Monday, May 2, 2011

Sequelitis

Hello, my name is Anassa, and I have benign sequelitis. I'm taking this as a good sign—I won't run out of ideas, and my WIP's world is rich enough to have multiple stories in it. Just yesterday I came up with a scene for Book 3, which will be added to the ongoing list of scenarios, plot points, hijinks, twists, and character interactions. At this point, I need to write at least four books, maybe five, to deal with them all. (Book Four will be especially fun.) I have two other series I'd like to write, one that I briefly started on last year, and one that I think about with trepidation because of how much research is going to be involved.

I suspect a lot of writers, or at least a lot of genre writers, have some form of sequelitis. After all, so many genre novels are parts of series. Benign sequelitis, like I have, has got to be the best kind, for the reasons I mentioned, and because it keeps any sequels fresh and exciting. But there's also

  • induced sequelitis — Publisher: Your book's selling great! Can we have three more by Christmas? Hollywood has an epidemic of this at the moment. 
  • malignant sequelitis — Writer: I'm writing urban fantasy, therefore I must create series. Often leads to overstuffed worlds or writer's block.
  • galloping sequelitis — Writer: I have such a following for my book, I really owe everyone a sequel. Christopher Tolkien and Brian Herbert have had this, I think, with a milder form of induced sequelitis as well.
And yes, you can argue that I'm biased towards the benign form because I've seen too many books (and films) produced by induced, malignant, and galloping strains of sequelitis that have been subpar or rushed. I'm sure a writer who really knows their game can craft excellent demanded sequels and not fall into the trap of repetition. I'm sure I've read some of those books. Can I name them after being up till 3 last night? Nope. Not the writers' fault, though. Totally mine.

But really, I think that's the cure, that's how to turn the negative forms of sequelitis back into the benign one—step back, think, take your time, look at good sequels and ask what they did differently from bad sequels. One of the big reasons I see at work for people stopping series is that the books "got to be all the same," and of course, it's common knowledge that when Hollywood makes a sequel, it's not going to be as good.* Lack of audience interest can never be a good thing.

Bear in mind that this is merely the opinion of an unpublished, unsequelled writer who hasn't had time to read as widely as someone twice her age. I could be entirely wrong about all of this. I certainly don't have medical training, so I may have misdiagnosed the types, or missed a type entirely. But I've enough of an ego to say, "I think I'm right." I think that a lot of writers want to write sequels, for various reasons, and I think a lot of those times, those reasons don't exactly help the story they want to tell.

Thoughts?

* With several exceptions, of course.

7 comments:

Jami Gold said...

I like your breakdown on the types of sequels. :) I think all sequels should move the story forward in some way. But like you, I've seen some series start out strong and then weaken as the author ran out of things to say.

I have 2 series in development - one that's closed-ended (I have a definite ending for it) and one that's open-ended (but I have enough material for at least 3-4 books).

Laura Pauling said...

Or the sequel stays the same instead of increasing in intensity and conflict.

Jacqvern said...

Sequelitis - nice word :)

I like series, provided that it's well written and every book gives me something new, either plot, character, twist etc.

I like too your breakdown on sequels and also I like the way you wrote the post :D

Joe Duncko said...

I think there are too many sequels in today's media. Video games, books, movies; all quantity over quality. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd rather have a short, good book then an "eh..." long series. This is one reason I'd like to see the comeback of novellas.

Reece said...

Personally, I think the only way to make a sequel work is if the events of the original story are actually part of an on-going story the author had in mind from the beginning. That way, the second, third, (dare I say it?) fourth books are a continuation of the plot, not an afterthought tacked on to make money or because the author can't come up with new ideas.

I also think that to make sequels work, you absolutely have to introduce new characters (and pretty significant characters at that). I'm convinced it's almost impossible to write good sequels with a static cast of main characters; you can only put the same characters through so much or make them change so much before they break.

Brooke Johnson said...

As far as reading goes, I probably prefer reading stand-alone books (that can lead into a series. But I agree with Reece. Sequels that were meant to be from the beginning, thought of and etc., those are the ones that work. Sequels tacked on so the author can make more money or milk that string of characters for all they're worth, those are the ones that tend to not do as well.

As far as writing goes, I tend to think in a sequel manner. My first novel was intended to be the first of an indeterminate number of novels taking place in that world. The novel I'm working on now is the first of three. And another novel that I have yet to start on (that I've been thinking of for years) is the first of yet another string of novels.

All that aside, I think most readers enjoy sequels - good sequels anyway - that keep the story going just a bit longer. I think that is evident in the multi-book deals prevalent in publishing. Most debut authors get three book deals now. Most stories are a trilogy or more.

Anassa said...

Thanks for the awesome comments, everyone! Really should've replied to them sooner…

To everyone who said sequels should move the story forward, contain multi-book arcs, and be planned for the beginning: Yes. Exactly. Those are symptoms of benign sequelitis, or at least a strain of it. Instead of trying to create a longer story partway through, the brain's been bubbling away since the first words of the story world.

It's also cool to learn who's doing series, and why. Thanks for sharing!

Laura - I don't so much mind when sequels have equal intensity to the first books, because increasing intensity often makes the plot weaker or crammed, but I get what you're saying, I think.

Jacqvern - Thanks! I like when sequels give me something new as well. :)

Joe - I agree. Too many people try for sequels for the easy money, rather than because they have anything new or interesting to say. Sadly people keep buying into the bad sequels—though it's always debatable what constitutes 'bad'. I'd much rather a good single-volume or single-film story over a series of books or movies that lose quality over time. But some people think in multiple books, and that's cool too. Power to them.