Friday, July 31, 2009

Sequels to Come

The world revolves around the concept of more sequels to come, the coming soon and the series. If something is good, it must be immediately followed up by a sequel whether that sequel is good or not. Sometimes, the sequel becomes something extraordinary -- it steps out of the shadow that was the great first and becomes something more. Most of the time, however, sequels are the watered down version of the first tale.

Make It Bigger

One common theme of the sequel is to make it bigger! Make it have more explosions! More noise! More color! Unfortunately, it doesn't always mean more story or more characterizations. I bring this up because series are the popular thing in modern fiction. If Bram Stoker wrote Dracula today, it would have been followed up by Dracula 2: Harker's Revenge and Dracula 3: Mina's Minions and more sequels to come.

Most publishers are not looking for books that stand on their own. They want something that can become a series. It's not the first story that they are sold on, but the one that has the potential to be three or four or five. They don't want you bouncing all over the genres, either. They want the next Harry Dresden, Anita Blake or even Morganville Vampire. (Sorry I can't imagine ever being J.K. Rowling).

Creating the Sequel

Ideally, in modern fiction writing, you'll have a three or four book series in your head when you submit the first one. Even better, you'll have two to three books on paper. It's not the great American novel that's wanted, it's the great American series.

I understand that, I have my books and I can tell you right now that the sequel to Prime Evil is called Seismos and it's about a third written. I have Hel's Belle and it will have two follow-ups, it's designed to be a trilogy. Remembering Ashby is back story that will find its sequel in The Forgotten. This doesn't take into account any of the short stories.

But will the sequels be lesser because they are sequels? How can you make your sequel be The Dark Knight and not Legally Blonde 2?

Substance and Patience

I think the key is to not force a sequel. Legally Blonde 2 is a cute movie albeit totally ridiculous. The premise of Elle Woods going to Harvard Law was silly in the first place, but you saw Elle really applying herself and she wasn't stupid, so that was at least plausible. The sequel not so much.

The Dark Knight was a very natural evolution to Batman Begins. It was a richer, darker story filled with Batman mythos, pathos and ethos. The more jaded may attribute the success of the second film to the death of Heath Ledger, but Ledger's performance was off the charts fantastic as was the dark tale of the Joker. The sequel worked because the story and the characters were there.

Great sequels are more than just a visitation upon a successful formula and familiar characters; great sequels are powerful stories in their own right. So if a book or a movie cannot stand on its merits, then I don't really want to hold that up as my sequel.

Built in Audience

Ideally, a sequel comes with a built in audience. The people who bought the first will buy the second. People who learn of the second may go ahead pick up the first, so forth and so on. Sequels come with built in sales and can actually help you increase the sales of the first work.

But is the integrity of the work worth a few consumer dollars? Honestly? Only the retail audience can answer that question. As a writer, you can't assume your audience is stupid. They might buy your first sequel if they loved your first book; but I guarantee you that if the sequel sucks, they aren't coming back for book three.

How do you feel about sequels?

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