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By Cory Putnam Oakes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith
When I sold my first middle grade novel, I was super excited when my publisher asked me if I would also write a sequel.
A sequel! Squee!
Because two books were obviously twice as awesome as one book and now I’d get to spend more time writing in the world I had painstakingly constructed for Book #1.
I was ecstatic and I floated around on a cloud of overwhelming happiness—right up until the moment I sat down to write Book #2.
Then, panic set in.
The sequel, which had sounded so good in theory, was downright terrifying in actual fact. I had no idea where to start and I was sure I was going to totally screw it up.
I had never experienced a sequel as a writer before. My writer-self had nothing but a big giant blank to draw on in that area.
I realized, however, that I had experienced quite a few sequels as a reader. And my reader-self had some very definite opinions about sequels, so I decided to let my reader-self educate my writer-self on how to proceed.
Turns out, my reader-self had some useful things to say which really helped me during the (eventual) writing process.
So in the interest of helping other writers who currently find themselves (or may one day find themselves) staring down the barrel of a sequel, here are my Seven Deadly Sins of Sequels:Deadly Sin #1: Skipping Stuff
Perhaps one of my biggest peeves when it comes to sequels is when major changes happen between Book #1 and Book #2 and we learn about those changes in a recap at the beginning of Book #2 instead of actually seeing them happen.
If you’re going to kill off a character, end a major relationship, have somebody move away, or basically put any character in a fundamentally different position than the one they were in at the end of Book #1, don’t do it in a recap! That’s cheating.
Your reader is picking up Book #2 because they loved the story and the characters from Book #1—don’t bamboozle us by letting major things happen behind our backs! We will feel like we missed a step. (Which, in fact, we did!)Deadly Sin #2: Jumping the Tracks
No one likes a plot they can see coming a mile away, but it’s also no fun to feel like the story-train you climbed aboard in Book #1 has literally jumped off of its tracks in Book #2 and is headed in a new direction, one for which you didn’t buy a ticket.
That doesn’t mean that the plot of Book #2 should be yawningly predictable for the sake of comfort, but there should be some hint of what is coming next built into Book #1 so your reader doesn’t feel completely blind-sided.
(Note: don’t panic if you’ve already completed Book #1 and you don’t think you did this—go back and read Book #1 again. I promise you planted more seeds than you remember.) Deadly Sin #3: Book 1? Was There a Book #1?
You don’t want Book #2 to only make sense to people who were really, really paying attention to Book #1. But on the flip side, your sequel should not be a complete stand alone: Don’t act like Book #1 never happened. If, for example, your main character overcame a major obstacle in Book #1, it’s weird if that obstacle, and his/her struggle, is never referred to in Book #2.
You don’t have to go overboard reminiscing and info-dumping about all the stuff that happened in Book #1 ("Hey guys! Remember that time that we . . . "), but Book #1 is now part of the mythos, the shared understanding, of both books. It’s a common language between you and your reader. Use it as such. Make sure that you are building up your characters in Book #2 on top of a foundation that you constructed in Book #1.Deadly Sin #4: When Book #2 is Basically Just Book #1 On Steroids
In Book #1, the main character learns how to deal with a bully.
In Book #2, the main character learns how to deal with an even bigger, nastier, scarier bully.
No. Your main character has already fought this battle. They need a new battle for Book #2 or we’re just watching them go on the exact same journey they’ve already taken. Even if we really, really enjoyed the journey the first time around, we don’t want to see it again.
The question your sequel audience is asking is: Where does this character go from here? Not: Can they do it again even though it’s slightly harder this time?Deadly Sin #5: When Book #2 Is Nothing But a Bridge to Book #3
This is a well-documented problem, specific to trilogies, when an author sacrifices Book #2 in order to set up the amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing idea they have for Book #3.
Okay, fine, I’ll use a specific example here: "The Empire Strikes Back."
I love "Star Wars,"
I do. But even I’m forced to admit that Empire was really just a big set-up for "Return of the Jedi."
We can excuse this because of all the battles with Imperial Walkers and people cutting open tauntauns, being frozen in carbonite, and almost getting eaten by meteor-caves-that-are-really-giant-monsters. "Star Wars" can get away with this. But you and I can’t.
We need to move our plots along because people are not going to be as forgiving about our books as they are about "Star Wars" because, well, our books are not "Star Wars."
Trilogies are tough because in a three book series, Book #1 is going to be the beginning, Book #2 the middle, and Book #3 the end. The tricky part is that each individual book in the series (including Book #2) also needs a beginning, middle, and an end of their very own.
How can you tell if you’re sacrificing Book #2? If the only stuff that happens in Book #2 is bad and there is no resolution to any of it, this is big, red, flashing warning sign. If Book #2 is when everything breaks, and Book #3 is where everything is fixed, this means you’re stopping your characters in mid-arc in Book #2. This is very unsatisfying.
Don’t get me wrong: You can leave your characters in dire straits at the end of Book #2. But make sure they accomplished something while getting there. There needs to be some kind of resolution to Book #2 problems—in Book #2.Deadly Sin #6: Major Reveals That Should Have Happened Earlier
You know when you’ve been friends with somebody for years and then you learn a very important thing about them that you can’t believe you didn’t know? It feels rotten, right? Like maybe you never really knew them like you thought you did, or that maybe you’re a bad friend for not realizing this very important thing sooner?
Don’t make your reader feel like that. I’m not saying you can’t reveal new, surprising, very important things about your characters in Book #2—you can, and you should. But there needs to be a very good reason why we didn’t hear about this very important thing in Book #1. Don’t make your reader feel like a bad friend. Deadly Sin #7: When Characters Morph Into Strangers
As readers, we fall in love with characters. Sometimes to unreasonable degrees. We will tolerate (and even encourage) them when they change and grow in reaction to things that happen to them, but we will not accept them drifting away from their core, defining characteristics.
Nobody would be okay with it if Indiana Jones suddenly decided to just “get over” his fear of snakes and adopted one as a pet. Nobody would be on board with Harry Potter dropping out of Gryffindor, joining Slytherin, and giving Ron Weasley wedgies in the hallway. It’s just not them.
Your characters need to grow and change in Book #2. But they need to stay themselves. Don’t mess with the core of who they are, or you risk the wrath of your readers who love them.
So those are the sins that I tried to avoid while writing my sequel. What did I miss? What else can we add to this list, to help guide the future sequel-writers of the world on their perilous journey?
Note: As you add to this list, please speak generally, as opposed to using specific books and authors as negative examples. Everyone who has ever tackled a sequel deserves a hug, a high-five, and at least a gallon of chocolate ice cream—not criticism. Let’s keep it positive, encouraging, and helpful! Cynsational NotesCory Putnam Oakes
is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Dinosaur Boy Saves Mars
, the sequel that inspired this post, came out in February, 2016 from Sourcebooks.
She is also the author of Dinosaur Boy
(Sourcebooks, 2015); The Veil
(Octane Press, 2011); and Witchtown
(coming from Houghton Mifflin, 2017).
She wishes it to be known that she feels really, really badly about disparaging "The Empire Strikes Back" in the above post. But
she is certain that her overwhelming love for "Star Wars" in general will excuse this teeny, tiny bit of loving criticism.
Cynthia Leitich Smith agrees with Cory about the perils of "bridge" books in trilogies, but nevertheless believes that "The Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the "Star Wars" movies. Cynthia also selected "The Karate Kid II"
to illustrate Cory's fourth point, even though it's her favorite of that series, too. She apparently feels conflicted about the whole dynamic.
Like the rest of America I have watched, enthralled, the debate going on at the child_lit listserv as to whether or not folks should/are choosing to eschew reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.
I’m sorry, what that?
I’m being informed that despite my opinions on the matter, America does not collectively read child_lit. I find this version of the facts suspicious and will look into it further, later.
In any case, here at NYPL, Gwen Glazer came up with an interesting idea. She wrote, “we’re thinking about other authors we wish would suddenly come out (some posthumously) with another novel many years after their first—and only— full-length works of fiction.” Of course, considering the backlash against Lee’s book, one wonders if such sequels would be as desired by the masses as they might once have been. Glazer’s list is fun, so I wondered about what children’s novels we might want to see sequels to. Some already have perfectly good, if not particularly well known sequels, of course. Harriet the Spy, for example. But others might do well. I’m going to try to eschew those books that have had posthumous novels already written by others (Peter Pan’s, Pooh’s, Wind in the Willow’s, A Little Princess’s, etc.) and stick with some that have worlds I’d like to return to. Books like . . .
The Secret Garden
Purging from our brains the lamentable Hallmark version of The Secret Garden which took it upon itself to stage the book as a flashback (the WWI present day bring to mind rejected sequences from Downton Abbey and included such terrible ideas as a Mary/Colin romance and a dead soldier Dickon) I’m not saying that a sequel to this book would be a good idea. Just an interesting one. I mean, you have a house with a hundred empty rooms. Forget the garden, I wanna know the house’s history. But maybe that’s just me.
Yeah yeah yeah. Look, you can tell me all day long that Small Steps was the sequel, but it wasn’t. It was a companion novel and what I want is more Yelnats. Gimme more of that guy. I liked that guy. I want to know where that guy’s going.
The Phantom Tollbooth
Admit it. It writes itself.
People always put down Anne Carroll Moore for not loving this little mouse. Well I can attest that in 3rd grade I became appalled by the ending of this book. Stuart sets off in his canoe to find his delightful bird friend and . . . the end. Open ended finales were never for me. I was just so mad when I found out that there wasn’t a sequel. So I’m in the Moore camp. Stuart’s not my favorite but maybe that’s just because I needed more of him. And while we’re at it.
Sacrilege! Horrors! It would be the worst idea of all time. But . . . come on. I wanna know about those three spider sisters that stay with Wilbur. Forget the rest of the farm, what adventures do they get into? Oh, fine. Bad idea. But I’m still curious.
Any bad ideas/impossible to resist curiosities to share?
As you *probably* know by now--thanks to the absurd amount of whining I've been doing--KEEPER book 2 is currently kicking my butt. Don't worry--I am managing to fight back, but it's pretty much taking ALL of my energy. I'm only getting only a couple hours of restless sleep and working allllllllllllllll day (okay, fine, minus a couple of Twitter breaks--but that's to keep a *little* bit of sanity) and still not producing as many words each day as I need to be because I spend so dang much time staring at the screen thinking arrrrrrrrrgh, this is HAAARRRD! (also tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired)
Someday, when my brain is working again, I will add my own thoughts to the never-ending discussion on why writing book 2 is such a mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting experience for a new author. But for today I'm just going to share something an awesome friend shared with me to keep me going through the next few hellish weeks I have ahead of me. THIS is why writers write.
I also found this, when I was searching through images (for research--I assure you) which is something I firmly believe in:
I can tell you this--Book 2 is scaring the crap out of me right now. But I have to believe that's a good sign. After all, if it were easy to make someone lose themselves so deeply in your story that they forget the world around them, then everyone would do it.
But they don't. WE do. WE write. Partially because we're all a little bit crazy (come on, it takes a *tiny* bit of crazy to do this). But mostly because we love it. Even during the hard times, there is nothing better than losing yourself in a story. YOUR story.
So if you need me, I'll be in Sophie's world, clinging to the dream that if I just keep going, I will find my way back out. I think I can I think I can I think I can I think I can...
YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS!!!!!
In case you missed all my FB/Twitter celebrating, as of about noon yesterday Book 2 is now officially my editor's inbox!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Yes--happy dancing was done.
Along with a few happy tears.
It was a long, long, longlonglong road getting here, with so many twists and turns and ups and downs--plus some seriously INSANE hours. And the work has really only just begun since I have a feeling my editorial letter is going to be... intense.
BUT I DID IT!!!
Huge impossible-feeling hurdle crossed!!!!!!
And I'd planned to write a much more meaningful post on some of the challenges/things I've learned but...
So... I'm giving my brain a chance to recover. Catch up on a few things. MAYBE even take a Shannon day or two. And THEN I will put together a proper post for you guys.
In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a lovely, wonderful week!
I was out for a run the morning of the 4th when a squadron of Blue Angels came zooming across the sky in formation. The contrast between the Olmsted-ordered beauty of my surroundings (see above, near Ward’s Pond in Jamaica Plain) and the high-tech menace above made me feel like I was in The Giver. So then my thoughts wandered to Lois Lowry’s latest novel, Son, fourth and presumably last in what the publisher is now calling the Giver Quartet.
I like the book (it will be reviewed in the September issue of the Horn Book Magazine) but I do wonder about the wisdom (aesthetic if not commercial) of going to the same well too often. Any time I speak to an audience that includes library students, I plead with one of them to make a master’s thesis (do library school students still write master’s theses? Masters’ theses?) of the intersection of Newbery attention and sequel publication. There are tons of variables, including the fact that no fewer than five Newbery Medals have gone to books that were sequels to books that had previously won Newbery Honors. At least fifteen Newbery winners have spawned sequels, sometimes where you would expect (as with Susan Cooper’s ongoing Dark Is Rising series, or Cynthia’s Voigt’s further adventures of the Tillerman kids) but often where you would not, as with Julie of the Wolves or The Giver or Shiloh. None of these stories needed to keep going, and one thing I like about all those books is the way they end. Here’s hoping Dead End in Norvelt is true to its title.
I got the chance to go to Barnes and Noble to do some shopping, and came across some sequels I had no idea were out!!! So, with that in mind, I thought I'd share with you some of the latest sequels to fab YA books already out and about! I knew a few, but with the help of some fabulous librarians from yalsa, I got a more extensive list :)
Unwholly by Neal Shusterman (sequel to Unwind)
Rage Within by Jeyn Roberts (sequel to Dark Inside)
Outpost by Ann Aguirre (sequel to Enclave)
Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel (sequel to This Dark Endeavor)
Shadows by Ilsa J Bick (sequel to Ashes)
Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin (sequel to Ashfall)
Seconds Away by Harlan Coben (sequel to Shelter)
Feedback by Robison Wells (sequel to Variant)
Following Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci (sequel to The Body of Christopher Creed)
Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh (sequel to Nevermore)
Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel (sequel to Dearly, Departed)
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns)
Prized and Promised (two books) by Caragh O’Brien (sequel to Birthmarked)
Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh (sequel to Nevermore)
Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel (sequel to Dearly, Departed)
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns)
Passenger by Andrew Smith (sequel to the Marbury Lens)
White Glove War by Katie Crouch (sequel to The Magnolia League)
Scorch by Gina Damico (sequel to Croak)
Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride (long awaited sequel to Hold Me Closer Necromancer)
Island of Silence by Lisa McMann (sequel to The Unwanteds)
Life Happens Next by Terry Trueman (sequel to Stuck in Neutral)
Thumped, sequel to Bumped by Megan McCaffertyThe Torn Wing by Kiki Hamilton (2nd book in a planned quartet, The Faerie Ring) The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Heroes of Olympus)
Scorch by Gina Damico (sequel to Croak)
By: Betsy Bird
Blog: A Fuse #8 Production
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, book jacket nattering
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Well sir, it’s a heckuva week. Book stuff is happening out the wazoo, but for a moment I’d like to concentrate on what else is going on in the wider children’s literary world. What say we Fusenews it up a bit, eh?
- Of course there’s no way to begin today without a hat tip to the late, great E.L. Konigsburg. The only person, I believe, to win both a Newbery Award and a Newbery Honor in their debut year. Top THAT one, folks! The New York Times pays tribute to one of our luminaries. We had managed to do pretty well in 2013 without losing one of our lights. Couldn’t last forever. Godspeed, Elaine.
- Speaking of deaths, I missed mentioning my sadness upon hearing of Roger Ebert’s passing. Jezebel put out a rather nice compilation of Roger Ebert’s Twenty Best Reviews. I wonder if folks ever do that for children’s book critics. Hm. In any case, amongst the reviews was this one for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s rather brilliant. See for yourself.
12. On the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:
“Kids are not stupid. They are among the sharpest, cleverest, most eagle-eyed creatures on God’s Earth, and very little escapes their notice. You may not have observed that your neighbor is still using his snow tires in mid-July, but every four-year-old on the block has, and kids pay the same attention to detail when they go to the movies. They don’t miss a thing, and they have an instinctive contempt for shoddy and shabby work. I make this observation because nine out of ten children’s movies are stupid, witless, and display contempt for their audiences, and that’s why kids hate them….All of this is preface to a simple statement: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz. It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren’t: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination. Willy Wonka is such a surely and wonderfully spun fantasy that it works on all kinds of minds, and it is fascinating because, like all classic fantasy, it is fascinated with itself.” [January 1971
- New Blog Alert: Now I would like to brag about my system’s children’s librarians. They are uniquely talented individuals. Smart as all get out. One that I’ve always been particularly impressed with is Stephanie Whelan, a woman I trust more than anyone else when it comes to finding the best in children’s (not YA) science fiction and fantasy fare. Now Stephanie has conjured up one doozy of a blog on that very topic. It’s called Views From the Tesseract (nice, right?) and it looks at a lot of science fiction and fantasy specifically with side views of topics in the field. You’ll find posts with subjects like A Matter of Taste: Preferring One Genre Over Another, Five Fantasy Pet Peeves, and the fascinating delve into the world of Tom Swift in The Swift Proposal. Stephanie also has access to galleys so be sure to check out her early reviews for books like William Alexander’s Ghoulish Song and Sidekicked by John David Anderson (which I’m reading right now on her recommendation).
- Turns out that the Mental Floss piece 11 Book Sequels You Probably Didn’t Know Existed spends an inordinate amount of time looking at children’s books. Check it out for mentions of the 101 Dalmatians sequel (missed that one), the E.T. sequel The Book of the Green Planet (which, if memory serves, was illustrated long ago by David Wiesner and is the only book he no longer owns the art of), and more.
- Nice blogger mentions this week. Thanks to Sara O’Leary for mentioning my new website and to Jen Robinson’s for the nice review of Giant Dance Party. I appreciate it, guys! Plus Jen is the first review I’ve read that draws a connection between my book and the Hunger Games series. Few can say so much.
Speaking of reviews, I owe Travis Jonker a debt of gratitude for reviewing Marguerite Abouet’s Akissi. I read that book in the original French a year or two ago and was completely uncertain if it would ever see the light of day here in the States due to a final story that, quite frankly, DEFIES anything I’ve seen in children’s literature before. The kind of thing that makes Captain Underpants look tame. You have been warned. Great book, by the way. Let’s not lose sight of that.
- Not too long ago I spoke to a group of 6th graders at Bank Street College’s school about contemporary book jackets and how they’re marketed to kids. Only a portion of my talk was dedicated to race or gender. Fortunately, the kids have been thinking long and hard about it. Allie Bruce has posted twice about a covers project the kids have participated in. Be sure to check out race and then gender when you have a chance. Food for thought.
- What do Pinkalicious, A Ball for Daisy, and Square Cat all have in common? Read ‘em to your kids and you’ll be teaching them that consumerism is king. So sayeth a 196-page thesis called “Cultivating Little Consumers: How Picture Books Influence Materialism in Children”, as reported by The Guardian. And they might have gotten away with the premise to if they just hadn’t brought up I Want My Hat Back. Dude. Back away from the Klassen. Thanks to Zoe Toft (Playing By the Book) for the link.
- Required Reading of the Day: There are few authorial blogs out there even half as interesting as Nathan Hale’s. And when the guy gets a fact wrong in one of his books, he’ll do anything to set it right. Even if it means going to Kansas. Here’s how he put it:
We made a HUGE historical error, and we are going to fix it! We are going to learn why Kansas wasn’t a Confederate state–why it was a “Free State,” and how it happened. We are also going to visit Kansas on an official apology and correction trip. When we are finished, all Hazardous Tales readers will know how to correct their own copy of Big Bad Ironclad! Stay tuned!
You can see the official ceremony here, but be sure to read all the blog posts he drew to explain precisely why Kansas was a free state anyway. You can see Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and Part Six.
It’s not the holiday gift giving season, but if you know a librarian in need of a unique gift, I have your number.
Awesomesauce. Thanks to Marchek for the link.
By: Stacy Dillon,
This is a book I have been meaning to read for quite some time now. The Big Splash
is a book that has a constant and steady flow of readers at our school. I enjoyed it very much, but somehow I had not gotten around to reading the sequel. Boy, I'm glad I finally did!
It's only 2 weeks after the end of The Big Splash. Matt is experiencing a bit of a moment of celebrity himself, and more and more kids are interested in his services. He is a bit surprised when beautiful cheerleader Melissa Scott, girlfriend of basketball star Will Atkins, want to hire him to follow her famously sporty boyfriend around. Matt isn't exactly used to dealing with the beautiful cheerleader type, and little does he know that Melissa is just the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, Vinny is still ruling The Frank, and he isn't about to leave Matt's talents untouched. He too, wants Matt's services and doesn't give him much of a choice about the matter. Liz, who is pulling away from Matt at this point, accuses him of having a lack of moral compass. Matt is left wondering if he is any better than Vinny and his thugs.
Throw in some twists and turns of the family mystery, a super twisty path toward a romance, and wrap it all in a noir package and you have The Quick Fix. And somehow it works. Readers totally buy into Ferraiolo's world with it's rules and slang. Kids have pixy stix addictions, water guns seal their fates, basketball games are fixed, and it all makes sense. There is a sensibility to Ferraiolo's writing that oozes commitment and authenticity. Kids get this and they enjoy every moment of it. If you haven't made time to read this one yet, you should.
I heard on NPR this morning there is a new sequel to AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh books. Let me start by saying the author, David Benedictus, has done his homework. He's spent considerable time researching Milne's life, picking apart the Pooh stories, and even visiting the original hundred acre wood. He has taken great care to write in the voice of Milne, keeping the characters true to his vision.
Let me also say I have read other sequels created by other authors: Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett and one of the many Rebecca spin-offs, to name a few. Each of these I was able to read as an observer, appreciating some new insight but ultimately keeping my allegiance to the real Scarlett O'Hara or Mrs. DeWinter.
But Pooh Bear?
Pooh is a sacred part of childhood. That last chapter in The House at Pooh Corner (a gut-wrenching read aloud) shows that as bittersweet as it is, Christopher Robin is growing up. He can't come back as he has before. His relationship with his stuffed friends is different now.
I appreciate the author's intention to stay true to Milne's characters and even his statement that not everyone will want new Pooh. And in reading through this, I can see what an utter goofball I must appear to be, seeing any alteration to particular characters as a personal affront. I just can't help it. Characters from childhood are special. As well-intentioned as Mr. Benedictus's good words might be, I can't add to the stories I grew up with.
What do you think?
Today's Ypulse Youth Advisory Board post is from Northwestern journalism student and new member Amber Gibson on her frustrations with the endless saga of sequels coming out of Hollywood.
As always, you can communicate directly with any member of the... Read the rest of this post
My friend Adam (he of knowing all-things-garden fame) wrote just now about Dangerous Neighbors
, a note that echoed my friend John's note of a while back, and Ed's note of even longer ago, and Mandy's, too. What they said is their own business. What it has all made me think is this: Perhaps, if I am lucky, Dangerous Neighbors
will earn its sequel (as I had always hoped Undercover
would; I'd planned the whole thing in my mind). And if it does, I know the story I will tell, I know where I would go, I know how much I would enjoy going and being there.
Time will tell. I will wait for time.
Blog: The Spectacle
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, Dead Girl
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, The Well of Sacrifice
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All the buzz right now is about the latest book in a certain trilogy. Some of us on this site have written series or sequels. I wrote the Haunted series and Linda Joy Singleton’s work includes the Dead Girl and The Seer series. Joni Sensel’s The Farwalker’s Quest was recently followed by a sequel.
What author wouldn’t like to have a series, whether the original contract is for several books, or a single title is so popular that readers (and the editor) want a sequel? And what reader wouldn’t want to return to a favorite literary world?
And yet, series can be a hard sell. Some publishers of course focus on series, typically the direct to paperback, open-ended type. I sold Haunted (about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, for ages 8 to 12) based on a first manuscript, series proposal, and outlines for books 2 and 3, to Aladdin, a paperback series publisher. But most publishers want to see how a first book does before they request a sequel.
“Characters that carry over a number of books certainly work well, but this isn’t the same thing as a series,” a former Llewellyn Acquisitions Editor said in an interview. “I’d rather see a strong standalone with sequel potential. If a single title works and the main character isn’t too old, it’s rarely a problem to continue the story into a new book, if there’s interest.”
Another editor commented, “I wonder how many trilogies or series were conceived as such—and how many began as one-offs that performed well and/or became bestsellers, at which point authors are often encouraged to write a follow-up.”
I wonder as well. As a writer, perhaps the best thing you can do is to bring your first book to a satisfactory conclusion, but leave the sense that the characters will go on to have other adventures — and wouldn’t it be nice to read about those?
This is also comforting for the author, who doesn’t feel as much like she’s abandoning her characters forever. (I ended my historical fiction novel The Well of Sacrifice with the characters heading off to a new Mayan city. I imagined their adventures, though I never wrote a sequel. Some teachers who use the book in the classroom have students write about what happens next.) This is a bit different from “And they lived happily ever after” — unless you believe that happily ever after would involve new challenges and adventures!
As readers — or writers — do you like to feel that a book is complete and self-contained, with no questions or concerns left for the characters? Or do you prefer an ambiguous ending that suggests challenges ahead? Something in between?
The Well of Sacrifice is a drama set in 9th-century Mayan Guatemala.
Chris Eboch likes happy endings!
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When I heard that the sequel to THE MAZE RUNNER, THE SCORCH TRIALS, will be available October 12th, I wondered how in the world Dashner could revisit such a narrow construct. THE MAZE RUNNER had a fantastic premise: kid wakes up in a maze and must find his way out. There was more to it, but that’s the basic idea. So what could a sequel possibly entail? Dashner can’t exactly stick the kid back into another maze without suspending disbelief further than readers can manage.
Actually, the sequel will follow Thomas and co. as they cross a scorched wasteland in a race to reach a safe haven. But that description leaves me scratching my head—how does that story connect to a story about a kid in a maze? Certainly it’s poised to answer questions left up in the air at the end of THE MAZE RUNNER, and it will bring new challenges, and—I hope—more puzzles to solve. But is that enough to create a coherent series? Perhaps navigating this wasteland will be similar to navigating a maze?
I had the same issue with THE HUNGER GAMES. I loved the first novel, but it left me wondering how the sequel would revisit the main premise: girl must fight to the death in an arena, on camera. I’ll confess that I found much of the set up of its sequel, CATCHING FIRE, to be boring. But I loved the last third of the novel, when Katniss was thrown back into the ring. Some said that that particular plot point was too much of a stretch—but I welcomed the familiar construct. Now how was Collins going to revisit the premise yet again?
I’ll keep this discussion spoiler free and just say that I appreciated her attempt to recreate the structure of the games without actually instigating another round (that certainly would have been completely unbelievable). Katniss and co. still had traps to evade and opponents to fight. Our hero worked toward the same goal she set in the beginning: Defy the Capitol.
I suppose I’m a fool for repetition. If I love the original book, I hope the sequel will provide the same joys. I don’t just want the story to continue, I want it to cycle. Or rather, to spiral—to move forward even as it repeats. But it’s a fine line a writer walks between reprising and repeating.
Do you enjoy sequels that repeat the original premise or do you prefer for the author to find new ground to cover? Which sequels do you feel have the perfect blend of old and new?
Parker Peevyhouse is a master maze-navigator
Filed under: Parker Peevyhouse
5 Comments on Sequels and the Art of Repetition, last added: 9/28/2010
A dear friend recently asked me about the books I'm looking forward to this year.
No, that's not what happened.
I was actually talking her EAR off about all the books I'm dying to read. DYING! I'm saving my pennies now and telling my local library to stock these debuts and sequels. I think there's something delicious about waiting for the next book in a series, although at times it can feel torturous. Until then, here's my list (in order of release date). I'm sure some of you know where I'm coming from!
First up is Demonglass
by Rachel Hawkins. The sequel to Hex Hall
comes out in March 2011. I need to know what happens to Sophie, Jenna and Archer....now now now!!!
Second we have City of Fallen Angels
by Cassandra Clare. The 4th installment of The Mortal Instruments Series comes out in April 2011. Clary, Jace, Simon, Izzy, Alec, Magnus, Maia, Jace (did I mention Jace already?!)....need I say more? I have been craving this book since I finished City of Glass
over a year ago.
Third we have Red Glove
by Holly Black, releasing April 2011. I've been wanting to get my hands on the first book White Cat
for months now, but my lack of income and my local library being out of it has kept me from it. But last week I found a copy and devoured it in one night. The ending left me almost in tears, knowing I had to wait a few more months for the sequel.*shakes fist at Holly Black*
Well played, Holly. Well played indeed.
I’ve been reading a number of highly anticipated sequels lately, as well as editing a sequel or two myself. It has me thinking about the best ways to reintroduce your reader to your characters and plot that they may have just read last week—or maybe it’s been more than a year. How do you avoid over-dumping on the re-reader without leaving the non-re-reader in the dusts of confusion?
One strategy I’ve seen in sequels for young readers, especially, is to just stop the action entirely at some point in the first chapter and explain what happened in the last book. It’s a trick I saw used a lot in series books for kids when I was a young reader obsessed with Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books.
This doesn’t really work for me. Any stopping of the action for an infodump breaks the spell for me as a reader, taking me time to rebuild my suspension of disbelief. It worked to a point in those old series books because my library didn’t always have every single copy in order when I wanted them (not to mention they were missing several volumes), but especially if you’re not writing series books (as in, shared-world), it’s not the best strategy, in my opinion.
Then there’s the school of thought that just dumps you into the action of the new book. This can work, but it’s tricky. One book I read recently is a good example (no, I’m not going to tell you the name of it): I’m right there with the story until the character thinks of another character who she’s lost touch with. He’s not in any scene for the first quarter of the book, and I was racking my brain that whole time trying to remember which of two or three possibilities he could be, and that confusion wasn’t cleared up when he showed up in-scene. And it’s a confusion that I’m not sure the author could have anticipated. Maybe I should have glanced back at the previous book to remind myself. Was he a love interest? Was he a brother? Was he a potential love interest who turned out to be a brother? (Perhaps too much Star Wars in my diet?) I couldn’t remember until at least halfway through the book, and mostly because I picked up the last book and skimmed. This has happened to me a few times lately.
I think there are ways to help jog the reader’s memory without losing momentum or forcing the reader to go back to the previous book (some readers might not even have the previous book on hand—they might have borrowed it from the library or a friend). In my opinion, the best way to remind readers, whether they’ve just read a book and are launching into the sequel immediately or it’s been a year since they read the last book, is the same principle as getting your reader into a completely new world: through well-placed details planted with a deft touch.
Let’s look at the opening pages of Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, for an example. The first two paragraphs are right in the moment, Katniss thinking about what’s going on right now and what’s about to happen. We don’t get a direct reference to the Hunger Games until paragraph 3, but all along she’s talking about their outcome because that’s what life is for her now: reporters and camera crews, preparation for the Victory Tour, the dread she feels so much that it’s physically affecting her.
Then in paragraph 3 we get a quick review of book 1 with an in-scene rumination on how much she wants to forget the Hunger Games but isn’t allowed to because it suits the political purposes of the Capital. One paragraph, and it all matters to the current plot. She doesn’t stop the plot to explain what the Hunger Games were, just reminds the reader with a deft touch of the repercussions of all the events of book 1.
Then we’re on to the scene again, and the purpose of Katniss being in the woods: hunting for her best friend, Gale, who can’