Wednesday, March 30

Sequel Study

To sequel or not to sequel? That is quite a question.

When you read a really great book or get sucked in by a movie, your brain forms a word: more, more, more! Repeating the word three times doesn't guarantee you a wish from the golden genie but sometimes sequels do come our way. Is this good or bad?

Whenever I start reading a book, I'm always extremely optimistic or sceptical. In either case, I'm putting the novel at hand to the harsh test of my presumptions. When I read the first novel in a series, I usually like to give it the benefit of the doubt. I notice the strengths and what captivated me. Sequels are where I get critical.

Before I even open a novel, I have expectations. When I've already read one book in the series, I have something to measure it against. If the first book rocked, the bar is high and I hold out on the skills of the author pulling through. If the first installment had flaws that managed not to irk me, they'll scream in the sequel.

Sequels are an interesting thing. If I read something I really enjoyed, I want more of the characters, more of the plot, more of the writer's skill. Sometimes sequels can sucker-punch their predecessors and sometimes they just make you go, 'Why? Why? WHY?' Yet still the magical golden genie is lazing. Even if the sequel does manage to be good, when does the madness end? After three, four, seven installments?

The important thing to remember as a writer, is that every time you begin writing a new project it's like starting all over again. I know it seems daunting but it's really just a fresh opportunity. Every piece of writing has a process you have to go through to get the final result. The same goes for sequels. I always catch myself wondering if I want to risk the prospect of writing a sequel or series. Would it be good? Is that how I envisioned the story? Would it take away from the initial impact of my first novel?

The truth is, when you are just starting out and aiming to be a published author, you can't think too much about sequels. Your first novel - even if you want it to have 20 follow-ups - needs to be able to stand on its own. Still, there are some debut novels I have read that have included cliff-hangers or "the journey will continue" promises at the end of the final chapter.

In the end, it all comes down to the strength of the writing and the development of the characters. If the writer has skill, it shows, no matter the numbers of installments that follow the first novel in a series. If they know their characters well enough that the characters can journey through the plot and progress in a way that doesn't leave the readers feeling cheated or going, 'What the?!' then there is no reason why sequels should be a danger zone.

The same goes for you. Don't obsess over whether you need to write several installments of an idea, fret that writing a sequel will lessen your chance at being published, or that a sequel will subtract from the reader's impression of the first novel. Just write. Focus on your storytelling and characters. After all, a sequel is just a story like any other, only with a connection to one prior.

What do you think? Yay or nay to sequels?