The Problem With Sequels?

Now, I guess I don’t talk about sequels much in the literary sense, which is rather odd, since I write a lot of ‘serieses’ – probably more than I do stand-alones. For some writers – and many readers, perhaps – sequels sound like the given, an automatic. However, let’s think: some people have to make a conscious decision whether their story needs a follow-up or not (three is the magic number…apparently); I know I needed to for WTCB, even when the idea had been niggling for a while.

Sequels, of course and like any fiction, have their problems, and, one could argue, more weight lies on them because of reader expectation, author expectation against character wiliness, and ‘freshness’. I don’t, personally, think about this – I write because I write, so I hadn’t given it much thought. But, the following from author Diantha Jones got me thinking about the point and use of sequels again.

Do you agree with her sentiment and frustrations? I don’t. My argument comes from the use of “tie up the loose ends” and “cleaning up messes”, as if a sequel is another act of book one, instead of a three-act tragedy in itself. I don’t believe that the point of a sequel is to close what has been opened in the previous book. Each book should have its own story, its own mini plot-line to an overarching theme and progression.

Of course, you do want to hint at bits of the following books in the first and you do want to link back to the first in the following books, but, by no means, limit yourself to a plot that floods all of a series. Different locations are encouraged by readers, as our new adversaries as well as the familiar. Actually, I find it easier to close book one with a sweep, with a certainty, or at least a question mark, and open book two with something different. Now, I don’t think cliffhangers have anything wrong with them, but, surprisingly, the majority of readers actually prefer said loose ends to be tidied up by the close of book one.

Sometimes writers have to do this (for the fact that they may not get a contract for more books), but, more freely choosing so, a closed end can fulfil a reader’s expectations and leave them ‘buzzing’ – happy ending or not. Oh, don’t get mistaken that a closed end means a happy/sorted one. I’ve read a good number of fulfilling books where the protagonist’s fate didn’t look good. Whether they were left open in a dangerous situation or most certainly with many of their family and friends dead (or insert genre-relevant disaster).

Don’t ever feel that you owe book one any more screen time than book two (or three or four); sequels can open up old wounds, dig along the ones already formed or slice new ones into our protagonists. For instance:

In WTCB‘s first sequel, the Supporting Character becomes the protagonist and finds herself travelling through time to the pockets of non-existence between the streams. It has the same themes of love, time-travel and the class system as WTCB and similar terminology and voice, but a whole cast of new characters, a new goal and a new conflict. WTCB wouldn’t suit the ‘tying up’ of loose ends in DMWT. For one point, I found it appropriate to link the string ends around in a circle when I wrote. Seeing as I leave it on a low-note there, I do continue the ideas in the plot to the last of the trilogy, but I add in a new antagonist to shake up the MC and her SC.

In A Tale of Moscow Mysteries, the only link to the previous book (apart from the protagonist, her mindset and the theme of solving mysteries, you know) is the SC and the way she “summons” the MC to Moscow to help her. A whole new mystery lies in wait, not some extension of the past one.

The problem with sequels? Two many ideas to fit into one book, and too many links to weave together! Sequels are so much fun, because of the cast and settings one reinvents here, but they can be hectic!

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