Posts Tagged sequels

When you should write a sequel to your novel – and when you shouldn’t

more mmOne of the sweetest compliments a writer can hear is ‘I loved your book, please write the sequel’. And we live in a sequel-minded world. If there are any sure-fire ways to build a readership, a series is one of them.

So if people are asking for a sequel and you hadn’t planned one, should you consider it?

Certainly, a lot of hard work has already been done. You know the characters. Indeed, you may have had trouble shutting them away once edits were done. The chance to shake them awake again may be hard to resist.

You might have plenty of material. Outtakes that you pruned from the original novel, back story you wanted to work in but, mindful of pace or the reader’s attention, you cut. They could all be used, couldn’t they?

Temptations

These are strong temptations, but they do not mean your novel should have a sequel.

Neither should you write a sequel because the reader has unanswered questions. At the moment, those are part of the novel’s resonance. If you answer them, would the magic disappear? Would your answers, in fact, be wrong now that this dimension of the book belongs to the readers?

What will create a story in your sequel?

Stories need a crisis. If you wrote a sequel, where would this new crisis come from?

In some genres, crisis comes with the territory. It’s a natural hazard of the characters’ job, heritage, world, race, DNA and dynasties etc. With those ingredients, your characters will have stories for ever more. Write them, and enjoy their rich variety.

Other novels, particularly non-genre, tend to be self-contained. The arc of the book was the defining experience of the characters’ lives. You wrote ‘The End’ when this was resolved, as much as possible. If you then put those characters through another story with a shift of similar magnitude, will that be hard to believe? And if the characters don’t have a fundamental disturbance, will they be interesting to read about? Remember, they’ve got to match up – or even surpass – the frisson of the original. But it can be done. Think Toy Story 3.

nynfiller2The original cast

Should you reassemble the original cast? In a genre novel you might have a team who will always be thrown together. Indeed they might create a pseudo-family who give each plot an emotional core while they deal with the crisis du jour. At the end, they reassemble, tested, battered and wiser.

But in other novels, it may be better if the characters disperse. Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca has some perfectly ghastly sequels. Obviously licensed by the estate in an attempt to milk the fans, they squeal a warning for all would-be sequelers. They’re novels constructed by tick-boxes, contriving to drag the scattered characters out of contented retirement and flogging them onto the same treadmill again. In most cases they’ve already given their best, first time round. Leave them be.

Think obliquely

So straight sequels may be dodgy, but you might have good mileage in a spin-off. While the principals from book one may be living a better-adjusted life, others could take centre stage. The original characters could be cameos to advise, steer, perhaps muddle everything up because the new crisis is not like the thing that happened to them.

Another possibility is to write the ‘missing years’ or a prequel. Perhaps one of your characters had an interesting interlude from far earlier in their life. Or if your original narrative was first person, perhaps there were other good stories happening around the corner.

Just one character

You might have a central character who still has a lot to offer. This is particularly true of catalyst characters, who stir up trouble but don’t change very much themselves. Throw them into a new situation and they will cause another maelstrom, just because. I get regular requests to write more about a certain catalyst character, who seems to inspire much speculation.

Not wanting to leave

Sometimes we writers want a sequel just as much as the readers do. But we have to take a look at what we would offer. After I finished with My Memories of a Future Life, I spent weeks doodling with aftermath scenes. They were indulgences, from a writer trapped in the deep end, struggling to surface. At the time, I intended them to be a continuation of the narrative but they went nowhere. The characters had stopped opening their hearts, as if what happened next was none of my business. Or perhaps I hadn’t found the right things for them to do.

It’s certainly possible that some of the Future Life people will rear up with a new urgent story. If they convince me that a lot more must be said and done, I shall write it without hesitation.

Until then, there are other stories I need to tell.

Are you tempted to write a sequel to your novel? If you’ve read sequels, what have you liked and what has made you wish the original was left alone? Share in the comments!

If you’re working up an idea for a novel, you might find some useful tips in my book Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.  And in that case, I find I have plenty more to say and so a second Nail Your Novel is under construction. If you’d like information, sign up for my newsletter.

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Should you tie up all the ends when you type ‘The End’?

In the Norwegian version of the film Insomnia, one of the characters tells an anecdote that is never finished. It appears inconsequential, perhaps a throwaway line to illuminate character. But good scripts never contain spare remarks, and this interrupted fragment quivers through the rest of the story like a deep note from a cathedral organ.

It is like the job the characters are doing – investigating a murder and having to create the ending for themselves. It  returns later when parts of the story become dreamlike and the main character is tormented by guilt. It is like the everlasting arctic sunlight that won’t allow the day to end.

So leaving this anecdote hanging is a rather clever move by the writers.

 

Closure

Stories need closure – of course they do. We need to feel they ended in the right place. In most genres this does mean tying up all the ends and solving the mysteries. (We’ve all been infuriated by novels that are deliberately teasing us towards their sequels – The Hunger Games and Twilight. They don’t seem to be playing fair.)

In most genres, the fun for the punters is wondering how the murderer will get caught, how the romantic twosome will get together, how the battle was won, how the world was saved (or lost). That’s what they’re there for.

But if you are writing a story that aims to go deeper than the events, perhaps you don’t want to tie everything up or explain everything.

Resonance

Insomnia ties up most of its physical threads – it ends when the case ends. But morally it is anything but neat. The characters leave the story with unfinished business and nagging burdens – and this is its true power. It is the toll paid by those who have to deal with murder. The viewer carries it too, as sharer of this experience in all its ambiguity. (Did ever a post try so hard not to give spoilers?) It plays fair, but it deepens the mystery.

Stories don’t always have to give us answers. Sometimes the questions they give us are as important.

Have you got a favourite story that doesn’t answer all its questions? Or do you hate it when writers do that? Share examples, good and bad, in the comments!

How to write a novel – in-depth webinar series with Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, starting November.  Find more details and sign up here.

Nail Your Novel – my short book about how to write a long one – is available from Amazon. Not too late to nab a Kindle copy if you’re aiming to be a Wrimo!

My Memories of a Future Life is now available in full. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters over on the red blog.

 

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New Year special – writing sins that scupper a story Part 5: Sherlock Holmes

Over the last few days I’ve railed about weak story links, lazy plotting, wrong point of view, bad characterisation and unsatisfying endings in DVDs I’ve watched over the holidays. Yesterday I had a chewy moan about hasty rewrites that weren’t properly integrated in Did You Hear About The Morgans. Today’s post is not a complaint, but a congratulation. It features a film where I suspect a major change had to be made, but it was done deftly and without upsetting the story. So beware spoilers, and I give you…

 Sherlock Holmes - and the mystery of Irene Adler’s trousers

It all started when Irene Adler had to be rescued from the slaughterhouse and was found to be wearing voluminous men’s trousers – which you have to admit is unusual attire for a lady of the Victorian era. Was it a disguise? We were never told.

Writing sin (very venial): A rather too crowded final scene

That wouldn’t have bothered me much, as she’s a racy lady who likes to cut a dash – but for a rather crowded final scene. Right at the end of the movie, Holmes is explaining to Watson and his fiancée how the villain Blackwood faked his death, when some policemen rush in with news that the explosive device defused in the story’s climax has been stolen. This info-dump is quite substantial and completely upsets the rhythm of the dialogue (so that Watson’s fiancée appears to be kneeling on the floor for a very long time). My hypothesis?

The arrival of the police been spliced in to prime the audience for a sequel with Professor Moriarty.

Of course, a hunch like that isn’t enough, and Dave soon provided the next clue. Many moons ago, he saw a trailer for Sherlock Holmes that featured a scene where Irene knees Holmes in a sensitive place. It wasn’t in the final film. And he read on imdb that the release of Sherlock Holmes was delayed because more edits were needed.

Could someone have made a decision at a late stage to lay the groundwork for a sequel with Moriarty?

We looked at the movie again. There were a number of scenes where Irene meets a shadowy figure in a darkened carriage. They could all have been spliced in later, with deft reshoots and editing. And as commercial movies have to keep to a strict length, other story material must have gone. Was the missing fight between Irene and Holmes evidence that something had been removed?

And was Irene’s male attire originally a disguise, from a story thread that hit the cutting room floor?

When revising, we often have to slip in new elements or change an emphasis. This might be because we’ve changed our direction or because of outside feedback. If it’s late on in editing, the amount of unpicking required is enough to make you reach for the violin or the opium pipe.

Maybe my theory is totally wrong. But if you’re trying to knit a new thread into your story, get the DVD of Guy Ritchie’s admirable Sherlock Holmes, imagine it doesn’t have the Moriarty thread – and see how they made it look as though it was always there.

Have you had to splice new threads or ideas into a book? Was it painful and how did you do it?

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