For once I’m not gonna talk about my own stuff, even though that’s what inspired this post. I’m already writing the second novella in the “Age of Ascension” series, and it got me thinking about the principles I’ve heard to avoid sequelitis (or sequel degeneration) from other writers.
One of the writers who mentioned this topic as a guest on the Writing Excuses podcast a few years back was John D. Brown. His philosophy of writing from what I’ve read of it doesn’t seem to worry too much about sequels becoming weaker because it focuses on the Story Problem of a given book or story, i.e. making every segment self-contained by putting a focus on the main issue (conflict or goal) of that segment. I hope that makes sense. I found it tricky to write, to be sure. Go to his site (http://johndbrown.com/) if that explanation wasn’t clear enough, ‘cause I don’t know how to put it better as it isn’t something I developed myself.
I do like Brown’s approach to this, because it seems more proactive than just saying to avoid certain specific problems common in sequels. Citing specific problems only gets one so far while actually writing, and focusing on the negative is a pretty poor way to start looking for solutions when it comes to art of any kind. Time for a digression!
When I was in a realistic drawing class in college I demonstrated my lack of knowledge of the above point. Rather than focusing on how much better I got (because I did get better) I focused on how much worse I was than the other students (I really stunk compared to the rest). But just because I didn’t have aptitude for the work didn’t mean it had to be that way. I simply didn’t have the patience to work in spite of my failings, which was my ultimate defeat in that class, and why I got a C at the end when I had a B at midterm. So here I am writing my first ever sequel to a published work and I’m finding myself unwilling to allow the mistakes I know are coming. But enough about that for now–back to issues with sequels.
Guesses as to the top 3 problems people often see in sequels:
-Diverged too much from the original (changed genre, conflicting theme, etc…)
-Characters changed in disappointing ways (not just devolution. Having long-term problems resolved in silly ways is in here too)
-Sequel didn’t change enough (Not applicable in a lot of cases where change isn’t expected, but when it applies the sequel feels very same-y)
All of these are things that can only be avoided by walking a narrow path, probably one different for each project. My oh my, have we writers got our work cut out for us!