Why sequels rarely impress, and how yours can make the cut…
I’m back! For anyone who hasn’t visited in a while, my site obviously looks different; it looks like a website doesn’t it? Well, needless to say, I have been quite busy with many things, including my website. That’s my excuse for not posting, no matter how terrible of an excuse it is.
It’s common knowledge that many sequels don’t compare to the original, and this applies both to books and movies. (Since I’m a writer, of course, I’m going to talk about books, but this applies to movies as well). Sequels are interesting and sometimes worth the read, but many times, readers find themselves looking for more stopping points along the way. The only thing really driving them forward is the desire to find out what happens to the character(s) more than the love for the plot and book, itself.
The reason most sequels reach this point isn’t because the writing is bad, nor is it because it didn’t need a sequel. The reason sequels fail or lose an audience is because they are, simply, extensions of the original. An audience wants something new; something different, and another book about the same adventure with the same characters, the same setting, and the same problem… the question arises: “Why couldn’t they just win in the first book?”
Yes, everyone loves sequels. I love sequels (LOVE sequels). This is because everyone can re-enter the world they just learned about and interact with the characters they just met. You may think this contradicts what I stated to be the problem, but this isn’t so. This is what makes a reader want to trash bookshelves for the sequel (Figure of speech; don’t really do that. Love your bookstores.), but what encourages them to continue are several different things that you may want to consider.
DISCLAIMER: I am in no way a genius or know-it-all who you should listen to by hanging on every word. These are my observations as well as my notes found in my research. Take my advice as you wish, but do not take it as a law; seriously.
Why Write a Sequel?
The question isn’t, “Why should someone write a sequel?” The question is, “Why should YOU write a sequel?”
Most people who fall in love with their worlds want to continue them, and some people write a sequel because they couldn’t fit all their words in a reasonable word-count-range. Yes, these reasons are valid, but that’s not what should make you jump across the room to your writing table to recluse for another seven months as you write out your next novel.
Consider the plot.
- What happens in the sequel?
- What problem arises?
- What new characters will you introduce (if any)?
- How will the sequel end?
You know, normal plot stuff. That’s obviously not all you should consider, but that’s a start. Now, you think you have a plot. That’s not why you should write a sequel. This next question is what may stump some of you. Ready?
How Is It Different From the First One?
Simple question, I know, but how does it compare? You have a plot, characters, an idea for a possible problem, and probably the ending. But think about it. How many sequels have you enjoyed as much, or almost as much, as the first installment? Your sequel has to have something different. One thing that caught your readers the first time won’t have the same effect in Book 2. Why? Because they know it already. Yes, they love it, but the purpose of picking up another book is to learn something new.
Think of what caught their interest the first time:
- character growth/decline
- fantastical approach
- major plot twist
- aesthetic value
- unique world
This list can go on, but there will always be one, unique thing in every book that hooks a reader and fills their eyes and mind with that paper-flipping frenzy. Your job is to trigger that ink-shark in them, and it’s not easy to do in a sequel, but then again, was it easy in the first?
How Do You Make It Unique?
When you consider books like Harry Potter, the idea of a sequel quickly grows the level of excitement. Harry Potter had a similar plot throughout (go to school, get in trouble, fight an enemy), and my version of its plot doesn’t do it justice, at all. However, the plot, itself, isn’t what caught a reader’s attention; well, it wasn’t the only thing, anyway. Every installment had new things for us to discover: rooms, magic, secrets, people, games, and many other pieces in the hidden world of magic that made us flip pages so fast we had to lick our fingers because they dried out.
That’s what makes something interesting: new things. In your sequel, it’s not enough to have the same characters everyone loves. We’ll read the book again if we have to, but if you give us the same idea, what are we going to do with it? Learn from it?
You don’t have to kill off one of the main characters, though I’m not condemning it, but you do need something unique. There are several things that encourage people to write a book, and those same things can help you write the second.
If your character helped create your first book, let him or her or it create your second. What made your first one unique? What did your character do? Why did your character drive the book forward? How? When you find that reason, enhance it. What would be different in the second book? If the character met a love interest in book one, maybe book two introduces a secret with that person, a problem, or a separation.
Is your character a different species, and that’s what makes them unique? In book two, introduce something new. They’re a new species; are there other species this character has yet to discover? Secret powers that they have yet to discover? Hunters?
Maybe, your character learned something or grew from an experience. Well, maybe that experience haunts them now, comes back to get ’em with a big switch, makes life harder… something. You’ll need to introduce a new problem that either halts their growth, turns it around, or enforces a new growth, which means to introduce new, unique obstacles to overcome.
There are tons of things to consider, and I obviously can’t touch every aspect of a character’s enhancing possibilities. Hopefully, though, that introduced a few ideas that can give you somewhere to start.
If you built a world (like me), you obviously know what makes your book special. DUH. The world. If it’s set in a non-fictional era, your audience will more than likely be seeking your book for its history, so this won’t apply to you.
Your world is awesome, and your readers will know that in book one. In book two, however, your world can’t just be awesome. It has to be incredible; different. Now, you have to step up your game. Unlock new things in your world that we didn’t get to see or learn about in book one. Yes, this may mean you have to save pieces of book one for debut in book two. It hurts because your world is so dang exciting, but trust me. You can’t spill your guts about the world and expect your reader to be equally excited when that’s all to know. We live in a world where “new” is necessary and “more” is great. Don’t expect your world to constantly impress, because eventually, even the most impressive things lose intrigue.
Honestly, plots are hard to make unique, really, but if you somehow manage to create a plot that stretches a reader’s skin because they can’t believe what’s happening, I want to know your secrets. Yes, there are certain twists to a plot, but every plot, in some way, has been used.
Love story plot; Fight an enemy plot; Overcome an obstacle plot; Solve a mystery plot… you get it.
So, if you have a unique plot, you need to enhance it. Make it affect your character in a different way. If your take on the plot made it interesting, such as a love story with a five-person, love-pentagon (redundant, but you get the point), maybe one of those people happened to be stalker-crazy, or one of them got your main character drugged up and married him/her in Vegas. You know, something that re-introduces that plot in a way that brings forward a new problem. I have no idea if that made sense; words flew from my fingers slower than my thoughts zipped in my head.
End With A Bang?
There are probably a couple more things that make a story different, and I will gladly add them if you ask about it, but those are the basic things that drive a story on and keep a reader interested: character, plot, and world.
How you end the story is entirely up to you. You can end with a cliffhanger, so readers can come up with their own conclusion (if you do that, tell me so I don’t read your book; cliffhanger endings make me rip hair and not just mine), end on a good note, end on a bad one, or end in a new place that implies another installment to come.
The ending isn’t why a reader reads. It’s the adventure. A reader reads for the same reason we live. We don’t live to die, we live to experience life for what it is and what it can be. Remember that, because that journey you’re writing about is what encourages those dry fingers, frenzied eyes or tearful droplets on paper, and a giddy laugh or somber mood after the book comes to an end.
Have a wonderful day, and may God bless it and the days to follow,