Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Sequel! Sequel! Who’s got a sequel?

I’m a fan of big books – in fantasy that is – and epic stories. Do I really need to say I love sequels?
My shelves are packed with trilogies, quartets and series. I’ve even got a few prequels. Especially when they’re about beloved characters. Give me at least three books and, if you get me hooked on the first, you’re guaranteed to have me reading the third.
I like to linger in a world, see the sights as well as poke about in the corners. What’s more, I’m still likely to remember what happened in book two by the time I’ve reached ... say ... book seven. Even if a number of years separate when I read them. I think that’s probably why I enjoy the longer series.

But, in my opinion, to make anything beyond that first book count, it calls for at least one of four things:

1.       A big cast such as in the mighty Wheel of Time Series. The need to put in everyone’s actions practically demands a lot of books.

2.       A reoccurring threat that can’t be easily stomped out for whatever reason. This would be accurate of Thread in the Dragonriders of Pern. This can run the risk of being repetitive if not done right and usually calls for other, lesser (but not minor) threats/obstacles in the way. Having the characters gain ground throughout the series is a big plus.

3.       A journey that’s so big, it takes several books to cram it all in. And you can take your pick on this one, it seems to be the most common of the sequel traits, right along with ...

4.       A new threat. And, gosh, don’t it fill in the space of the old threat just nicely. The threat must be a) bigger than the last or b) threaten in a different manner, and they better have a good reason for not being in the first story. In conjunction with that, it must NOT be defeated the same way as the last.

If it’s a prequel, then there better be a hint of that back story in the first book. Nothing worse than finding something happened way back when (something, occasionally literally earthshakingly, monumental) and no one from the original novel knew about it.
On the other hand, Trudi Canavan wrote a good prequel with Magician’s Apprentice. The war it’s about is mentioned in the first book of - as well as a number of times within - the Black Magician’s trilogy. David Eddings does the same with the Belgariad Series and the two prequels Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress. But then, he’d ten books to weave back-story hints into.


When it comes to writing, I naturally think of stories in more than just standalone. I’ve been conditioned to it, I suppose.
Thing is, what with my desire to have an actual ending at the end, I’m often left with choice number Four.  There’s one big downside to that choice, unless your second threat leads to a blending of numbers, you can’t keep adding new threats.
Okay, you can, but after a while, unless done right, you can run the risk of ... well ... of looking like you’re trying to get too much mileage out of those characters and your readers are going to get tired of it. Monster-of-the-day might work well on TV, but it takes a little longer than thirty minutes to read a novel.

So, before you sit down and type out that sequel, you need to have a good look at what you’ve got and ask yourself: Does it need to be said?
 

And let’s hope a few factors don’t get dropped along the way. Like ...
Continuity. This is the big one that everyone understands needs to be watched. Things like if Person A needed an elaborate spell to contact Person B in book one, then, unless something major happened at the end of the story, that’s what needs to be done in book two.
Yeah, you could have them ‘just be more powerful’ at the beginning. Person A might have trained majorly while we weren’t looking and is now so much better. It’s been done but, being someone who likes to see them improving, I’m not a fan of this route.
And, often, little errors are brushed aside. Say Person B sneezed every time he went near a horse, yet in book two they’re suddenly able to ride them without a sniffle and, often, with no explanation. I smell convenience and it reeks.

Character. All that moulding to make those words feel like the lives of ‘real’ people seems to waver, or gets dropped, in favour of plot or newer characters. I’m sure it’s not a deliberate choice, but just because I know who the older people are and what they’re like doesn’t mean I don’t want to see them evolve further.

Geography. Especially if travelling is involved. And not just what they’ve tramped over so far. If you mentioned a desert to the west last time, and they’re now walking through grassland, there better have been a shoddy cartographer somewhere or one heck of an upheaval (which has either happened in the last story if not the catalyst for the next). I’m pretty sure that’s why most series books have maps.
 
I’ll probably now go on to make those very mistakes. ^_^

If you’re into sequels, either the writing or reading kind, what oversights have you read/done/heard about?

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