The Cheese Stands Alone

Published July 6, 2013 by rochellewisoff

How does one make a story stand alone? This is the question I’ve had to ask myself in writing a sequel to my first novel, PLEASE SAY KADDISH FOR ME. 

While I’m intimate with my characters, having spent the better part of the last nine years developing their personalities and learning their responses to situations, they won’t be familiar to someone reading only the second novel, FROM SILT AND ASHES, unless I reintroduce them. At the same time it would be tedious, particularly for someone following the series, to regurgitate parts of the first novel. There’s my dilemma. How do I introduce Havah, Arel, Ulrich and Nikolai for the second go-around without boring repetition? 

A few years back as I began the sequel, I thought about doing what another writer did with his sequel, which was to give a timeline in the beginning of the book chronicling what happened in his first novel. Now, however, I find the idea cheesy and unimaginative, among other uncomplimentary adjectives. 

Of course I can’t tell Havah’s story of her life in America, without recalling some of her past in Eastern Europe from the first novel, which culminated with her near-death in the Kishinev pogrom in 1903. The same goes for her husband, Arel, and other key people in her life. So the task set before me is to retell parts of the first novel in a fresh way and to discover new stories and people along the way, then to move forward with a different plot. 

My paternal grandmother, Miriam Reuben Wisoff

My paternal grandmother, Miriam Reuben Wisoff

Food for thought:

Does the sequel tell a fresh new story?

If not, it is simply a fragment in space that has to be linked to the former to understand the present.


30 comments on “The Cheese Stands Alone

    • Dear Valerie,

      My grandmother was about nineteen when that picture was taken. My dad thought I looked like her, although I’m not sure I agree. She was a published poet.

      In any case, I did know her but by that time she was gray-haired, overweight and acerbically opinionated. She never forgave my mother for stealing her son. Although I was in my teens before I knew these things.

      In my childhood she was my best friend and earliest pen pal as she lived in upstate New York, far from Kansas City, Missouri. She encouraged me to write and even got a poem I wrote when I was nine or ten published in a magazine. That was my first experience with any kind of editing. I was horrified to read “my poem” after she finished with it.

      She lived well into her 90’s and was one of the first people I called from the hospital to tell her of my oldest son’s birth…her first great-grandchild.

      Who knows? Maybe one day she’ll be the main character of a story.




  • Hi Rochelle, I would think that the sequel to be successful it must stand alone. I understand your issue with rehashing character from the first novel but I would think some significant fact – be it setting, costume, character trait – in relation to main characters would be sufficient. If you tantalise the first time readers they will go out and read the first novel.
    That might give you a double bonus. Good luck with it all.


    • Dear Summerstommy,

      I really meant for my “dilemma” to be read in the rhetorical sense. It’s one that I’ve been working on for the past seven years as I’ve bounced back and forth from the first to the second and back to the first in my learning process.

      Hoping to have my edits complete soon.




  • Dear Rochelle,

    For some insight into how to handle your challenge, read Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

    Or do the following…

    Imagine your novels as three faces of a snow covered massif high in the Alps. The Italians in your first novel will call it Monte Cervino and have learned all they know about it, lore, legend and fact from a southern perspective. The French in your second novel will call it Mont Cervin and experience it from a western remove, while the Germans and Swiss from your third novel will know it intimately from the north as the Matterhorn. It is the same mountain with an infinite number of stories, like braided streams whose continuity and flow you control. Use new points of view, the passage of time, or the vicissitudes of fate to tell the continuing sage of your characters.

    Your novels will stand alone, majestic and compelling, and people will flock to them.

    And if nothing else, remember that, “Blessed are the Cheesemakers…”




    • Dear Doug,

      Thanks for the stellar suggestions, encouragement and insight.

      Basically I’m sharing my thoughts as the second novel, working title, FROM SILT AND ASHES, is shaping up as a stand alone story.




  • Maybe re-introducing your characters with some subtle transitions, flashbacks or a bit of backstory is a possibility without the reader having to ‘regurgitate’ or chew again on bits of the first novel.🙂 How are things going on the first one with editing, publishing?


    • Dear Joyce,

      Actually I’ve done all of the above with the sequel and am pretty happy with it. I need to finish editing the fourth part of it so I can send it to my agent. As for the first one, the editing is done until a publisher snaps it up and tells me I’m not.😉




  • I think there are too many readers who may read the second then first to try any ‘lead-ins”. An ‘interesting’ conundrum. While reading what you wrote I immediately thought a blog page or two as reference might help..


    • I’m one of those people that can, if necessary, read a sequel quite happily without having read the first novel. This is borne out of a limited village library with a large membership! Sometimes, I just couldn’t wait (as an impatient teenager) for the first book to be returned by its borrower. So, I don’t think you necessarily need to go down the ‘cheese’ route. But that’s just my take. Good sequels tend to stand on their own two feet🙂


      • Dear Freya,

        I’m pretty confident that my second novel tells its own story without going into a lot of detail from the first.

        I wrote the article to share some of my thought processes.

        Thanks for commenting,




    • Kindred, that’s a really good idea…When I did the sci fi series (32 volumes) I did a prologue that would very briefly remind the reader of the previous events…even giving the last scene at times because it seemed necessary to take the reader to the cliff where I left them.


      • Dear Scott and Buffy,

        Thank you both for weighing in on this. I’ve pretty much ironed out the wrinkles in these issues over the past seven years, at least to my own satisfaction. I’ve found that by the use of flashbacks and telling the characters’ backgrounds in different ways seem to work. No need to rehash the first book. Instead I’ve discovered new facets of their personalities and different perspectives of same events.




  • There are plenty of good ways to acquaint new readers with former characters and happenings, but I appreciate your point that the sequel, be it a novel, short story or flash fiction, needs to stand on its own and be both comprehensible and enjoyable even if you have never read or never do read the one or ones prior to it. Whatever information the author deems important can be brought in as needed.

    Good food for writing thought, Rochelle.



    • Dear Janet

      Thank you for your perceptive comment. I guess I wasn’t clear with my purpose for writing this article. I really feel that the second novel is shaping up nicely as far as being a stand alone. Just sharing thoughts.




  • I think any sequel stands alone to a great extent because it is a work integral to itself – if that makes any sense. Whatever is necessary to clarify plot, character and the like, in relation to the previous book, tends to sew in naturally, so nothing gets clumsy. For me, it’s a matter of trusting my intuition first – and then doing one heck of a substantive edit process as drafts reshape themselves, as you reshape them and make choices. What might seem clumsy at first can end up being beautifully and finely shaped. Not that I’m an expert, having only partially written a sequel to my e-book Kronos Duet. The initial book demanded a sequel. So I’m going through exactly the process I’ve just described.
    It sounds as if your book(s) are sure to be full of enticing detail and authenticity – and totally engaging. Do you have the first out as an e-book? Or can I find it in hard copy? Love to see it.


    • Dear A. H.

      Truth be told, I’ve been working on the sequel for almost as long as the first book and feel that it’s a stand alone novel. This article was meant merely to share my thoughts as I work through the process. I’m hoping to be finished with the edits soon and send off the manuscript to my agent, Jeanie Loiacono.

      Alas my first book isn’t available yet in any form other than the manuscript in Jeanie’s hands and the other on my computer.

      I do have a book of short stories available in hard copy or on Kindle through Amazon. The title is “THIS, THAT AND SOMETIMES THE OTHER”. There are a couple of stories in the book that were taken from the novel in the editing. The book’s eclectic and, for the most part, the stories don’t relate to each other. The publisher offered me a contract to write it. It was an offer I could not refuse.

      Hopefully it won’t be long before the novel will be out

      Thanks for commenting.




  • What a conundrum! I’ve been noodling through the same problem as I’ve begun drafting notes for a sequel novel as well. I’ve read in the past that tasks like editing are inherently more painful than writing something through the first time because the sky’s wide open the first time around. You can literally go anywhere with your story when you’re first creating it. But when you edit, you have to work within the constraints of the beginning and ending that already exist. You can change things, but it takes a lot more work because you have to keep things consistent.

    I think the same’s true of sequels, for the most part. And re-introductions are such a headache! I saw in the comments that you’ve gotten your strategy ironed out. Just curious, what did you end up doing? Did you incorporate flashbacks, or did you use small recap details and asides, etc?


    • Dear RCK,

      In answer to your questions, yes, I’ve used some flashback and memories in the characters’ thought lives or in dialogue. I also discovered new facets of their personalities and tried not to dwell too much on the first novel. After all, in the first novel it was necessary to create a history without the benefit of a prequel. Other comments, both mine and some of the others, on this page might be helpful to you.




  • Rochelle, I understand your dilemma. I’m facing writing a third novel in a new romance series focused around Hope Ranch. When I began the series, I wasn’t thinking of a series, but then, everyone that read that first book wanted “more!” so I buckled and wrote book two. I kept several of the characters from book one, and they served important (not staring) roles in the second. Like you, I ran into the problem of how much backstory to tell about the characters.
    What I’ve done is that here and there, when it seemed appropriate, I reminded the reader about and ‘incident’ or ‘personality trait’ from the previous book. I did this in a short sentence, usually having the character ‘remember’ a certain thing.
    In your case, I think it might work two-fold to give the briefest of reminders thus piquing the readers interest in going back to read book one. Besides, if you’re open on the book jacket that this is a second story that began in book one, it should serve to let the reader know that there’s more to the story. At the same time, even series books that truly stand alone, are still connected. I wish for you all the success!


  • From reading Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Dancers at the End of Time’ I have recently learned that a character’s background story can be alluded to in a paragraph, a sentence, or even as little as three words.


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