Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Problem with Sequels...

YA Bloggers are enthusiastic readers. If we love something, we love it with the entirety of our being. You might love a book and if you are really lucky, sometimes there will be a following title. However, I often think that the sequel isn't a great idea, despite how much I would love to read it.

Serialised books have always been a part of reading, especially in Middle Grade and Young Adult titles. In fact, the Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High and RL Stine's horror filled books (prior to Goosebumps) were a huge part of my tween reading. Sequels are written and published for a specific reason, to quench the thirst of the audience but often there are issues:

My big problem is usually the second title. Why? Let me tell you...
  • Long, meandering plots that usually fail to lead anywhere or even worse, a lukewarm, supposedly thrilling cliffhanger. Unnecessarily long!

  • The introduction or ramping up of the third member of the love triangle. Occasionally there will be a fourth and I would argue very few of us have been involved in love quadrangles as teens. These relationships are usually depicted as snark, snogging and....then nothing. Just an excuse for two characters to have a fight over a third character that never really had a chance to begin with (but confusingly might have due to the next point).

  • Huge inconsistent character turns that contradict what was depicted in book 1 or as I like to call it "the whoa-180". Like none of us have witnessed a character we know and love do something completely against type for the soul purpose of plumping up the narrative?

  • Many allusions to events that will occur in book 3 with little focus on the events occurring in Book 2.

  • Mary Sues

  • In paranormal/fantasy- the doubling or quadrupling of supernatural interactions/fights because who can be bothered writing some character development?

  • Book 2 is sometimes a necessary evil for a great home run (Book 3.)

My point is....sometimes standalone is better. John Green hasn't written a sequel and neither has Sarah Dessen. The latter has found a great way of giving the reader a glimpse at her older characters by sprinkling them in her subsequent novels. There's a brush of information and the rest is up to your imagination. It's brilliant.

Not every book needs to be a series. Not every author should be aiming to write a series. Let's face it, that first title was probably a WIP for a substantial amount of time. If that novel is then a success, there will probably be a sequel. A not-necessarily-planned sequel written in very little time or with any forethought. Hence my higher regard for titles that are spanned out over a longer space of time- not at the beck and call of the publisher. That being said, there are sequels that comes out quickly, that are of a high standard. They are usually titles that were always intended to be part of a multi-arc series. I can blather on as much as I want. People are sure to find fault in what I am saying.

The thing is...sequels should be well thought out, well written and not published purely for the dollar. They should be motivated by the need to genuinely tell more of the story. If there isn't much more story to tell - the protagonist's journey has been concluded - then there should not be a following novel. It's after this that many of the above points come into play...specifically the artificial conflict created to extend the life of a character.When you simplify a book it's all about what the character wants ...and sometimes all the character wants is retirement.

That being said, there are many novels that I am eagerly awaiting the next title of as they are well written and there is more for the protagonist to achieve. They have been planned as a such, but should the series not be released, then the first can be fantastic as a standalone. The balance is tough and not all authors are successful in achieving this balance. But then again, there are many that are and amazingly so.

I have probably missed many ideas but what are your thoughts on sequels...


Windowpane Memoirs said...

I completely agreed. Maybe is me but I’m not to fan of a long series with the exception of Harry Potter or Narnia series. Is like House of Night series the last one; Haunted was for me a completely waste of time. Thank you for this post I like it a lot.


Shalonda said...

What a great post!

I much prefer stand alone titles. Part of this is due to inconsistency with the other books in a series. And part is due to my lack of patience. I need to know the ending right away!

Adele said...

I don't think its so much series vs stand alone as people not recognising the limitations of a lead character. Some characters and worlds are set up with enought complexity and flexibility to run and run others really are suited to a single tome. Basically though I agree with the reasons a sequel can be a dissapointment.

Mik said...

I agree to an extent. Sometime I do think sequels are pointless, like in the Band Geek Love series or Triple Shot Bettys series. But sometimes you do need to have sequels, especially in fantasy, because the characters may have only accomplished a few things needed before their mission or whatever is completed. Also, if the writer has created a really good world and has great characters, you might not want the book to be over if it's a standalone.

Mik @ I Am Nonficiton

Mik said...

I was continuing to think about this and I agree that sometimes characters need to just go into the sunset or whatever and not come back. And I think that, besides for a few series, once you get past 4 books, it's time to stop. And the sequels need to be really well written and should equal or be better than the first book. But that can be hard to come by... Great post!

Mik @ I Am Nonfiction

Amy said...

A sequel for sequel's sake is kind of silly. I think it works best if the story was originally conceived in the author's mind as a series.

Now in adult books it seems you can't get many series unless they are certain genre. Which can also feel sad.

Steph Su said...

I think sequels are great if the story that you want to tell cannot simply be told in one book, when it actually works better when the story is broken down into multiple volumes. If one writes a sequel purely for monetary sake it'll probably turn out a lot like those bad Disney sequels. However, there's also the other problem where books are so spaced out over the course of a trilogy that the first book is not all that exciting, because it's simply building up for the next book in the series. It's difficult to balance, but I have faith in it, for the most part.

lili said...

I'm often not crazy about sequels, but I almost always like the second book in a trilogy the best:

The Subtle Knife
The Two Towers
The Empire Strikes Back
The Garden of the Purple Dragon


I think because all of the Big Plot Stuff goes in the first and third books, so the second is usually a more inward-looking story, more focussed on character development.

Catherine (On The Nightstand) said...

I have a strong dislike for "tacked on" sequels, as other people have suggested. You can tell why they're there, the plot is often contrived and yeah.

I've sat down and looked at my own writing, to see what can have sequels and what never ever will. When I started planning He Came From The Sea, The Circled Green and Mirror, Mirror, I was firm about no sequels. It's like those fantasy movies from the 80s - no sequel required. The journey is complete from their end, and it is up to you to wonder what was next. To add a sequel to books/movies like that can ruin the (feeling of the) original, and I wouldn't want that.

In my opinion, sequels should come when they have been planned out. It should tie in close enough to the first book that it fits, and builds upon what is already there. Same goes for series - you can tell when they're just being added on for continuance, rather than wrapping it up when it should be.

La Coccinelle said...

If the sequel was intended from the beginning, it's not such a bad thing. But there are some sequels that seem to scream "I'm just here to make more money!" The characters are different, the story's gone in an entirely different direction, the writing has gotten sloppy... It's sometimes pretty easy to tell when a sequel has been put out just for the sake of putting out a sequel.

Michelle said...

I'm a huge fan of sequels. I love being able to see further into the lives of characters I grew attached to in the first. Having said that I don't want it to be boring or repetitive or any of the issues you list above. So I guess for me it's about the conception of the story as compared to just writing a sequel for the sake of writing it.

I do think the exception to this rule is exceptionally plotted series where the focus shifts to center around different characters in different books. I think that concept works very well for a series.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the weirdness of second volumes. Narratively, I think it has something to do with structure. In a planned arc, Vol 1 sets up the characters/conflict and intimates what the eventual conclusion of Vol 3 must be; Vol 3 delivers on these. That means Vol 2 can often default to a bridging device: the development/quest/journey component which explains why the characters don't just go straight to the lair of the evil Dragon King and rescue the Princess. For me, it's why The Two Towers stretches on forever, and why, despite what my husband might think, The Empire Strikes Back is not the best Star Wars film. It's where the characers go to learn what they have to do next. And speaking as someone currently writing a planned Vol 2, that can be its own kind of fun. But it's often, of necessity, a different kind of story to 1 and 3: get it wrong, and it feels all kinds of redundant.

Elizabeth said...

Well put, especially about contorting the characters to justify an ill-thought-out plot that's too much setup for the next book... AND Mary Sues. Hate that.