Disclaimer: If you like Nascar, Star Wars Episodes I-III, Spiderman 3, Highlander 2, or any sequels to The Matrix; beware, each is treated with minimal respect for example’s sake.
If you’ve ever seen movies from the Highlander, Alien, Batman, or Star Wars franchises; likely you’ve been disappointed in one way or another. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed every one of the Dune series and certainly not the Dune prequels written by Frank Herbert’s son. But what obstacles do sequels face given the brand’s pre-approval?
Universally Appealing Unknowns, versus Uniquely Disappointing Explanations. In the original work, some key elements remain shrouded in mystery. We accept them within the context of the story if it’s compelling enough. Also, with our personal experiences and imaginations at work; we fill in the blanks with what we prefer the answer to be.
An ideal chair for one person might recline, for another it rocks; each sees a chair in their head, but beyond the core idea, variations abound.
So anyhow, many sequels offer explanations for mysteries so many loved so much more unexplained. Disappointment ensues; Metachlorian leap into my mind as I write this. Other great examples include Highlander and The Matrix. Sometimes it oversimplifies, other times it over-complicates; either way, there’s little chance of making as many people happy as in the first work, when this mystery was all things to all people.
You Can’t Make Everybody Happy. If you’ve seen Spiderman 3, you know what I’m talking about. In an attempt to please so many different fans’ dreams of sequel content, they included too much. The result; four different plots fighting for screen time, all too watered down and under developed to satisfy anyone above the age of twelve.
The Romance Yo-Yo. “If you keep throwing the hero and damsel together only to pull them apart, time after time; I’m not buying any more of your books.” That’s what someone told me recently when I exclaimed, ‘I’m working on a sequel.’ I humbly returned to my manuscript and re-evaluated a significant sub-plot.
Why does this draw so much ire? My gut tells me, because it’s dumb. Maybe a better way to say it; it makes readers think the writer thinks they’re dumb. How many people do we all know that come back time and time again for more of the same punishment.
In my less busy, more unemployed, days I watched soap operas with my wife. Mostly it was my way of spending time with her while she watched something she enjoyed, she certainly endured enough of my science fiction fare. Anyway, I noticed one show in particular had a very small cast; they only had a half hour show. Over a relatively short period of time; the main female character had been involved with every brother and even the father of her first love. It’s the same reason I have trouble enjoying NASCAR; it’s the same track, a gagillion times.
I must admit to a few exceptions; Cheers and Firefly made good use of the back and forth mileage between their love interests to name a few.
Those are a few reasons I see sequels fail, but success? The two commonly referenced sequels I hear bandied about in my movie/sci-fi circles? Godfather II and Aliens stand out as sequels that exceeded their predecessors. How? In my opinion, Alien appealed to a broader audience because of it’s blend of action, comedy, and suspense. Godfather II offered satisfying answers to how it all started and was largely a continuation of a story thick with content.
So as I write my sequel, and hope against the odds that it’ll hold up; I realize that as long as writing the continuing story excites me, I cannot help but expect the same excitement for readers that have enjoyed the journey thus far.