Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Sequels

I'm in knee deep plotting for the sequel to FTCM, and in my research I've come across a couple of cool trends when it comes to plotting out a sequel. Please use, abuse, or avoid these trends in your own sequel making.

Trend One, Book 2 Means Love Triangle. 

You've spent all of book 1 falling in love with a couple being together, so then for book 2, Character A and B needs be separated ... for... like... a reason. (insert here) and then some other hot/powerful "friend" gets in the way of A and B's happy ever after.

Why this works: 

Angst! Drama! Heartbreak! Also, often times the beginning of a love story is the fun part, so add a love lambda, and you get to do the fun part all over again. MaryAnn wrote a bril post about love triangles, which I suggest you  consult before attempting one of your own, but there are a lot of reasons to go there. The main one, in Sheena Speak, is you get to scatter the ducks. If Character A and B are in love heading for a happy ever after, then the story is over, and if the story is over, then there is NO room for a sequel. Scatter the ducks!

Why this is Lame: 

One, it's a cliche because it's SO easy to do everybody does it. Sometimes well, sometimes...not. Two, it weakens the power of the love story in book 1. And Three, that second guy has an uphill battle as far as the reader is concerned. He may always seem lame, no matter how chiseled his abs are.

Also, what are we teaching our readers, if we tell them that the only good part about falling in love is the beginning? Happy characters in love can still save the world.

How to make it work: 

Photo from

Don't make the secondary love interest this guy----->

Secondary love interests should be indispensable to the plot. If you could take the character out, and not change the story, then you're doing it wrong.

Switch it up! Make it be the girl who goes away, and then make a love triangle between likable guy and two great girls. Try making the secondary love interest the villain.  Don't make the secondary love interest stupid. Try to do the love triangle in a NEW way.

Or not.

There's always an audience for angst.

Trend Two, Fight a Brand NEW Enemy. 

 All of book 1 they were fighting BAD GUY. And then... like, they beat BAD GUY. But then you want to write a sequel... so INSERT NEW BAD GUY ( or GIRL).

Why it works:

 Harry Potter did it. 

When you have a new enemy every book, then a reader can come to any book in the series, and feel a complete story. Good guys beats bad guy, day is saved.*

*Wow, that felt like a complete story.

Characters can grow, with the over-arching villain battle still to come. Good times had by all.

How this can get stupid quickly:

How many bad guys are there? It can quickly become a comic book if your constantly finding new bad guys lurking around every corner. Yes, I'm talking to you, REVOLUTION.

This can make the sequel feel episodic, or unnecessary.

Not good.

How to make this work:

photo from
Make an awesome bad guy.

Heath Ledger's Joker was phenomenal. Look at the pain and the crazy in that character's eyes. Beautiful.

It works, because Batman, (do I need to say the hero) was changed forever in dealing with him.

Every story should CHANGE the hero, and nothing changes a hero quicker, than an awesome bad guy.

Let your crazy out, and make someone so evil they have to be stopped. Explore something new that the Book 1 didn't. Make Book 2 count!

Trend Three, Embrace What Made Book 1 Awesome, and Forget About Writing a New Story.

Anchorman 2, Shrek 2, anything by Adam Sandler.

Why this works: 

People want sequels for a couple of reasons. First, to tie up loose ends, and second, to live in the world of the story again. If all ends are tied, but you want to go back and live in your own personal Narnia for a little while, then I advise you go through book 1, and clearly remember what makes your world so darn interesting, and put all that good stuff in the sequel.

Why this can be lame: 

Have you ever read or watched a sequel and thought, "I think this has been done before?"

For example, did they really need a Taken 2? How dumb are these terrorists?

How to make it work:

An image of a jumping man with red overalls and a red hat, a blue shirt, and a vegetable in his right hand Sometimes you want to live in the same story over and over again.

Mario indeed saves the princess, no matter what galaxy, castle, or paper he lives in.  Bowser will never be killed, and he will never get the point.

Still a fun game.

Now, personally preference, I like a character to change and grow. But there are some characters that are SO awesome, that to change them should be a felony.

Die Hard, for example will always have the same plot. James Bond will always be driving an awesome car beating another INSERT HERE villain.

Make it slightly different, or don't. Just make it AWESOME!

Trend Four, Empire Strikes Back It.

 There's a reason why stories are so often trilogies. Awesome beginning in book 1, bad guy gets even in book 2, and then book 3 bad guy is defeated. Sequels are often MIDDLES where the bad guy gets...ahem, badder.

Why this works: 

Strengthening the existing villain, in theory anyway, strengthens the need to kick her hiney. You get to live in the world you dig, live in a hero's head for a while, and get the privilege of shelling out more money when the third and final book/ movie finally comes.

Why this can be lame: 

Am I the only one who sometimes reads a sequel and then thinks "How much crap are they going to put us through?" Good stories have a beginning, middle, and end. But in general, middles can suck. Why would I be happy with a story that is ALL middle?

How to make it not suck: 

SW - Empire Strikes Back.jpgEmpire Strikes Back it.

Yes, the main plot of Empire strikes back is Empire striking back, but that is not the entirety of the story. There's also a love triangle ( It's okay character A, Character B is actually your sister, and also you're on Hoth the whole time anyway), new information, and exciting battles. .

But most importantly, even as the villain is strengthened, the hero is trained. Use book 2 to make the hero kick-butt-awesomer. Don't lose HOPE!

Strengthen the bad dude, and you strengthen the power of your over-arching story.

Also, then you get to write a trilogy*!


* rolling in pretend money.*

* Buy my book, Funny-Tragic-Crazy-Magic, and together we can make this pretend money I'm rolling in .35 cents. :)


  1. I love this post. I think I will read again, at least once, to get it in my brain. I have a sequel to write soon and this gave me some ideas on keeping it original. I'm also thinking of stopping after just the two books because I hate it when a story is drawn out forever and ever.Simply Sarah

  2. Excellent analysis, Sheena! ::takes notes::

  3. This is a great post. You've got me thinking about sequels I've read, and every one, I'm like, yep, it fits that category, or that one. You've given us a great tool to use.
    Thanks, Sheena! You're awesome.

  4. Love this post. Very insightful and lots of good things to think about in planning those sequels. My personal favorite is The Empire Fights Back It. I like books in a series that fit into a larger story (Harry Potter did an excellent job of this too), but yes you can go overboard. I'll be writing my WOT post (or rant) at some point. :)

    If I could add one, I'd like to add the soap opera. Sometime when the same characters are put through problem after problem after problem, it starts to feel like a soap opera, not that I ever watched soap operas. :) I just think there is only so much you can put your characters through before it starts feeling over the top. At some point, it is just time to move on.

  5. This is a great post to look at as I brainstorm sequels, which I am adamantly NOT doing right now.

    A type of sequel you sort of mention that I am growing more fond of is the sequel where a new character gets to jump into the spotlight. I'm thinking of Tamora Pierce's stories or Fire (which I haven't actually read, but I think that's the concept of it.)

    Great post, Sheena!

  6. Sequels truly need to build from the original story. A sequel that throws away what made the previous book great isn't going to be as good.

    In one of my other w.i.p.s. (wip that is on the back burner because I have other books to handle writing right now) I have the character fall in love with her best friend's boyfriend, discovers a conspiracy and tries to stop it, try to keep what she is a secret (no this isn't an alien novel), fend off another boy she's not interested in who wants her to be his 'queen', deal with an attack on Earth and has to control her shifting abilities, among other things in just the first book. I hope to make it a trilogy and each book brings a new challenge for the main character and her friends. And the villains are bad ass, one even executes the other's girlfriend even though they're on the same side. Talk about cold. And no it's not an extra romantic triangle, he just believes she's a liability and gathers a majority to get rid of her.

    1. That sounds like my kind of Story Sheena-kay. I hope you front burner it so I can read it one day. Thanks for commenting.

  7. When I was a kid/teen, I was under the impression that books came in sets of three, and they sort of followed an overall beginning, middle, and end. (Much like you said with the Empire Strikes Back.) I think that's slowly changing. There are so many series out right now that run 4, 5, 6+ books. It's hard enough for me to write book 2, I can't imagine getting 7 or 8 books deep into a series! Your advice is great, though, and such a help for me right now. :)


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