Let’s face it, we’re all fed up with sequels and prequels, right? Once a story is over, there’s nothing wrong with declaring a happily ever after and leaving it at that. Once a story is concluded, the heroes have been through enough, and it’s time to move on to bigger and better things so they can live out their days in peace.
So why then do the stories keep getting rehashed? Why do we continuously invade their lives with forced plots that thrust characters back into hard situations that make the entire world less believable and even in some cases, damage the first story? Why did the orphanage from the first Blues Brothers wind up closing? Why did the Gates family get thrust into another historical mystery? Why is Disney following up on literal happily ever afters?
Well… there’s a couple of reasons for this… First, sequels are safe. Even if they’re many years out of date. Both literary and visual media companies want followup stories because if an audience liked the first story, they’ll pay to see/read the next one in a line… no matter how poorly done it is. Some because they love the characters and want to revisit their world, others just to see how badly it all get’s messed up.
Unfortunately, they’re right in this line of thinking. New titles and original movies that aren’t based on anything are often hard sells by comparison. If you write a story that is completely your own, not based on any modern/historical events, based in an established world, etc. You’re going to have a hard time. The same can be said about movies. I spoke in another post about the criticism that Hollywood is out of ideas. I don’t agree. Hollywood produces original movies all the time. The problem is that they’re usually given a smaller budget, little to no advertising, and go relatively un-celebrated. So next time you go to the movies. Take a look at the sign and check out one of the movies you don’t recognize and haven’t heard of. Usually, those will be your original stories.
So at some point through presequelitis, we’ve all got to come to terms with the fact that followup stories/movies are never going away. We can complain and moan all we want, there will always be an audience for them. Like it or not, there will always be an audience for movies such as Ghostbusters Answer the Call. These are not going to go away and I don’t think they should…
HEAR ME OUT!
There are right and wrong ways to do sequels and prequels. First, prequels need someone to keep an eye on continuity. If your prequel is going to poke major potholes in the better followup, then it may be time to abandon said story. The worst thing you can do is damage established norms, because that’s how you lose your audience.
Sequels are a little different. If you’ve written a story and given the idea that all loose ends are tied up and everything is finished, going back and forcing those characters into a whole new story that came out of nowhere causes a lot of problems. Not the least of these are 1. you’re beating on characters that have already taken their bumps. This can come off at mean spirited. 2. You’re straining suspension of disbelief. Suddenly bringing in a new adversary/obstacle that is somehow connected to the original story, but literally no one knew about, and/or mentioned up until now can be tough to follow.
So how can we make sequels work? Well for starters, if you intend to write a sequel to your story, don’t tie up all the loose ends. Leave something for the sequel to grab onto. In other words, spread your story out over a couple of novels. There’s no rule that says everything has to be crammed into one story.
Now let’s say that you’ve finished your story. Let’s say every loose end is completely tied up and your story has been published. People love it and are either screaming for a sequel or you’ve come up with a new plot point that you’d like to explore in that setting. This is where you have to be VERY careful. This is where you run the risk of writing a forced sequel, because its here that suddenly you have to explain where this new plot point comes from and why no one noticed it up until now. It’s a very sloppy way of doing things, and honestly is very transparent.
That said, the best way to go about doing something like this is to turn your story into a series of stories all set in the same world, but with different main characters. In essence, turn it into an anthology series. You can create a whole new set of characters and maybe even grab one or two supporting/minor characters from your previous story to take center stage. You can still have the characters from the first book come in and make appearances, reacting to the situation as you see fit. However they would really need to stay in the background.
The best thing about doing it this way is that you can literally do anything you want as long as you obey the rules you’ve already put in place for the world you created. The story prior to, during, or after the original. When I wrote damnation, it takes place during and after the events of Divinity and does so in a way that does not affect the original story other than bringing more dynamics to the original plot points. In essence, the happenings of Damnation actually expand and emphasize what goes on in Divinity.
Followup stories aren’t going away, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good!
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Catch you on the flip side!