The virtue of sequels


Occasionally I will write up a page or so of notes for one of the potential Byuck sequels. I do this because the ideas are good, not because I anticipate writing the books. First of all, even after several acceptances from several publishers, Byuck remains unpublished. Second of all, why write a sequel to a book unless it was substantially successful to start with? I only have time to write n books in my life; writing sequels to unread volumes seems pretty lousy resource management.

Some people write series naturally; in fact, I would offer the argument that a novel series is as different an artform from the novel as is the short story. I do not write series, not naturally. If I were to write sequels, they would be, at heart, separate books and not The Continuing Saga.

(Tangent: Just as I find it remarkable that in our time-stressed world novels are more popular than short stories, so do I find the ultimate market power of series astonishing. What gives? My best theory is that taking time to meet new characters feels more demanding than the time it takes to read another 700 pages? I know, I know: weak theory. So what's yours?)

From the author's (and, I suppose, the readers') perspectives, laying down fully formed characters for good is difficult. A good character doesn't die till he's dead --- he continues living past the epilogue, even if we don't see it. And characters are beloved, so of course our mind's eye will, at times, turn their way. So are sequels then a selfish refusal to let them live their own lives, away from our gaze?

I'm not officially in favor of the Mystical Author, the magic man who sees visions and has no control over his creations --- officially, I see see writing as art and craft --- but practically, initial creation often arrives fully formed. And rather than checking out their gift-horse teeth, I the artist write them down. Who am I to pick and choose on any basis other than what is best?

But, as I said, there are plenty of shirts on the rack to choose from. Why stick with the new pattern on last years model?

(Tangent: Lately I've been having issues with blanketing the world with half-formed metaphors. I apologize. It's like there's a metaphor geyser in my mind and all I can do is reroute pedestrian traffic.)


  1. My current favorite author has done a pretty good job of having fully formed novels that have something in common with other novels he has written. Although he tends to write in trilogy form, this seems to provide a certain level of comfort for me. I tend to compare this style to historical non-fiction centered around world war one for example. The characters in the books may interact with others from other books but only in tangential form. I am always thrilled when this happens, almost like I had a peak into a secret that only those who had read the other books would recognize.

    Stephen King has done such a thing with various books, alluding to the events described in one or more other novels while focusing mainly on a new story. Drawing the connection really provides an additional thrill and dimension.

  2. re: novel popularity v. story popularity . . .

    For me, I postulate that novels hold sway over short stories for much the reason you mention. It takes work to meet and form a connection with characters. Also, I think part of it may have to do with obligation. I don't feel obliged to finish a novel in a single setting (even if I feel compelled to at times). However, I feel obligated to finish a short story. Stories often don't have natural stopping points midstream, as opposed to novels that naturally allow you to break at a chapter.

    re: Byuck's sequel . . .

    Having read Byuck (and fought for its acceptance, mind you), I'm wondering if it might not be beneficial to write the sequel, particularly if you have a story line in mind that you can develop. I say this for a couple reasons. First, knowing that a sequel already exists might aid with some of the marketability of the first. Second, perhaps the sequel will be more compelling to the publisher, allowing it to be published.

  3. .

    Interesting arguments. I hadn't thought of that. I have three (very different as they involve different characters) sequels I could write now given sufficient motivation....

  4. If you write said sequels, and if they get published, there's always the possibility of Byuck: The Prequel.

  5. As a reader, I find that I love sequels because most often, they add to the dimension of the characters I already know. The extra glimpses can inspire me to think bigger, feel deeper, or even question my own motivations for doing things in my own life. For me it's the actual draw to reading.

    Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series added extra depth to Ender's mind with each new novel, shattering the limits of human thought. It helps me feel like I can think bigger.

    James Rollin's Sigma series bends your mind to think about things completely out-of-the-box, and I believe that such character influences inspire me to do the same.

    Where my job is computer programming, thinking outside the box and thinking bigger is something to aspire to. With the massive amount of information and new technologies flowing out of the gates, the larger-than-life characters I read about help me to feel less overwhelmed and able to approach information overload in a calm, practical manner.

    The power of a character in a fictional novel can be such as to truely aid in real life, and when the dimension or power of that character is expanded via sequels, the reader feels like he is growing right along with the character... and indeed I believe the reality is that the reader does grow.

  6. .

    Ender is a good example of a character (characters, universe) that grows and deepens exponentially with each book. It really is masterly with very few missteps.