I suppose those of you who’ve read ‘His Darker Eye’ and picked up on my very obvious hints at a sequel are wondering what’s happening on that front. Well, here’s what I can tell you.
Drake’s second outing is progressing well. I’ve finished the first draft leaving only the mean tasks of re-writing, editing, proofing, re-re-writing, proofing again, formatting and publication. I will not pretend to put a date on this last, partly because I don’t wish to get my readers’ hopes up but mostly because I hate deadlines.
As for what to expect, I can’t, or rather, won’t tell you much. Only to expect more from Drake, Grey and Mrs Hammersmith as they face a new villain with a mysterious ability. I can’t get much vaguer than that!
Well, since there’s so little to tell about my sequel, why don’t we talk about sequels in general?
The value and purpose of sequels are topics well and vigorously debated among those who prefer to live their life in fiction (like myself). Often, they are viewed as unnecessary or inferior additions and it strikes me that this is because of the contradicting properties they are expected to possess. Namely, that we want them to be exactly the same but completely different.
To clarify: the reason we like sequels is because we like familiarity. If we enjoy a book or a film we’re left wanting more. We want more wit, more twists and more thrills. But of course, there’s a problem. We can’t be thrilled in the same way twice. Hear a funny joke and you’ll double over laughing. Hear it again and you might crack a smile. Hear it a third time and you’ll probably grimace.
So how can sequels succeed? Well, my theory is that the answer lies in the emphasis of the original. By this I mean that most stories (regardless of their medium) can be broken down into three elements: plot, characters, and concept and, to succeed, a sequel must expand on the element that the original focused on. This is not to say that a story can’t excel at more than one or all three, but generally one element is the driving force.
Take ‘The Matrix’ for example, which I would describe this as a concept-heavy film. By this I mean not that it was difficult to grasp, but rather that it pulled you in with one simple idea: “What if your world isn’t real?” Were the characters terribly interesting? Not at all. Neo lacked a personality and once Morpheus and Trinity took off their leather and stopped speaking in riddles they became just as bland. As for the plot, ‘the rise of the chosen one’ is second only to ‘star-crossed lovers’ in overused tropes.
But this didn’t matter in the slightest. On the contrary, ‘The Matrix’s straight-forward plot and characters allowed us to engage fully with the concept. We connected with Neo’s Cartesian crisis (who didn’t go round searching for glitches after watching it?) while the ground-breaking special effects wowed us out of our existentialist funk.
The problem was that when it came to the sequel, ‘Reloaded’ offered us nothing new. It may have expanded the world and given us a few new characters (all of whom were just as mysterious and bland as the originals) but the central concept remained unchanged and unexpanded. The punchline remained the same, and altering the set-up wasn’t enough to make us chuckle.
For contrast, consider ‘Terminator 2′. Though nearly identical to its predecessor in plot, critics and fans alike consider it greatly superior. I believe that one can trace this success to one simple twist on the original formula: the Terminator’s growing humanity. Fans of the first film who loved seeing Arnie’s deadpan killing machine got exactly what they came for but also had that expectation subverted by watching the unstoppable, uncompromising monster slowly turn from a robot in a skin suit into a fully-fledged human capable of wise-cracks and self-sacrifice.
Of course, some stories are rather easier to write sequels for than others. Solely plot-driven sequels are doomed to fail as it’s nigh on impossible to replicate the sensation of a plot without making it a mere repetition of the original. Similarly for concept-driven stories, unless you pick something very rich to develop and expand, you run the risk of running dry rather quickly. However, if characters drive your story, even if all else is kept the same, your sequels will still remain interesting and novel, provided you don’t mess up the execution of course.
Consider Harry Potter, a seven book series where, despite constant injections of wonder and magic, the plot of each book was more or less the same: Voldemort’s up to no good and Harry and his friends have to do something about it. What, then, kept us reading, craving the next book as soon as we’d closed the last? It was the characters. We followed Harry, Ron and Hermione through their entire teenage years, watching them learn and grow alongside each other. Without those maturing and subtly shifting relationships I have no doubt that the magic would have worn thin by book 4.
The basic upshot of the above is that novelty can fuel a story but won’t sustain a sequel, let alone a series. When I decided to write ‘His Darker Eye’, I did so because I believed that I had found a novel device: a mysterious gentleman with a box of magical glass eyes. However, I’m very aware that if I expect anyone to read and keep reading my work that I need to offer something more than ‘a headful of magic tricks’. I very much hope that I’ll discover what that is.