When thinking of great series of fictional books, like LOTR (which reads more like one big book to me), Harry Potter, or films like "Star Wars," when the sequel is announced, I get mixed feelings. First, I'm elated, wanting more of what the first story gave me. But, the concern of sequel let-down hovers over as well, when expectations are high. For films, a memorable ad was "Caddyshack: Better than Caddyshack 2" (something like that).
I used to scoff at sequel Hollywood films, as so many didn't stand up to the original; for example, "The Ring 2," and countless comedies. Exceptions are out there, as I'm a fan of "Empire Strikes Back." In novels, "Dune" sequels were a let-down, but "Harry Potter" stood up well. Let me define "sequel" as the second story. That's important because hindsight is always 20/20 looking back on a trilogy or more. The second book can drive the series into mainstream readers or over a cliff.
My first positive reviews for my first book, "Act of Redemption," cited the rapid-action of the story, the intense battle scenes, and the dark humor between Shevata and Zermon. So when writing the second of the four novellas, "Children of Discord," the reality of The Sequel Syndrome hit me like a stack of bricks. Obviously, I didn't want to let my fans down, but I dislike re-runs. So to keep the story moving, I took a different approach. Instead of in-sequence, I fractured the story and titled the chapters to keep the reader on track. Also, instead of the big battles, I narrowed the cast (the humans change with every novella) and used more intrigue and cloak-and-dagger sequences. The lead character Shevata is introduced at the beginning of the story instead of entering as a side character. I added a first-person narrative by Shevata to give the reader opportunity of this complex protagonist with a very dark past.
When the second book came out, my original fans were more lukewarm. What? Did I do something wrong? Were you bored, confused, offended, or all of the above? The replies were every bit as fractured as the story. Some fans wanted more big battles, some wanted the original human characters back, and others wanted more of the humorous banter between Shevata and Zermon. None of my fans said it was terrible, but each had there own idea of what the sequel should be like.
Which brings us back to the point of sequels, namely the second book. As a new author, I've learned to sympathize more with Hollywood, something I never thought I'd do. A follow-up to a popular story is every bit, if not more difficult, than the first. Sequels are a big challenge for the new author, as we walk a fine line between wanting to please everyone, but afraid of pleasing no one. What can the new author do? Make the sequel like you want to guide the story. It's your instincts as a writer to put your imagination into print, so write, let it stand, because the audience decides its worth. As the series grows, so does the audience, and while some fans may be lukewarm, others will lock in, waiting for the next installment.
So now, when Hollywood brings out "Saw XXIV" it may not be my thing, but I now appreciate the challenge of sequels.