Welcome to March of the Sequels, P. L.! Please tell us something about your series.
My current series is The Drowned Kingdom Saga. It is a seven-book series that I would consider epic, high, dark fantasy. The series chronicles flawed and bigoted Prince Othrun’s journey towards change, and his rise to power in a new world after the downfall of his homeland, which is based on Plato’s lost realm of Atlantis. The first book in the series was called A Drowned Kingdom. In the first book, the reader is introduced to Othrun, his upbringing, his religious beliefs, his familial conflicts, and learns about what his kingdom, called Atalantyx, was like. Then, after Othrun manages to escape the fall of Atalantyx, and journeys to a new continent, we learn of Othrun’s initial adventures there, as he tries to save the last remnants of his people, and establish a foothold in the new land. As Othrun is tempted by pagan magic, in conflict with his monothestic beliefs, and forges alliances with pagan lords, he must also face intrigue, deception, and battle. At the end of A Drowned Kingdom, Othrun’s new overlord has his kingdom usurped, and Othrun comes up with a bold scheme to get that kingdom back. The second book in the series, entitled The Last of the Atalanteans, picks up immediately where A Drowned Kingdom left off. This new book features an unfaithful queen, a stolen throne, a painted mage, three lords in disguise, an ancient flag, and more. All will burn to ashes unless Othrun goes to war. So, the ancient war-banner of Atalantean kings will fly. One last time.
Is it easier to further develop characters you’ve already written in book one?
I find it so much easier to develop characters that I have previously written. You have more time, more space, to explore who and what they are. The constraints of publishing, especially self-publishing (largely due to print costs), mean that you can usually only write so much in one book, to try and fit everything in, including all your major plot threads, big action sequences, big reveals, etc. Characters are like real people, and they grow and develop, but of course that takes time, and does not happen overnight, in one book typically, especially in a long series like mine.
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?
I find adding new characters to be fairly smooth for me. Those characters, their arcs, how they play a larger role, what the nature of their relationship to existing characters, is already predestined, and plotted out in advance. What makes it easier for me, I think, is that I have lots of characters that are introduced in early parts of one book (or just merely mentioned and touched upon), or earlier books, that do not play as prominent a role in one book, but emerge as very important in other books. It happens in real life. Someone you meet today may not become relevant in your life for years. One day they become your good friend, your boss, even your spouse, but today they are just someone you know on the periphery, perhaps. You may have gone to school with them, but you end up being colleagues later. I like to keep those characters still on the edge of my readers’ awareness, so that when they become more prominent it’s not too jarring, but still a bit of a surprise, since they were “lurking in the weeds” the whole time.
Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world you have already built in book 1? Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with worldbuilding?
My world is so large, so expansive, with so many realms and lands that the reader will not even see until subsequent books, I don’t find it difficult at all to continue with wordbuilding. However, much of the first part of book one, A Drowned Kingdom, focused on Atalantyx (with a glimpse as well of the Kingdom of Norsoon), showing the readers what it looked like, what the society was like, etc. I took great pains to do that. Then I promptly wiped Atalantyx out. Then I brought the reader to Acremia, specifically the Kingdom of Nyrimia. Most of the second and third part of A Drowned Kingdom was spent there. It is true that I do switch locations in book two, The Last of the Atalanteans, which is predominantly set in the Kingdom of Lynchun. But that kingdom is part of a larger region, and continent, and throughout the series the reader will get to visit many more kingdoms of that region and continent. Yet, by design, each book mostly focuses on exploration of one or two more new kingdoms at a time. This allows for slow, progressive worldbuilding, so that over time the reader has been all over the place, but not at breakneck speed. It permits the reader to absorb the details of one land, its customs, quirks, etc. per book, so that by the end of the series, many kingdoms have been visited, but each book has its own special setting. So it may seem like worldbuilding is started all over again, in a way, as you allude to in your question, but I hope it all seems cohesive, to the reader. Like the feeling of spending a month in Canada, then travelling and staying in the U.S. for another month. Very different places, but all part of the same continent, the same world.
Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way around in subsequent books?
Oddly enough, no! But I think that’s because I plan my books in advance, to such detail. I don’t think it’s an enviable position to have to adjust a plot that you love in the second book because you wrote your way into a corner over some detail in book one. So I try to avoid that scenario, as much as possible. We’ll see if it happens to me in writing future books, but can’t say it occurred between writing A Drowned Kingdom and The Last of the Atalanteans.
Did you notice your craft improving from book 1 to subsequent books in a series, and if so, how?
I think, like most writers, your craft evolves, and is most noticeable (I see this among other writers as well comparing their first book to their second) when it comes to exposition. I think as you grow as a writer, your exposition is woven more organically throughout the story, rather than larger chunks. A lot of readers prefer this method of conveying information, but I think it takes practice and is much more of an art that gets better with more writing, and harder than people think for the writer to accomplish. But I personally see this aspect of my writing improving, yet ultimately it’s up to the reader to judge, from a subjective standpoint, whether or not a writer has gotten better, one book to the next.
Do you plan out the entire series at once or one book at a time?
My series are planned out completely in advance, down to almost the last detail. So all seven books in The Drowned Kingdom Saga are already long planned out, including plot, subplots, characters to be introduced, book titles, book cover, basically everything. I am a real plotter, and fairly organized when it comes to planning out books. My future series, two separate trilogies, and another seven-book series. There is always some degree of latitude, for a less important character to gain more agency, and play a more prominent role in the story, but for the most part, everything is written in stone. I don’t want to be completely inflexible, or open to some new idea coming into my head that I can’t resist, but I don’t like to stray too far from my plans.
Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing?
It’s quite hard for me to make this particular sequel – The Last of the Atalanteans – read like a standalone, but I am certainly attempting to do so. Part of that means weaving enough of the previous book, what happened, where all the characters are, who is who, without overwhelming the reader with details about that first book, to the point where they are taken out of the plot of the second book. Because the first book ended on somewhat of a cliffhanger, and book two takes up right where the first book left off, it definitely feels, I think, like a continuation of book one. Still, I think The Last of the Atalanteans has a different flavour from A Drowned Kingdom, in that the pacing is very different, the action sequences are more frequent, and I believe more spread out, and there is not the same amount of backstory that came with A Drowned Kingdom. Of course, ideally readers will love and enjoy the entire series, because I think each book is very different, and has a lot to offer on their own, but I believe The Drowned Kingdom Saga is meant to be read in totality, as Othrun’s journey becomes more intense, more fraught with magic, conflict, danger, and he grows and hopefully matures and evolves as a person and as a leader.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
If your first book was well-received, I think marketing the second book on the heels of a popular first book can only make things easier. That said, I think there is a delicate balance to that symbiotic relationship of a first entry and a second book needing each other. You want to push your second book to be just as good, if not better, because you should be improving your craft as a writer. Your first book obviously sells your second book, and vice versa. Because if for some reason someone decides to read the second book in your series first, the hope and thought process is that, if they like it, they will go back at some point and read your opener. So this ties back to the earlier question about making sequels readable as a standalone, to a certain degree. There is typically a fair amount of linkage between books in a series, and call-backs, which I am big on. Everything in my books are tied together, and plot details in one book are relevant in future books. That said, the reader needs to be able to enjoy each book for its own merits, because each book is unique. So I believe one needs to keep marketing individual books in a series separately, and also marketing the series all together, continually, as the series progresses. Someone may love one or five books in my series but not enjoy two. That’s just fine! I don’t want them not to love and recommend those five books. And perhaps, even though they only love five books out of seven, someone will see how much they enjoyed those five books, and buy the whole series, not just the five individual books. So I would say, keep marketing your first book individually, and as part of the series, and do the same with your sequels, to maximize exposure. And beyond that, the best way to market a series is keep writing your next book in the series, which will in turn sell the other books.
About the Author
Hi everyone! I’m P. L. Stuart! Nice to meet you! I’m a Canadian high fantasy author, of Ghanaian and Barbadian descent. I live in Chatham, Ontario, with my wife Debbie. “A Drowned Kingdom” is the first novel in “The Drowned Kingdom Saga.”
I’m an experienced writer, in that I’ve been writing stories all my life, yet never thought to publish them. I’ve written informally – short stories – to entertain friends and family, for community newspapers, volunteer organization magazines, and of course formal papers for University. Now, later in life, I’ve published what I believe is a great fantasy novel, and definitely worth reading, called “A Drowned Kingdom”.
My target audience is those who enjoy “high fantasy”. “A Drowned Kingdom” is not “dark fantasy”. It’s written in a more idealized and grandiose style that I hope isn’t too preachy, and not too grim.Still, I’m hoping my book has appeal to those who don’t typically read this type of work – those who don’t read fantasy of any kind – because of the “every-person” themes permeating the novel: dysfunctional familial relationships, extramarital temptation, racism, misogyny, catastrophic loss, religion, crisis of faith, elitism, self-confidence, PTSD, and more.
Many of these themes I have either personal experience with, or have friends or family who have dealt with such issues. I’ve had a long professional law enforcement career, undergone traumatic events, yet been buoyed by family, faith, and positivity. I’m a racialized middle-aged man. I’ve seen a lot of life.
Ultimately I want the planned series, of which “A Drowned Kingdom” will be the introduction, to be one of hope, and overcoming obstacles to succeed, which I believe is my story as well.
My protagonist, Othrun, will undergo a journey where he’ll evolve, change, and shape a continent. He’s not always likeable. He’s a snob, bigot, is vain, yet struggles with confidence. He’s patriarchal. Overall, he’s flawed. But even ordinary flawed people can change. We’re all redeemable. Ordinary people can make a difference, not just fictional Princes. I want that message to shine through my work.
I love to engage with readers and the Writing Community! Feel free to message me here on Goodreads if you wish to ask any questions about my writing, or to simply chat fantasy!
Find P. L. Stuart here: