What makes a good sequel? It's something I've been asking myself a lot now that I'm writing my first sequel. To a lot of people 'sequel' is a dirty word, but not for me. I love a good sequel/series. If you fall in love with the characters and are captivated by their story then you want to read more, right? That said, I don't believe in extending a stand-alone story for the sake for it, some are perfect as a once-off entry. I'm also not-so-keen on film sequels—unless they were originally intended that way—as they can taint the original. I'm thinking specifically of a popular sci-fi film trilogy in the late 90's that should have stayed a stand-alone film. The first film was perfect on its own; audiences don't need every question answered, we're smart enough to fill in the blanks.
But anyway, back to books. Often the first book only glimpses at the potential of the world being developed and sequels are an enjoyable return to these worlds, allowing the author to delve deeper and expand their universe. However, the stigma that sequels are never as good as the original remains true for novels. I can think of two or three sequels that I thought were as good, or better than the original book. Sadly most feel rushed, or the magic that kept you glued to the page has gone. Perhaps the sequels were too close to the original, making the story feel tired and derivative.
I decided to look at all the series I've read in the past few years where I quit reading before the final book. Surely I could find the culprit to sequelitis! The trend singled-out book two as the main cause. So what was it exactly about the second entry that turned me off reading the rest of the series? I narrowed it down to three main issues:
Unnecessary new love interest
This drives me crazy and is very prominent in YA Speculative Fiction sequels. Why would I want to read about a new character that breaks up the main couple that I've invested in? Who is this new character anyway? Why should I care about them? Usually I don't, and they're just a plot device to keep the main characters apart. I've read a few books where this new character has felt completely tact-on and out of place. This pulled me out of the story as I could feel what the author was trying to achieve: they wanted to tear the main characters apart only to bring them back together at the end of book two, or in book three. I'm not against having a new love interest if there is a point to that person, aside from them being an obstacle to our main characters' happiness.
Obstacles for the sake of obstacles
Relating to the above point, where you feel a new storyline is thrown into the mix just to prevent the main character/characters from achieving their goal, with no connection back to book one or the established mythology. This can be in relation to lots of new characters being inserted (again, why should I care about them?) or some left-of-field plot twist. I believe the best sequels are when book two leads directly into the plot of book three, and no, I don't mean by ending on a cliffhanger. If you can skip book two and feel as though you haven't missed anything, then chances are the author has inserted obstacles for the sake of obstacles.
I don't really care what happens
This one is the hardest to define as it's more of a feeling than a concrete reason to say why I don't continue to read a series. Often it's because I never really cared enough about the characters in the first place. This can be due to the characters not being likeable, relatable or interesting enough, or it could be that the main plot or theme never really captivated me in the first place. This comes down to personal taste, as one theme will appeal to readers more than it will to me. Perhaps I was lured in by the cover, or the blurb, but by the time I've reached book two (if I even made it that far) I can't imagine spending more hours reading about characters and plots that I'm not really invested in. For example, if I read one more book about angels I might start tearing at the pages like a wild animal. That's not to say there aren't well-written books about angels but I feel it's currently overdone and I'm ready to read something fresh.
Next time I'll post about what I do like about sequels. In the meantime, let me know what annoys you about sequels and hopefully I won't make the same mistakes!
Until next time,