When I wrote my first published novel, The Dark Lady, I gave no thought to what happens next in the story. I had reached, what seemed to me, to be a satisfactory conclusion. It was only after having several readers asked me when the sequel was coming out, did I give the matter any serious consideration.
One of the many rules of writing is: “Know your character’s backstory” even though you might never use it in your short story or novel. What is their favorite flavor of ice cream? Who were their parents? The idea is, the better you know where they came from, the better you can describe how they would react in a given situation. It adds depth to the tale. I can add another rule you might not be so familiar with. I re-discovered something when I sat down to write the sequel. (Which turned into two volumes, not one.) You must keep detailed notes. I knew this in the back of my mind, and thought I had done a pretty good job of writing down details, names, places, etc., of the characters who would now suddenly re-appear in the sequel. I still had to go back and refer to the original book, correct several errors such as misspelling minor character’s names.
Even if you don’t plan on writing a sequel, keep a separate file where you record all pertinent information about characters and settings. Have you ever changed a character’s eye color halfway through a story? I have. Have you ever changed the spelling of a protagonist’s name in mid-tale? I have. The moral, keep good, clear, easily accessible notes. I do now on every piece I write. This is especially important for those of us who write fantasy tales with exotic sounding character and place names that could potentially be spelled a hundred different ways!
With the sequels to The Dark Lady, I had to plot out what might happen next, keep the threads and theme of the original, and then run with it more or less as a single, longer-running story. I also write a series of fantasy detective novellas, The Housetrap Chronicles. The process there is slightly different. Of course I still need copious notes, but now I have two choices. Do I simply extend the first story, or write separate tales for each novella? I chose to try and write each as a stand-alone that the reader could pick up out of sequence and still follow along. Several of the characters and settings may re-appear, but that is not a problem if you can introduce them in such a manner as to not keep repeating who they are in long boring detail/
Looking back, when I have finished a manuscript for a novel now, I often jot down a few notes as to what might happen next to the characters, assuming they survived. Even just a line on who might get married, who might cause future problems, whether they might wander, will give you a head start if you decide a sequel or follow-up is warranted.
Consistency is the key to extending your story. How you keep track of things is up to you. Do whatever works best for you, whether it is an electronic file, several paper notebooks, or scribbles on napkins.
The last hint I want to leave you with is: Don’t hesitate to sketch out a map or diagram of your mythical land, or enchanted castle. I drew a map for The Dark Lady simply to allow me to keep directions and neighboring countries straight. It later appeared, cleaned up a bit, as a free download on my website along with a character bio I had originally created to help keep me on the straight and narrow. Maps, building plans, and bios can prove invaluable to the writer trying to keep the threads of a story straight.
Good luck with your writing, and most important of all, keep at it!
Medieval-style fantasies: The Housetrap Chronicles:
The Dark Lady Housetrap
Knight’s Bridge Dial M for Mudder
The Queen’s Pawn House on Hollow Hill