The Sequel Game

No real news to relate; I still be waiting for replies on two stories and I’ve not been writing much in the way of fiction recently (discounting my day job and the papers it produces…) but I feel the need to update so this site keeps its core readership of a cocker spaniel and the three dwarf pygmies of East Anglia.
     So… Sequels.
     I have always maintained that writing sequels is a very bad idea; few single stories support them (and do not mention the dreaded ‘trilogy’ to me, because I have never been convinced that you need three books to tell one story (don’t quote me since I do have a few multi-storey… story ideas, but they’re different. DIFFERENT I tell you.
     What is wrong with the concept of the sequel? In part it is because sequels tend to need to be revisionary; single stories should tell a complete story; sequels tend to tell you that said story was not complete in and of itself.
     What I am saying it is not true of everything, but I would say that it’s true of most sequels out there in the market (where the market is the screen, the page or the broadcast…). Sequels are the needless addition of extraneous material to otherwise fine stories. But the market, you and I, seem to love them.

Proviso Number One: Series

This species of sequel can be planned (say, for example, series such as B5 or Buffy; each season tends to be somewhat self complete since the market never guarantees absolute that another will follow). Some series have a definite end (B5) while others make it up as they go along (Buffy); the former presents itself as a full story, the other leaves itself open for further development.
     Are these sequels? But of course, but its a special kind of sequel, often done incredibly badly (The X Files), sometimes delightfully well (Babylon 5). But in the latter case it is a sequel in the same way that chapter two is a sequel to chapter one; the story is not yet over (but the publisher can’t guarantee that chapter three is forthcoming); in the former case the sequel season is additive. This is the classic serial technique of Dumas and Dickens.
     TV is a domain unto itself; these examples aren’t the best in the business, since the TV world encourages single servings in mammoth allotments. Written fiction, on the other hand…

Let’s look at some books instead…

Jonathan Gash, writer of the Lovejoy series of books (a character quite dissimilar to the lovable TV rogue of the same name) wrote an award winning mystery novel called ‘The Judas Pair’ about a mysterious antique and the depths to which people will go to get it. Wonderful piece of prose, mostly because Lovejoy is so despicable yet the most lovable character in the story.

And then Mr. Gash wrote a host of sequels.

Some are good, some indifferent Each one, however, diminishes the character of Lovejoy in some small part. Lovejoy was a careful mix of a despicable rogue and a lovable ne’er-do-well. Each subsequent book has had to play with that 50/50 mixture, making him, in parts, more vicious and less amoral.
     Lovejoy is now a cartoon of his former self.
     Pity really.
     Mike Ripley, writer of the ‘Angel’ (completely unrelated to the TV show of the same name) novels, seems to have an agenda for his Lovejoy-lite stories. He presented a character (of somewhat fluctuating age) who undergoes a certain amount of change so that in the last book ‘things’ happen. A planned series (or so it seems), seeing that Angel changes, bit by bit, and ends up doing something unnatural to his character in the first book but quite logical in reference to the last in the sequence.
     Then he wrote another book in the series and revoked it.
     All that careful work gone astray for the sake of a little more money (but also quite understandable if you want to support an exotic beer habit).


Proviso Number Two: Thematic sequels

If there is one author I always rush out and buy, it is Iain (M.) Banks. Nearly all of his books are unrelated, aside from his ‘Culture’ novels. None of the latter are straight sequels; instead they often explore similar themes. Only one book follows up events from an earlier tale, and it features none of the same characters.
     As sequels go these are good; the more he writes the better the idea gets (and this leads to some pretty exciting theorising about future themes to be explored). Are these sequels? Well, yes, but no. They are sequels in so much that the stories could well have worked as stand alone stories, but they might not have had the same impact. They aren’t sequels because it is the ideas they follow, not the characters…
     Perhaps I am making false distinctions here to save some series and to dismiss others.

This all pretty crap theorising.