Sequels and Series

The other day it occurred to me when I was watching Sinister 2 in the theater (and subsequently losing sleep because I didn’t feel right): what do we actually like about sequels, series, and spin-offs? I ask this because I hated that movie. I also really disliked Mall Cop 2… but I happened to love 22 Jump Street, The Avengers 2, and Toy Story 3. Then of course there’s the world of books. I devour lots of series and sequels, but I don’t always end up liking them. So why am I working on one myself, and what’s making it so tough?

When a writer finishes a book, there’s this profound sense of “Whew!” or “OMG” or “YESSSS!” hopefully followed by a short break, and then a revision/editing process that takes probably three times as long as the writing process did. We’re often advised to get some distance between drafts and revisions. Put the manuscript in a drawer, devour the media, start something of a different genre. This is all valuable and great until ideas of a sequel start bubbling up. How does a writer come back to his/her world after all that distance, and how we know we’re doing justice to our world when there’s so much to think about? The tone should stay consistent, the world and the characters need to come back, and you need to give the readers more of what they loved the first time without being redundant. As I work on Book II of The Carver Series, I come to understand that this is easier said than done.

I’ve taken some nice breaks from The Carver, and during these breaks I’ve watched healthy doses of Once Upon a Time, played some of the Kingdom Hearts series, and looped the soundtracks of movies like Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Alice in Wonderland. When I come back to The Carver, I sometimes worry that this distance has severely affected my writing. Alice starts talking like Emma Swan, Hansel wants to be a witch hunter, and Crescenzo wants to wield a keyblade. It’s tough, and sometimes I tell myself that the easy thing to do would’ve been to rewrite the ending of the Carver and forgo the rest of the series.

As a friend put it, however, these characters still have stories to be told, and that’s what started the series in the first place. We fall in love with a series when we’re not ready to let go of a world or a cast of characters. That’s why so many people have begged JK Rowling to write more, and interestingly, she continues to spin short stories and expand her universe. This is the vision a writer needs to hold onto. In the end, it’s about these characters and upholding your obligation to tell their stories. (Before The Carver, I promised the protagonists of Positive Pizza that I’d finish their stories, and now here I am continuing Enzo’s!) We should also remember the promise we’ve made to the reader. What made people fall in love with The Sorcerer’s Stone or Cinder, or 21 Jump Street? Beloved characters, deep worlds, or a signature brand of humor. In some cases, it’s also a contract you’ve made in the first chapter. Join me, reader, and I’ll tell you what happens.

While sequels and series aren’t always easy, and they’re a whole different ball game than a standalone novel, they are worth the effort, and somewhere out there, somebody needs your story. Write it even when it’s hard, and revise until your vision comes back into focus!

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