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Thursday, October 20, 2011

More and Better: Thoughts on Sequels

"The sequel is never as good as the original."

That maxim makes me shudder, now that I'm at the point of planning and writing sequels to two of my novels. Will the readers love them like they loved the first ones? Heck, will the publishers even want them? Which characters do I continue? How many successful elements of the first story should I re-use in the second to keep it consistent but not repetitive?

The good new is that sequels in literature don't have the same poor-cousin reputation as sequels in Hollywood. Publishers have been smart enough to market books as series rather than sequels. "Series" is a term with considerably more cache, since it implies a set of equals rather than an original followed by hangers-on and imitations.

There's also the honorable history of the sequel/series, dating back to ancient literature. If you liked Oedipus Rex, you'll love Oedipus at Colonus. Enjoyed Horace's Odes? Well, rush right out and buy a rolled papyrus copy of Horace's Epodes.

Oh, and then there's The Iliad, followed by The Odyssey. Wait, you're one of those nay-saying types who think they were written by two different people? Ah, the ghost-written sequel. Definitely a topic for another day.

What has been your experience reading (or writing) sequels?

13 comments:

  1. As a reader, I have mixed feelings about sequels. I get hooked, but in addition, I resent the unfinished feeling. I do like the "continue the story" type thing -- a la Kelley Armstrong -- where one story is finished, but I see some of the same characters in the subsequent novels.

    I'm in the midst of editing a follow-on to the nove l I wrote last year, and about to start one that takes place in time between the two. Argh!But I love my characters, and I'm not ready to let them go.

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  2. Margaret, I agree that reading a new but separate book about the same characters is quite different from being force to read a second book to get the whole story.

    And I know what you mean about not being ready to let your characters go. That's just how I'm feeling, especially after having created an alternative universe for my sci fi novel. There must be more than one story there!

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  3. I never intended to write any sequels, but ... a while after one book was published, I suddenly got this idea for another story with the same characters and such, and, son-of-a-gun, a sequel! On another book, I had written an epilog set 200 years after the rest of the book, and all of a sudden it hit me, that epilog with some editing would make a good first chapter of a sequel! I don't plan these things, they just happen. But if you have fallen in love with your characters, it is hard not to want to write some more about them.

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  4. I'm definitely finding that to be true, Jim.

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  5. I like reading books that are character series books. Susan Mallery seems to do a great job with her "sisters" trilogies in romance. When I was young, I read Cynthia Voigt's Dicey Song and Homecoming (Both Dicey's stories). Later, Voigt took some of the minor characters and gave them books of their own. Also, Madeline L'Engle did this with her books about the Austin Family. I'm playing around with a series book to an upper middle grade. In the first book, Jasmine finds her own artist journey. There is the hint of a crush with a boy. I'd like to take the story a few years later and have the two characters in a romance story. In my forthcoming MuseItUp YA romance, I'm playing around with a novella for two of the minor characters. I don't really think they have a whole novel story, but I think a novella could be fun. Thanks for the topic!

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  6. Sounds like you're having fun exploring the sequel options, Mindy. Recently I heard the term "paraquel" to mean what you describe: shorter works about minor characters.

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  7. Good thoughts, Anne. I think when a story is set up as a series, it's completely different than deciding to do more with the characters after the first book is out. When the book club folded on my cozy mystery series, I had another one of the planned four written and it took me two years to find someone else -- thank you, Lea!! -- to pick it up. So Lea at Muse actually contracted a sequel, but as I got the rights back to the first, will hopefully work that one (and subsequent ones)in. I don't think you want to confuse "the sequel is never as good" with "sophomore syndrome" where the hype of a first-time author's book is so great that he or she can't possibly do as well with the second book that comes out and gets chewed by the critics.

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  8. Excellent point about "sophomore syndrome," Lisa.

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  9. I prefer series to sequels. My fantasy trilogy was originally written as just the first book. By the time I'd finished two of the minor characters needed their own stories so it became a trilogy. Got good comments regarding books two and three so I presumably got it right.

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  10. I read Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush Hush and liked it, but then I read the sequel Crescendo and loved it! It was better than the first book and had me from page one to the cliffhanger ending. So I think books can have sequels that are just as good if not better than the first book.

    Good luck writing yours, Anne. I'm working on one now too.

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  11. I don't always choose to read books from a series. Ya know, sometimes it seems too much like a long-term commitment. But definitely, if I read a good book, I'm glad that it doesn't all end there. Last week I read IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman and liked it a lot. Then my daughter told me there was a second book and she picked up WHERE SHE WENT for me. I loved it even more than the first and I was trying to decide why. It could have a lot to do with the fact that I was already attached to the characters and glad to find out more about their journey. I was a big Twilight fan, and I read The Left Behind Series (what did that have, like 20 books? Maybe that's where my commitment fears stem from.) Anyway, all that to say that I guess I do like sequels.

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  12. Nice to see you guys proving that second (or third!) books can be at least as good as the originial. That gives me much hope. I just heard from one of my publishers that she actively wants the sequel I'm planning, so I'd better make it good. But I love my characters too much to do anything else.

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  13. I like sequels. I get attached to characters and I want to see what else they get up to. I am always looking for the "next" series book.

    ctny

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