Monday, October 28, 2013

The Sequel Conundrum

With my first book about to hit shelves on the Amazon store, my mind has been running on overdrive in preparation for writing the second installment. Unfortunately, what I initially anticipated to be a “hurdle” to overcome has seemed to manifest into facing the Ironman Triathlon of writing monsters.

Let’s face it. When it comes to sequels, whether it be in book or movie format, the odds of matching or surpassing the original really aren’t in one’s favor. We’ve all watched or read that masterpiece of a product, waiting anxiously in anticipation for the follow-up to arrive so that we can satisfy our enthusiastic cravings of plunging back into the ingenious world created by its maker, only then to be dealt the devastating blow of being introduced to a less than satisfactory outcome.

The moviemaking world is notorious for this. When a well-executed, primed scripted, perfect casted film that turns a healthy profit at the box-office and is well received by critics, it’s destined to have a sequel spawned from it, despite the fact that the story was good and solid for only one go-around. The next film is typically rushed, has a haphazard screenplay, is riddled with clich├ęs, and always has a higher body count if it falls in the action genre. This leads clever, inventive films such as Jaws to shudder at the agonizing thought of the disasters like Jaws: The Revenge that seem to follow.

Now, for those in the boat such as myself, filmmakers and novelist do on occasion go into the process of making an initial product, knowing very well that there will be a continuation. In intended series, it is key to hook the audience in with a solid first installment. When that’s been achieved, you head into the dangerous waters of the “sequel conundrum.” How does one overcome this obstacle?

Especially in regard to mapping out trilogies, the second installment generally falls short due to the fact that it usually serves simply as buildup for the grand finale saved for book/movie number three. So in the midst of some two hours of screen time or four hundred pages of a book, we come to find that nothing really substantial happens. Its mere function is to be the upsurge in information that is going to be paid off in the next/final installment.

This conundrum can be fatal to a book series, and it is far too common. Let’s face it, in Twilight Saga: New Moon, what’s the plot? Really? We constantly read books where the author is trying to keep readers entertained with the style and world they’ve created, so much in fact that we wind up being reintroduced to the exact same story being retold. The main characters were already well-defined in the first book. The reader knows who they are. We don’t need to do it again. The tribulations that were established in the first book are still the same at the beginning of the second. The world surrounding your protagonist was already invented. So where do you go? There needs to be a genuine and entirely new inner plot for book two, while at the same time, it needs to advance the series’ overall story line that leads into the third book.

The Breakdown:

Book One: The Introduction. It’s about setting the playing field. You need to know the players, a.k.a. the main characters. You need to create the stadium, the world in which all this will be taking place. You need to know the stakes. What is on the line?

Book Two: The Battle. When executed to perfection, this is The Dark Knight. We know Gotham. We know all about its cast list. It’s time to let the games begin. This is when everything implodes and explodes, from characters’ inner turmoil to the physical events taking place. Some resolve is found, some lessons are learned, but there’s still a storm brewing, a storm whose ferocity is growing the closer it comes. 

Book Three: The War. Time to strap on your armor and unsheathe your sword. This is what everything has be leading up to. It’s the climax of the story, what two previous installments have been foreshadowing. The bloody, tragic, heart wrenching, devastatingly beautiful conclusion of this imaginary world.

So, here’s the challenge: How does one go about writing The Dark Knight of a second installment amid the many problematic issues hindering so many others’ works? How does one construct a solid, separate work of art that is just as captivating as its predecessor without falling into the trap of simply redressing the same story and retelling it? How do you create the perfect midpoint of the series, saving the best for last, without making the book feel like it’s dragging (like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, *cough)?

Hmmm… What a challenge indeed.

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