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Disappointing Sequels


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#1 Cat Woods

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 01:23 PM

I just read a very long-awaited third book of a trilogy and found myself vastly disappointed. In fact, more often than not, I am saddened when subsequent books don't live up to the debut. Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me?

In your opinion, what makes for a good sequel? What things kill your love in sequels? And what does all this mean for us as writers?

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#2 Amy Trueblood

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 02:17 PM

I think a sequel dies for me when it doesn't push the plot forward and the characters become dull.

For example, I may be in the minority here, but I loved CATCHING FIRE. I actually enjoyed it more than HUNGER GAMES. So I thought for sure MOCKINGJAY was going to be amazing. For me, it was a huge let down. It took forever to get to the final battle and all the characters seemed stagnant to me.

I think of it a bit like a music group who has a killer debut album. There is so much pressure to deliver an incredible sophomore album, but more times than not, the follow-up music falls flat. There are of course exceptions to this rule, as is true with books, but I think it is incredibly difficult to write a compelling sequel.
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Posted 26 August 2012 - 02:58 PM

I expect a sequel to "step up" the story and characters. Particularly with debut authors I think the first book might not be very strong, and they hit their stride with books 2 & 3. So I have picked up authors, been luke warm on book 1, but read book 2 to see if it improves. I have a couple of trilogies where I haven't made it past book 2 due to disappointing writing/story arc.

I have one at the moment where I doubt I will even finish book 1. For me, some of these YA novels are so overhyped, I chuck them really fast if they don't come close to the sales pitch.

#4 albrock

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 03:18 PM

atg5, I loved Catching Fire, too! You're not alone. Might have had something to do with Finnick...

I was so disappointed in the second and third books in the Maze Runner trilogy, because it seemed to me like he had the idea for the first book (which was riveting), and then had no clue what to do with the rest. Those last two books made no sense to me. I felt like the author didn't know where he was going, so I guess that's what bugs me about sequels that don't live up to their promise. I was also disappointed by Mockingjay, but there I just felt like Suzanne Collins was rushing to get it done. Plus no one likes a book where the main character is in a coma while everything gets resolved![highlight for the rest, don't want to spoil anything for anyone!]

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#5 RC Lewis

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 04:12 PM

Albrock, if you want to hide spoilers in a post, just enter the code <spoiler> (with square brackets [ ] instead of < >) before it and </spoiler> after (same with the brackets).

The result:

Spoiler


Anyway, on to the topic at hand ...

For me, any type of sequel letdown or sophomore slump, whether in novels or music albums, seems to often stem from the artist/author taking what worked the first time around and just doing the same thing again. Not exactly, of course, but with enough similarity in story, lack of growth in characters, etc. to feel like they weren't taking any risks. It's one thing to say if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's another to let yourself be stagnant.

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#6 Cat Woods

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 04:34 PM

Albrock, if you want to hide spoilers in a post, just enter the code <spoiler> (with square brackets [ ] instead of < >) before it and </spoiler> after (same with the brackets).

For me, any type of sequel letdown or sophomore slump, whether in novels or music albums, seems to often stem from the artist/author taking what worked the first time around and just doing the same thing again. Not exactly, of course, but with enough similarity in story, lack of growth in characters, etc. to feel like they weren't taking any risks. It's one thing to say if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's another to let yourself be stagnant.


Oooh, great explanation, RC. I think you might have nailed it. Sequels can be safe and safe doesn't garner the emotional connection needed to satisfy readers.

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#7 SC_Author

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 07:52 PM

There were two big series where this happened to me, and for me, if the sequels are bad, I won't like the series. I gets harder and harder to think that JK Rowling did this 7 times (or 6 times, for sequels) and EACH book got better and better....

I think it comes down to plotting. I feel sequels DO need plotting if the books in the series will build off of each other. With plotting we will have purpose and we will have a feeling that the author knows what he/she is doing, which is very important.
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#8 Cat Woods

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 07:56 PM

SC, otherwise known as an overall arc (series) punctuated by mini arcs (each individual book). If they don't have both, the sequels will not be able to stand on their own, nor will they be able to contribute to the ultimate solution. And without that ultimate resolution, the series--be it trilogy or more--will flop.

So very true, SC. Thanks for pointing that out!

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#9 Jemi

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 07:59 PM

I've had this happen more than once too. In one extremely popular YA series, I know I won't even read the 3rd when it comes out. I really enjoyed the 1st, but in the 2nd, the character made the exact same types of choices and made the same kinds of mistakes again. No growth. I think that's maybe why (in many cases) I prefer companion books rather than series. I get to read about the worlds I enjoy, but experience new characters and sets of issues.

SC - I totally agree - it's amazing what Rowling pulled off! Such talent!

#10 Alpine

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Posted 26 August 2012 - 08:33 PM

I am ashamed to say, but I don't read as much as I should. I do however enjoy watching movies, and RC is spot on about the sequel being safer. It's cheaper to take from something that was already made, safer to rely on the cast that made it the first time around and it already has a fan base attached.

I've noticed that quite a few sequels, as far as movies go, don't live up to the hype. It also appears that if it's a three sequel movie; the first and last will be better than the middle. It's almost as if the producers were quick to do a sequel, realize they blew it and then come back with something stronger.

I'll go see a third sequel even if the second was horrible; as long as they change either the producer, director or writer.
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#11 Andromeda

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Posted 01 October 2012 - 02:28 PM

I am with atg5 and albrock...I was NOT impressed with Mockingjay. It turned into a war book and a needless blood bath. Collins seemed determine to make her characters suffer just for the hell of it...or to get more sympathy...but that may just be me. That being said, I Loved Battle Royale - so much better than the Hunger Games to me.

I agree also with the plotting. If the plotting is there ahead of time, starting with the first book...then it's going to be great. One of the amazing things about Rowling was because she made the books go full circle. Also, like RC said, authors need to bring something new to the table with each book. The Leven Thumps series was a great MG series that deserves more credit. Obert Skye did this amazing job of bringing all these characters together and making several stories intwined together between two worlds. All his sub plots wound together to create the story and it was fantastic.

#12 Aaron Bradford Starr

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Posted 28 October 2012 - 08:06 PM

It's one thing to say if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's another to let yourself be stagnant.


I'd agree with this. Except, as authors, it's our job to break things. The sequel problem is either that the author is afraid to do too much damage, and render the series unrecognizable, or too little, which leads to "more of the same".

This is the reason I think that sequels, and second acts of trilogies, are the hardest part.

#13 RC Lewis

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Posted 28 October 2012 - 08:24 PM

I'd agree with this. Except, as authors, it's our job to break things. The sequel problem is either that the author is afraid to do too much damage, and render the series unrecognizable, or too little, which leads to "more of the same".


Exactly. Like just about everything else in writing (and life), it's about balance. You don't want to thoroughly "break" the story (i.e., do too much damage, ruin the things that were good and worth keeping, etc.). And on the other hand, you don't want to leave everything so much the same that there's no point to the sequel.

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#14 Aaron Bradford Starr

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Posted 07 July 2014 - 10:42 PM

Exactly. Like just about everything else in writing (and life), it's about balance. You don't want to thoroughly "break" the story (i.e., do too much damage, ruin the things that were good and worth keeping, etc.). And on the other hand, you don't want to leave everything so much the same that there's no point to the sequel.

 

Yes.  This is what killed Song of Ice and Fire for me.  A Game of Thrones was so strong (except for the pitch-perfect example of a terrible prologue), and then the sequel built on it very well.  Then came book three, which left the remaining characters drifting about, joined by back-benchers I didn't care about.  With book four the entire thing went off the rails.  Half the characters did either nothing or lame things, and the other half were experiments in breaking everything within reach.  I never picked up book five, and can't say I ever will.

 

So, even a strong beginning doesn't grant you staying power.  Genre aside, it's the polar opposite of the Harry Potter series, which got stronger with every installment, especially in characterization.  JK Rowling made her characters deeper with every appearance, while Martin seems to think that angst and rage are enough.  But JK Rowling took far greater chances with her characters, making nearly all of them multidimensional through secret flaws and strengths.  This isn't easy to do.  Martin's route is far more common: more of the same, until the character flattens out completely.



#15 BetsyEm

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 01:27 PM

I think, especially with a debut author, the first book has been worked on, thought about, and labored over for years. Then they sign a contract for three books and suddenly have a tight deadline, and a bunch of new people pushing their sequels in new directions. They got to write their first book for themselves, and the second, third, etc are for their publisher and their fans. JK Rowling probably got more leeway on her novels, especially the later ones when the publishers realized they'd make a crazy profit on whatever she wanted to write, then authors writing smaller series, whose publishers need every penny out of them. 


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#16 SnowGlobe

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Posted 07 May 2015 - 08:15 PM

I am not going to force you to say what the book was, but I think I might know because I was vastly disappointed too. At the same time, I had to grieve for awhile. It was so alarming to me that I came to a conclusion: Since I am writing a series, I am going to write them all before even starting to query. Then I know it is the way I want (no regrets). It is like Rocky I; Sylvester Stallone was hungry and he had time to write it just perfectly. The last one was the same way, minus the hungry part I suppose. In any case, they clearly were the two best screenplays. He hit pressure to produce, and timelines. I would never want to get in that situation, if i were successful, where I wrote something I ended up regretting. I would rather wait to query. 



#17 Faltho

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 07:08 AM

For me, there have been very few series that I've read in recent years that the second book (which is what I will focus on) was not a huge disappointment. Or in some cases, was just the worst in the series. I think BetsyEm makes a point that a lot of times the writer has had a lot of time to craft their first novel so that when the second one is shoved out of them a year later they had not yet had the time to really polish and fully craft all of the ideas inside. However, I also think that a lot of writers have an idea for a second book or series, but have no idea what to put in the 'filler' materials. Hence why we see, at least in many things that I have read, a much shorter second book as well.

 

Harry Potter; Few can argue that the first book is so innocently magical that it is hard for just about anyone with a soul to dislike (I find people who hate this book have never actually read it, or stopped reading because of the incredibly slow beginning). It also builds such a wonderfully magical world as the book unfolds, and feels very much like Tolkien in a way choosing world over story for the first three quarters. However Chamber of Secrets seems to completely lack this magic-building for the most part, and almost completely relies on building plot and telling a story. Some may argue that this book is made for character building, however after a recent reread I would be forced to disagree with this as well. So I guess the first thing is that a sequel shouldn't lose the reason we loved the first installment.

 

Percy Jackson; For those who have read this series, I think most would agree that Sea of Monsters is the most forgettable book (especially dropping for nearly a whomping 90k word count to 63k). For me this book fell victim probably to one of the two issues mentioned above. Either the writer never got the time to really finish the book he wanted to write. Or he had a basic idea but no idea how to fill in the gaps with the new world he had created. So a sequel should still feel like the book had the authors full attention and love.

 

Earthsea: Loved the first novel in this series though as many modern readers have complained, the ending seems to come on very quickly and just sort of drop you, but this was popular. However the second book completely abandoned the original characters -until midway through the book- and instead focused on a completely different world. So for the first half of the book I was not sure if someone had switched the cover on me, or if I had picked up a completely different series. So a sequel should have great new ideas, but not completely lose familiarity.

 

Sword of Truth: I have to admit that I'm only through the first five books of Goodkind's tomes of fantasy that seemingly go on forever, so I have no idea if the second book is really the worst. However the first book Wizard's First Rule is great in a lot of aspects and will appeal to a lot of different types of readers. Yet the sequel Stone of Tears starts so strongly but goes off quietly into that goodnight by midway through the book, and never really regains that spark that made the first book so good. Yet, it is one of those reads that really is needed for the rest of the series which for a high fantasy series is pretty good. So a sequel shouldn't feel like a obligatory stepping stone to the third book.

 

Just a few examples of for me as a reader where a sequel seemed to fall far from its mark and the reasons why.



#18 Nila N Brown

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Posted 19 September 2015 - 08:04 AM

I am with atg5 and albrock...I was NOT impressed with Mockingjay. It turned into a war book and a needless blood bath. Collins seemed determine to make her characters suffer just for the hell of it...or to get more sympathy...but that may just be me. That being said, I Loved Battle Royale - so much better than the Hunger Games to me.

I agree also with the plotting. If the plotting is there ahead of time, starting with the first book...then it's going to be great. One of the amazing things about Rowling was because she made the books go full circle. Also, like RC said, authors need to bring something new to the table with each book. The Leven Thumps series was a great MG series that deserves more credit. Obert Skye did this amazing job of bringing all these characters together and making several stories intwined together between two worlds. All his sub plots wound together to create the story and it was fantastic.

I disliked Mockingjay as well. It took some time to get into reading the story in the first person sense, but the third book was absolutely dreadful. I wish I could forget it.






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