Advice for Writers

So You’ve Decided to Write a Sequel

Last week, Roz Morris posted this article on when you should or shouldn’t write a sequel. I agree that we have become far too sequel minded as Hollywood churns out guaranteed moneyspinners and fails to take risks on new projects in these financially difficult times.

I have created only two sequels to my work. The first is the short story Herrenvolk 2. I remember at the time that many readers on Elfwood said that this was their favourite. There were many calls for a sequel. I resisted because I hadn’t intended for it to have any continuing story. But then I started to get an idea that it didn’t have to be an immediate follow on and I toyed with the possibility of setting something 200 years after the first. Of course, it is the theme that is being continued and not the characters or the setting.

The other sequel I am in the process of writing is the follow up to my completed novel. The first novel is called Dieu et mon Driot (God and my Rights) and the sequel is called Alea Iacta Est (The Die is Cast). By about 1/3 of the way through, it became quite clear that one of the secondary characters had taken on a life of his own. Toward the end he had resisted any attempt to conform to the plot I intended for him and he was crying out to be released. This character is the protagonist in the sequel. Fighting hard into second place is a woman that did not appear for most of the first novel, but became important toward the end. The chief protagonist from the first book has gone in a different direction and though he appears briefly, he is not central to the plot. He is, however, important to the beginning of the journey for the characters whose story it is. This is also true of one of the villains.

As I start to think about how the third story in my Herrenvolk series will proceed, I’ve decided to compile a list of reasons and rules for writing a sequel:

  • Plot development: The plot must not merely be a re-hash of the events of the first. There must be some sense that the sequel is an extension to the original story. Think about how The Empire Strikes Back creates a more rounded story to Star Wars and is an extension of A New Hope and not just more of the same.
  • Character development: Your characters (those carried over from the prequel) must have learnt from the experiences of the first. They cannot face the same situations and make the same mistakes. It is imperative that they mature as people and face new challenges.
  • Out of the comfort zone: Throw some new things into the mix. Inject some new complications for existing characters to face. This keeps the plot, characters and the world fresh.
  • Stay in the comfort zone: Despite those changes, the universe should feel sufficiently familiar that fans of the first can fit comfortably back into it. Characters should not be so different that they are unrecognisable. Plots should adhere to what is reasonable based on the foundations set down in the first.
  • Fresh blood: Do not bring back old characters for the sake of it. New fans will wonder what the hell they are doing there and old fans will feel they have been cheated out of a cameo. Similarly, inject new characters if the plot calls for it.
  • Don’t contradict the source material: It pisses people off and they feel cheated, especially when used as a plot device. If you set up a rule in the first book or film, then do not discard that rule. Stick with it, work with it. If you throw it away without satisfactory explanation then you have committed one of the cardinal sins of the writer, the biggest no-no… the deus ex machina.
  • Satisfactory conclusion: Did the first one have one? Be careful not to mistake “I want to know what happens next!” for having an unsatisfactory conclusion. There is nothing wrong with leaving it hanging if the story is concluded properly but leave too many unanswered questions and a sequel will be justifiably demanded. Sometimes though, it is better to leave some question unanswered. It gives people something to debate over a bottle of wine in front of a log fire on long, dark cold winter night

I think I have just about covered all my bases. The floor is open to any more!


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