Working with Sequels

I’ve finished writing at least a draft of 15 novels, but up until MEMORY THIEF 2, I’d never written a sequel. Why not? Because you can’t sell book 2 if you haven’t sold book 1, so what was the point in devoting time to a book that would be in that situation? That always made sense to me, but now that I’m actually writing a sequel, I’m finding some of it is (go figure) tricky, and I’m examining other sequels to see what they do right and wrong.

The problem is finding the right balance between old and new. People who turn to a sequel want to find more of what they found in the original. This is where things went wrong in the Star Wars prequels. Some of the stuff from the original was there (lightsabers!) but a whole lot of it felt very different. Too different. So people rejected it.

On the other hand, people also don’t want a simple rehash of the original. Ironically, this is where some critics have focused with the Star Wars sequel. It was too much like the first movie. (For the record, I loved it, and I don’t agree with the criticism.)

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last week, and it was another good example of how hard it is to get a sequel just right. In this case, the original was so fresh. So out there. That recapturing that feeling is likely impossible. It’s the same as the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. Depp’s Jack Sparrow can only be 100% fresh once, and since a whole lot of the power of that movie came from that freshness, the sequels can’t help but feel staler in comparison.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Guardians sequel. I thought it was exciting, full of humor and adventure, and that it had a cool story (even if it was a bit more convoluted and contrived than it could have been.) It found some ways to make old things fresh (Groot is now little!), but it still couldn’t be quite the same as the feeling you got when you watched the first.

So how does all of this connect to MEMORY THIEF 2? I’ve been going through the same process. Trying to decide for myself what the right balance between old and new should be for the book. I started by going pretty far into “new” territory, but as I’ve been revising, I’m reeling quite a bit of that in, weaving the new to the old, so that it’s shown to be all part of the same cloth, if that makes sense.

Of course, in the end, you might be like George Lucas: making a sequel the way you want to, only to discover that what you liked in the original was totally different from what everyone else liked. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen in my case . . .

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