Writing sequels is difficult. The Marvel Cinematic Universe currently consists of nineteen feature films, four network television weekly TV shows, and eight online streaming shows. Writing sequels to a genre-stretching side story that exists in a massive universe beloved by fans must be near impossible.

Writing Sequels: 5 Sequel-Writing Secrets From Jessica Jones

This weekend Jessica Jones season two dropped on Netflix. Whether you enjoy the show or not, there is a lot it can teach us about storytelling.

Jessica Jones‘s 5 Sequel Secrets

In April, book four in my current series of novels will be published. As I work on plotting book five, I’m struggling to keep my characters fresh, plot lines intriguing, and my characters evolving.

Which is why, when I watched season two of Jessica Jones, I was surprised at how well they did these things and encouraged that it is possible to tell an engaging and new story in a full packed universe of characters.

There are five things about writing sequels I think the Jessica Jones storytellers did really well. (Don’t worry; there are no spoilers ahead!)

1. Characters

Even if characters are established, they can still evolve.

The writers of Jessica Jones were in an interesting predicament: the characters of the series were already well explored. Fans have lived with Jessica now through a full season of her own show and a season of the show Defenders.

Her character seemed pretty set in stone. She drinks hard, distracts herself with from her pain with sex, avoids personal relationships, and struggles with the implications of her having super powers. Before season two, it was difficult to see where they would take this character.

Without giving anything away, the writers didn’t just evolve the main character; they evolved all the supporting cast as well.

Character evolution is critical to telling a good story. We have to remember that if our character is the same at the beginning of the story as they were at the end, then nothing actually happened. At a minimum, the characters need to learn something about the world and how they function in it.

Storytelling is taking a journey with a character. We must make sure we actually take our readers somewhere and don’t just walk in circles.

2. Cliffhangers

Ending scenes on cliffhangers will ensure readers keep moving through the book.

At the end of each episode of the second season of Jessica Jones, there is a cliffhanger that drives viewers to continue watching. Those cliffhangers are what caused me to binge the entire season in a weekend. I kept telling myself I was only going to watch one more, but then the final five minutes forced me to tune back in.

It’s important as writers for us to keep in mind that our stories are made up of smaller scenes. If we can end each scene with a cliffhanger, we will keep readers engaged in our books. They will continue reading all the way to the last page.

3. Villains

Good villains will make a story stand out.

Killgrave, the villain of Jessica Jones’ first season played by David Tennant, was pretty amazing. He was everything a supervillain needed to be. I was nervous when the Marvel team announced season two of Jones, uncertain they could match David Tennant’s monster.

Without giving any spoilers, I’m happy to say they did a wonderful job.

Without the Joker’s insanity to deal with, Batman seems absolutely crazy and over the top.

Every hero needs a great villain who is relatable, understandable, and has the ability to beat the hero.

4. Theme

A relatable theme will make even supernatural plots feel real.

Season two of Jessica Jones centers on “family drama.” Throughout the series, we learn the ins-and-outs of every character’s family history. Even though the characters evolve in very different ways and have different story arcs, this central theme holds the narrative together.

This is important for us to remember as writers. A central theme our characters struggle with can work like glue in a story, holding together separate story arcs that otherwise only vaguely touch.

5. Joy

Always end in joy.

This is something my preach teacher in seminary used to say. He believed that if you want people to come back to hear your next sermon, you better end in joy. When people leave feeling heavy, they will be less likely to return.

Jessica Jones season two does this well. Even though the series is dark and the main character is a hard-drinking tortured private eye who dislikes people, the season manages to end on a high note, which leaves viewers with a positive feeling about coming back for the next round.

This is true of all storytelling. If at the end of the story, the reader feels like she has been punched in the face, then she will likely not return for the next installment.

It’s important as authors that we give our readers resolution. That doesn’t mean our stories can’t end with unanswered questions. But it does mean that there needs to be some sense of finality to this installment of the story we are telling.

From Jessica Jones to Your Page

As I rework the plot of the novel I’m currently working on, I’m trying to keep these five things I saw in Jessica Jones in mind. I think my story will be better for it. I hope these tips help your writing as well.

Have you seen the series? Without giving away any spoilers, what did you like or not like about its storytelling? Tell us in the comments.

PRACTICE

For today’s writing practice, practice writing “sequels.” Pick an existing universe you love: maybe it’s the world of Pride and Prejudice or the Batman universe. Then, spend fifteen minutes writing about a character in that existing universe. See if in your story you can apply some of the five things we’ve mentioned above.

When you’re done, share your story in the comments for everyone to read. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins
Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."