1. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    What Makes A Sequel Bomb?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Vacuum Eater, Jun 24, 2009.

    If you read a lot of book reviews (I do for fun), people in general tend to rate the first book in a series better than its sequels. However, they usually aren't specific with their reasons.

    What things make a sequel less entertaining than the original book? Is it because the main idea isn't so fresh anymore?

    Do elaborate.

    Here are my pet peeves:
    1 - The series starts out on one note and then deviates. The X-Files starts out with two FBI agents investigating bizarre occurrences in order to prove (disprove, in Scully's case) the existence of the paranormal. [I know that the X-Files is a TV show, not a book series, but it is the best example I could think of on short notice.] Not only do Scully and Mulder never really get any proof of the paranormal in the mainstream (except for the fluke-man, most of their hard work is immediately covered up by their superiors, yet they keep on going without trying anything new like taking cameras with them and sharing their discoveries first with the newspaper and then with their bosses), the show suddenly gets all bombastic, with prophecies, a miracle birth, and an upcoming mega-threat to human civilization. It's annoying when a series that started out interesting and new begins drawing too heavily on old formulaic mythology to the detriment of its original premise.

    2 - Too many main characters die in order for the author to achieve a "sufficiently dark atmosphere." This is just plain depressing. When Sirius Black, my favorite Harry Potter character, died, the pleasure of the series also died for me. Lord of the Rings got along just fine with none of the main characters getting killed for good, and the sense of peril was in no way diminished.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think what makes a sequel bomb is something you have already mentioned. You mention that many people complain that the Part 2 to something was not as good as the Part 1, but never explain why. They themselves may not really know why, they just know that #2 wasn't as satisfying as #1. That's probably what caused the makers of #2 to make a flop: A lack of understanding of what made #1 good.
     
  3. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    Precisely what I came here to say. I think most quality fiction happens by accident, thus it's hard to replicate in sequels.
     
  4. ThePman220
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    ThePman220 Member

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    I think it's all about precedent, honestly.

    The first film/book in a series lays the groundwork, and it sets up all kinds of expectations (reasonable or not). This is where the "fanboy" concept comes into the picture.

    Sometimes sequels are just bankrupt, made to cash in on a name. The quality drops and as a consequence they just aren't as good in the minds of the readers. Although we can define "as good" in relative terms, too.

    On the other hand, the fanboy phenomenon also leads to projection. As two examples, look at the "Alien" and "Terminator" franchises. Both had very successful original films, and both had relatively successful sequels (speaking of only the 2nd films).

    I've heard people criticize "Aliens" for not being "as good" as Alien, but on what grounds? It wasn't as scary? No kidding - the first was a cerebral horror film, the second was an action movie. I enjoy both for different reasons, because they're both good movies.

    Of the Terminator movies, I like the original, but I feel that the (first) sequel was the better movie all around. Some will disagree with me, based totally on the nostalgia of the first film.

    I think it's just as subjective as anything else, really. To me, if a sequel's good and satisfying, I try not to judge it against any legacy roots. Not everybody does that.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Now this would have been one of my examples of a sequal which was as good as the original and for the reason you have mentioned. Instead of trying to capture that certain quality which makes ALIEN the kind of movie where I still chew my nails off 30 years later, they made a very different kind of movie with ALIENS and made it well.
     
  6. Scribe Rewan
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    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

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    We can all learn from Michael Bay. When writing a sequel, think not of plot or situation or themes. Just make all the robots bigger and have Megan Fox wear less whilst humping motorcycles :p
     
  7. beaufel
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    beaufel New Member

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    I find each Harry Potter book more interesting and intriguing. He had to have all his close adult protectors die for the plot to be in affective in 7th book.

    But using Harry Potter for example the first 5 or so chapter of the first book are all laying the footwork of the series and are boring, but in the second book those boring chapters are skipped because we already know the setting and what is taking place, that is why I like sequels for the most part better. For me it's usually the 3rd unneeded book or movie that kills it. i.e. The Fast and the Furious

    oh and p.s. about the Transformers comment I watched it today and felt the first one was better, although it is hard not to like a movie with Megan Fox in it;)
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Do sequel novels fail for the same reasons as sequel movies? Are book sequels as frequently a disappointment as movie sequels?
     
  9. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I feel like part of the "sequel curse" is because many authors don't know how to "continue" a story. The first novel introduces characters and problems and then in the second story everything is already in place. It's hard to come up with a unique angle. Everyone is already introduced so you don't have the fresh feeling of finding new people.

    A lot of stories fall into the category of "Bigger is better!" - the conflict of the second story must be tremendous! Except it doesn't have to be.

    They get stuck in this whiz-bang mentality, when that only sells action flicks to teens. People like story and characters. The best series of books I have read are constantly introducing new characters. These new characters have their own fresh ideas and problems.

    That's what I plan to do for my second novel in my story - just introduce new characters and subsequently a unique problem. In fact, the main problem in my second novel will be more person-oriented rather than "save the world" oriented.
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    They can. The worst reason to have a sequal is popular demand, even when there is no new story. Transformers did desvere a sequal, even if it wasn't done as well as it could have been done. There are tons of movies and books that got them and didn't.

    With Indiana Jones, you can always have him going after something different and it can be just as good. Most people I know (myself included) prefer the third one to the first two. With Star Trek, there is always another planet, another mission, new characters to explore, or revisit in the case of Wrath of Khan. It's similar with Star War. Pirates of the Carribbean hinted at lots of backstory they could explore. Then there are movies like Night at the Museum, that had no good reason for a new story. There wasn't much to it anyway.

    As for some book examples: With Little House on the Prairie, the family is always growing and changing, always a chance for new stories to be told. Always another murder for Miss Marple to solve. A book I read about a girl with cancer, it was worth writing a second one because she could have a bone marrow transplant in the second one. But for some reason, the author decided to write three more, and her cancer didn't come back after the bone marrow transplant. It was someone else she encountered at the camp for kids with cancer. In the fifth one, they decided to let her have a stroke, just for the sake of having another book.
     
  11. Scribe Rewan
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    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

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    Hear hear. I hopefully made it easier to write a sequel as good as the first book (not that the first book is any good) by purposefully leaving somethings unresolved at the end of book one. The main story that concerns the protagonists is finished, but I certainly haven't wrapped everything up.

    P.S. the only reason I brought the top of Transformers II: Attack of the Even Bigger Robots up is because it illustrates a good point of why sequels are often dissapointing. As seta said, lots of authors seem to think that bigger is better. Transformers II was the best example I could think of.
     
  12. CDRW
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    Protection From Editors


    Enchant Creature


    (This writer can't be blocked,
    targeted, dealt damage or
    enchanted by editorial criticism.)
     
  13. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Seconded. I actually hold Aliens in higher esteem than I ever held Alien. It was the height of the Alien franchise. It also helps that they are two different kinds of movie, one a good horror flick with a sci-fi twist, the other an excellent action thriller with a hint of B-grade monster flick and horror in between the lines.

    I agree that a big problem with sequels is that the makers lose track of what made the originals good, taking it in a direction that is stupid or too far fetched, or destroying vital aspects with some misplaced idea of "spicing up the mix." Another problem is that the original often wasn't that good to begin with. There are a lot of fun entertaining films out there that really aren't "that" good. They find these things and stick to them and that helps the audience go along with it. But at the same time, these films aren't very conductive to be continued once they reach their conclusion. The same is true of books and comics. Some storylines just don't need sequels.

    Transformers, though I'm an avid fanatic and will probably love the sequel despite its flaws, is the kind of film that really didn't need a sequel. They tied up all the big ends in the first one, so the second one I'm sure is going to appear quite deluded.

    A big example of Sequel suicide in my book, are the DC and Marvel universes. EDIT: I would qualify their problem as an unwillingness to change the formula. Honestly, they've been running for so long and have such a big and complex character history at this point (and draw so heavily on those histories), no one new can possibly get into these universes. Both companies even realize this and have been running spin off universes like the Ultimate Marvel series.

    Also an example of bad character killing. Some characters have "died" upwards of fifty times, only for the next author in the series to retcon it with "that wasn't me. It was a clone." No real peril in comics anymore. Just about everyone has been killed and resurrected at least once, and only a handful of characters have actually permanently remained dead (Often being the ones most likely to piss off the fans; those jerks killed Captain America and Batman!). The sense of peril has been lost for those who have long read the comics, and those who haven't can't figure them out anymore because they've got too long of a history.
     
  14. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    wow, takes me back....

    ...in a pretty lame way :p
     
  15. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've got a couple hundred dollars worth of cards sitting in storage at my parents house. :redface: In my defense though, I only bought about a third of them. The rest were given to me by my brother's friend when he decided to get out. We split them evenly between the two of us. :eek: Even though I don't play anymore I still regret that I never got to make a decent sliver deck.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    topic, please :)
     
  17. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry :redface:
     
  18. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    In essence, that's what they did for The Empire Strikes Back, and that was one sequel that actually surpassed its predecessor!
     
  19. Elistara
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    Elistara Member

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    Maybe, it is that the first book (or story) took so long to get noticed that the writer had all kinds of time to revise and fix stuff, making it more believable, whereas when someone suggests a sequel, they aren't sure where to take it, so they rush something out and give it away without taking that necessary time to revise and fix it all. Rough drafts aren't very good.
     
  20. Wreybies
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    My example for what you have mentioned here is Species. Pretty whiz-bang effects for the time, but when you watch it now, the movie has some ridiculous parts that drag and are incongruous with what is going on. How many drinking and relaxing in between fighting with crazy alien bar/hotel scenes were they going to have?!?

    In retrospect, a rather shoddy movie. And yet, how many crapola sequels did they make?
     
  21. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    I think they made like 2 direct sequels, and then Scifi, the bane of movie making, made like 3 more.

    Another way I would word it, is that they make a movie, and then decide to make a sequel without any real idea of what to do with it. That for me defines what happened with the Matrix and Pirates. Both of these were the kind of movies that would have been fine on their own, but got hosed by the "milk it for all it's worth" syndrome.

    Star Wars, did sequels well, because Lucas had a plan from the start of what he wanted, and his universe was massive enough (and vague enough) to provide support for the continuation of the series.
     
  22. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I don't read a lot of series novels, but I enjoyed Seize the Night more than the first in the series, Fear Nothing.

    But I don't think we should compare movie sequels to novel sequels.
     
  23. Elistara
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    I think sequels in books can be totally random. Some authors just got lucky with book #1, and have just tried to put a second out when there shouldn't have been one there, but others have a good concept of what makes a good story.

    I read Twilight, and loved it, but hated the second book in the series. He left her - it didn't feel real enough to me. It didn't make sense. It felt more like - she needed a book two so threw something together. (Don't you hate those moments where in a book or a movie, the main character does something totally stupid, and your only answer to "Why did he do that?" is "Because it was in the script.")

    Whereas, I also read the Sword of Truth series, by Terry Goodkind - that was a great series. but don't ask me about after book number 5, because that is where I lost interest. I cannot say why: I don't know. I loved the series.
    There are plenty of fantasy books that come in trilogies, the Shannara series is one I read and enjoyed in high school. Each book seemed to deliver as much as the last one, and felt like more of a genuine continuation of the story. (Or so I had thought at the time, I don't really remember much of them now.)
     
  24. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Who's comparing? We're discussing both. They're both valid forms of writing.
     
  25. Iulia
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    I don't think you can really compare sequels of books to sequels of movies, either, but what it all comes down to, in my opinion, is whether or not the series is planned.
    In a planned series (or a planned sequel) the story usually isn't done. The story still has more to offer, and all books but the last often have open endings. When a story is done, it's done. Sometimes the author tries to create a sequel after the story is done, and the sequel doesn't work out because, well, it's done. There's just not any more to it. Usually, in a planned series it just gets better and better because it's one story in more than one book, so to speak. A lot of series' repeat the same story with different characters, or worse, they try to come up with new plots for old characters and end up ruining the characters for the reader because they were spread too thin.
     

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