Sequels

I’ve never written a sequel before. I’ve rarely read any sequels. If I rack my brain for those I have read, two come to mind. First, there is one of my top ten favorite novels of all time, John Cheever’s The Wapshot Chronicle, which in true Cheever fashion explores and picks apart the eccentricities of the upper middle class East Coast set. Its sequel, The Wapshot Scandal, is not a bad novel, but it is a lesser novel and suffers from the high expectations that the first one gives readers. The only other sequel I can think of having read is Rabbit Redux, which is actually book two in a four-book series spanning four decades that aims (and in my opinion achieves) to capture the spirit of America in the second half of the twentieth century. The first book in the series, Rabbit, Run, is amazing and books three and four are almost equally as good–no books have ever given me better insight, for better or worse, into the male psyche. But the real clunker in the series is the second book. Throughout the series, Updike walks a fine line with his male protagonist: we see the world and particularly women through his objectifying eyes. For me, his intense sexualization wasn’t a problem in three out of the four books because it is balanced with other qualities, but in book two, when his attentions turn to a teen girl, lost soul type, I have trouble sympathizing with him.

When I started writing my own sequel, I became paralyzed with how to continue a story that was self-contained in one book. First I had to ask myself why I needed to write a sequel: I wasn’t done with my protagonist, teen noir hero Jamie Blake. I wanted to see what she would be like in college, how she would navigate a new relationship, and how she might differently deal with a new mystery now that she’s already survived one round of loss and betrayal. My biggest concern was how to bridge the two stories. As I wrote the opening chapter, which follows Jamie to roller derby practice and ends with this book’s central mystery, the disappearance of one of the girls on her team, my writing became weighed down with summarizing. I felt compelled to re-cap the end of my first book and sum up all the characters’ lives in the year and a half that passed since that story.

Then I realized that if I felt weighed down writing all of this in the first chapter, imagine how heavy all of this exposition will feel on the reader. So I cut and I shifted. I kept in mind that this isn’t an episode in a television series–I don’t need to write a “on last week’s episode” re-cap at the beginning. It’s a novel so there is room to fill in that time gap in a slower, more careful way. I also realized that I need to trust my reader. They won’t expect everything to be told to them at the very start, but rather to have information fed to them when it’s necessary to the story and the character. For example, when Jamie visits her high school friend’s grave in chapter three, she becomes reflective and thinks about what her other high school friends are doing now. This gives me time to unpack some other stories and summarize characters who don’t appear in book two in a more natural way.

I’m curious to hear how other people work on sequels and what their biggest hurdles are. After overcoming my need to summarize, I focused on making sure that characters remained consistent over the two books and that this book has the same tone as the first.

Since we’re on the subject of sequels, I embedded a perfect primer on sequels from my favorite horror movie franchise, Scream (this clip comes from Scream 2). Sure, the rules are different between a horror movie and a noir novel, but the tips are still valuable. A bigger body count in a horror movie equals a mystery big enough to set my first and second books apart. Who knew a horror film could help me write a YA noir?

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