Saturday, 6 February 2016

Musing About Sequels

The question – to write or not to write a sequel? For me, that’s a difficult question. I can definitely see that there may be more mileage in the characters and situations I’ve written about in my novels. But then, if I really wanted to write more about them, why not just write a longer novel in the first place and use up all the situations I can?

Well, if I wrote a longer novel then I’m messing up the novel dynamics of a beginning, middle and an end. I can’t just keep having multiple beginnings, middle’s and ends, I have to settle on the one, keep the structure tight and create a story that satisfies myself and the reader.

Another reason for not writing a sequel, the best reason from my point of view, is that I don’t want to write sequels. Yes it would be easy to slip back behind the wheel of the same characters but doing that is not particularly satisfying since I’ve only got a limited time on this Earth and I don’t want to keep extending the same story. I want to write new stories.

There’s something amazing about creating new unique worlds and characters, and about saying something different every time. I try to do this although I must admit I am aware of repetitions, of thematic similarity. I suppose because with each book I’m approaching the same problem – Me - I’m writing about what I’m interested in – and I’m trying to approach it from a different angle each time. I’m trying to find something new, uncover some truth, pose the same question but find a different answer. I’m not writing a sequel, I’m not extending a story, but I am extending the exploration of the different worlds I’m interested in uncovering.

You might say – write a sequel then – but it just wouldn’t work for me, and I’ve tried. For me the characters journey is complete in the one story and it feels like I’m somehow betraying them if I send them on another. They’ve found their answers - they’ve experienced their tragedy and triumph and one way or another the world I’ve created is left in their hands. I can imagine how they will continue but I don’t need to say it and at the end of the day, the reader imagines it too.

Forgetting the writing angle, as a reader, do I like sequels and has that informed my writing? It’s true to say that I’ve read a lot more books than the three I’ve written so far and I’ve read many a series among them. What I hated reading a series when I was younger was that I would read book one and then find myself waiting two years for book 2, three years for book 3, etc, etc. I started reading ‘The Wheel Of Time’ in the 90s. I think I read the first three books thinking it was a trilogy and then discovered to my horror that it wasn’t. Starting a series without being able to finish it is reader torture. There are some series I’ve read in one go, ‘The Belgariad’ ‘The Dark is Rising Sequence’ and generally speaking if I could finish a series in a few weeks or months I was on cloud nine. When I started Game of Thrones, I wasn’t happy. Give me George R.R. Martin’s standalone novels every time. ‘Fevre Dream’ is a masterpiece, and it doesn’t have a sequel.

But as I’ve got older, even the ability to finish a series has paled. I start a series and then book 2 just seems too familiar. You read enough books and you see patterns, even in your favourite author, so I can’t even read two standalone books by the same author without detecting the author’s fingerprint. I find the best thing I can do is leave a gap between an author’s books, standalone and series alike, because that way I just enjoy them more. I forget how they write and I discover them all over again. A case in point, I’m reading book 2 of the mistborn series at the moment, three years after I read book 1. I am enjoying it. So I suppose as I’ve got older the publication gaps actually help me out, although I still like that solid feeling of knowing a series is finished before I start it. Maybe that’s just me, but if the destination doesn’t exist yet, I don’t want to start the journey.

Some books have sequels that you don’t need to read. I don’t need to read the fifteen sequels to Raymond E. Feist’s ‘Magician’ to enjoy it as a standalone book nor do I need to read the fifteen sequels to ‘Ender’s Game’. They work by themselves. Equally, John Scalzi’s ‘Old Man’s War’ doesn’t need a sequel but it has many with more to come. I enjoy book 1’s that don’t need their book 2’s and when I see that I suspect that the author’s in question never intended to write a sequel but later on thought they had to. I don’t mind that so much.

Anyway, musing over. Who likes sequels anyway, unless it’s Empire Strikes Back?

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