what the travel times are.
All this could be easily solved by not being a lazy writer. Don’t be vague when the audience is expecting something specific. This gets more difficult when you add multiple story lines. From now on I am writing a time line of events for my own reference.