Hi fellow readers and writers. I’ve been thinking about sequels a lot lately because I believe they may be the most polarizing group of books out there today. Authors either play it safe and give readers more of what was in the original, or they try for something different, bigger, better. The thing is, sometimes a sequel leaves you scratching your head wondering if the same person penned both books. It’s happened to me plenty of times.
I recently finished reading a really good book. I praised it for various things, wonderfully written characters being one of those things. Imagine my surprise when I picked up the sequel and those same wonderfully written characters were gone. In their place I found complaining, indecisive, and “I’m here to live for the man or woman in my life no matter what” thinking characters. I was beyond disappointed. In fact, I couldn’t finish the book. It’s very disappointing to me when an author establishes certain things in the first book of a trilogy only to abandon those same things in a second book. As a reader it’s frustrating. Everything I loved about the first book was missing, or significantly altered in the sequel. I feel cheated, duped, and mislead. (I realize this is never the author’s intent, but that’s how it leaves me, the reader, feeling.)
That got me thinking about many of the sequels I’ve read–how many times the first book was phenomenal, yet the sequel wasn’t. I’m a huge fan of Jeff Long’s THE DESCENT. It’s a five star book in my opinion and one of my all-time favorite books. I believe I’ve read it eight times now. The sequel just doesn’t live up to the grand ideas and concepts of the original. It focuses more on two of the characters, leaving much of the fantastic, and huge, world Jeff built in the first book behind. I don’t know what Mr. Long had planned for the sequel, and it’s not a bad book by any means, but it doesn’t live up to the first. He had planned on penning a trilogy. After the sequel was released to lukewarm reception, I have no idea if he plans on writing, and releasing, the third book. THE DESCENT was published in 2001. DEEPER (The sequel to THE DESCENT) was published in 2007. As of today, I’ve heard nothing of the third book which is a shame. Sometimes, as fans, we crave more time with characters we’ve grown to love. I know I would certainly welcome the third book of the Descent trilogy with open arms. I’m sure a lot of other people would too.
Is it fair to judge a sequel based on the previous book? You kind of have to. Without the contents of the first book, the sequel would probably be meaningless. In the music business they call it the “sophomore jinx,” meaning a band’s second album fails, often miserably, to outperform the first. Is that what’s happening with authors too? Do they feel the pressure to deliver a better book the second time around and tinker with a formula that worked the first time? I don’t know yet. I hope to be in that position one day. All I can go by is what I read.
Is every sequel bad? Hardly. I don’t think Jeff Long’s DEEPER is necessarily bad. It’s okay. Some sequels simply fall flat as compared to the first in the series. Other times sequels continue with what readers loved from the first book. Brian Ruckley kept his Godless World trilogy moving along smoothly with BLOODHEIR. It wasn’t better than the first book in the series, but it wasn’t worse either. It was consistent in quality with the first in every way possible. Then there are times when a sequel outshines the first book in a series. Ken Scholes’ CANTICLE immediately pops into my head. His second book exceeded my expectations as not only a sequel, but a book in general. In my opinion, he upped the ante in every possible way adding depth and quality to an already outstanding first book.
As a writer I like examining things like this. I like to see why some sequels come up short so I can avoid the same pitfalls if I can. Being a writer with a planned trilogy on his hands probably has something to do with that. Even though I have yet to be published, I want to be prepared when the time comes. Analyzing data and constantly reading helps me understand how certain trends can apply to not only me the author, but my fiction as well. Will it change how I write? No. But it may help me see what not to do.
I realize some of you will probably disagree about some of the books I’ve mentioned in this post. I welcome everyone’s opinion. We all have different likes, preferences, and tastes. As long as we can discuss those differences like mature people, that’s perfectly fine. I’m sure we’ve all opened a sequel at some point only to put it down later and wonder what happened?
Sometimes, as authors, we put too much pressure on ourselves to outshine our own work. We want to make things bigger and better, but lose focus on what made our first book work in the first place. Sometimes it’s not about making something bigger or better, it’s about holding on to the quality characters, plot, and world we’ve already established. In a word, consistency. If there’s room for improvement, by all means, improve. But don’t change things just for the sake of change. Trust in your skills enough to know you created a quality piece of fiction before, and you can do it again a second time.
That disappointed, deflated feeling after reading a sequel that didn’t live up to its predecessor is something I want to hold on to. Why? Easy, that’s the feeling I don’t want my readers to feel if/when my sequel is published.
What are your thoughts on sequels? What do you enjoy/not enjoy about them, and why? I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say in the comments below.