The problem with writing sequels
I love series of books because I’m taken back to a place I already know and/or characters I’ve met. Like a favourite sweater, it’s comfortable. I can sit back and relax, and enjoy the trip. I know readers don’t want to wade through backstory at the start of the next book, even though they might not have read the previous book, and I’ve taken care not to do that.
The plot is the issue. A well known example of a series of sequels is The Lord of the Rings. Leave aside the fact that Tolkien always saw his book as just one story. I remember listening to (I think) Peter Jackson describing the way the odds rise from one book to the next. At the end of book one, a company of several hundred orcs capture Pippin and Merry, having sustained enormous losses at the hands of Aragorn, Legolas, and Boromir. In book two, thousands of orcs besiege Helm’s Deep and it is only the last-minute appearance of additional troops, and the involvement of the Ents, which prevents a wholesale slaughter of the Eorlingas. In book three, the odds rise once again. Tens of thousands of orcs, men, olifaunts and the dreaded Ringwraiths are pitted against the white tower and its numerically inferior forces. Once again, help comes from unexpected quarters to save the day, but though the battle is won, the war is not yet over.
Take another example, Elizabeth Moon’s ‘Vatta’ books. In each novel (there are 5) Vatta faces larger odds and her own forces grow until the final confrontation.
So it seems one ‘rule’ of sequels is you have to up the ante. I did this myself with the Iron Admiral books. In book one, Conspiracy, the galaxy is threatened with the return of a deadly virus which could kill the alien ptorix, which would inevitably cause an inter-species war. In book two, Deception, I came up with an even worse calamity and when that is diverted, the battle is won, although the war is not yet over. I’m told Deception worked very well as a sequel, so I’m kind of stuck with the notion I have to turn the screws, so to speak.
But does it always have to be like that?
Does anyone know of any well-loved sequels where this didn’t happen? Where it’s just a well constructed second story with the same characters? What would you expect if you were to buy the sequel to Morgan’s Choice? I’d really love to know.
Posted on 12 November 2012, in Iron Admiral, Morgan's Choice, On writing and tagged creativity, Lord of the Rings, Morgan Selwood, plot, plotting, rules of writing, Science fiction, sequels, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.