Friday, May 24, 2013

Sequelitis (a flashback)

By Russel D McLean

Russel is currently knee-deep in his day job but here's a little bit of a way-back ride for you. This piece originally appeared over at Chuck Wendig's blog where it had a very intro about how Chuck was stashed in a box for the day. You can read it there if you like and while you're there you can check out Chuck's posts. And then you can buy his books. Russel just finished Chuck's new one - THE BLUE BLAZES - and he thought it was excellent. The piece in question was written for the release of The Lost Sister, and it deals with sequels. This has been on Russel's mind lately after watching Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness. But since Russel got caught in this day job madness he'll present some older thoughts to you about sequels that he still pretty much believes in.

A sequel has to achieve a lot of stuff. It has to pull in new readers while pleasing old ones. It has to remain true to established facts while giving something new. It has to stand on its own and yet acknowledge the past.
It has to do something different.

Oh, yes. That’s the one that most people forget. While it’s considered the safe action to rehash old glories – see NATIONAL TREASURE 2, THE MUMMY 2 etc etc – what you wind up doing is boring people. Because while people think they want the same experience, what the really need is that same sense of excitement and unpredictability they got the first time round. It’s just tougher to put that into words than it is to say, “more of the same please”.

Why is THE GODFATHER PART II considered a perfect sequel? It expands upon and gives new life and new perspective on the first movie while still telling its own perfectly logical narrative. You could see GFII on its own, conceivably, and catch up to this world without having seen the original. Sure, some of the grandeur would be lost, but you wouldn’t be so confused as to throw the movie away and then batter your head against a brick wall until your brains dribbled out your ears.

Sequels.

They’re tough.

And not just when it comes to movies.

With THE LOST SISTER – which is a novel, not a movie* – I wanted to tell two stories. First there is the story that stands on its own. The one about the missing girl. Mary Furst, a girl who has no apparent reason to run away, is missing. There are questions about her disappearance, facts that don’t add up. As Our Hero – J McNee – digs into her life, he uncovers some very uncomfortable truths.

That’s my A story. And sure it could have been enough to hold the book by itself. After all, we established our hero in book 1 and if you want, you can keep a series character static. Many people enjoy that kind of thing. Some writers do it wonderfully. Robert B Parker kept Spencer is stasis for decades. Lee Child rarely changes Reacher or gives us any more about him than we need to know.

But I’m not that kind of writer. I need to let my characters change. Be affected by events. So THE LOST SISTER became a chance for me to explore my central character and find more about what makes him tick. I wanted him to confront some of his own choices over the course of the book, to see things in the case that made him question his own ideals and motivations. I wanted there to be something different in his outlook by the end of the book. In short, I wanted to tell a different kind of story with the same characters. Because otherwise… what’s the point? It’s like eating lukewarm leftovers. There’s something in there you recognise, but really it’s not the same.

I also wanted to explore the supporting cast and to see how they reacted in different situations. People I hadn’t expected to see again. Susan Bright, for example, who was supposed to be a throwaway character in THE GOOD SON and became something far more important. And David Burns, local “businessman” who is one of my favourite characters to write for: a man who does bad things for what he believes to be all the right reasons.

THE LOST SISTER changes all of these characters by the end of the book. Not all of them get to “learn” from their experiences, of course. I think we’re all lucky that I’m not God. Because as cruel as He can (allegedly) be, I think I’d be even worse in charge, winding folks up just see how they’d react. But then that’s the job of a writer – wind those characters up and watch them go!

Word so far on THE LOST SISTER – both at home and now in the US – has been positive. I like to think that it’s a good sequel, that it does more than rehash former glories, that it changes things for our characters, that it presents with new challenges and new situations. I’ll tell you what, I had a bloody ball writing it.

1 comment:

Peter Licari said...

I'm much the same way when I write multiple stories about a single character. I feel the need to test them, make them grow, so I can see how/what makes them tick. We grow on a daily basis. If you're trying to paint a real picture, I don't see how you could get around trying to force new character development. Nice post.