Terrible Tips Tuesday: Sequel Madness!
Welcome to the first edition of Terrible Tips Tuesday (T3 for short), where I give you advice on writing that is most likely terrible and you should do the opposite of. Today we’re going to discuss something all too common on the bookshelves and the multiplex: the sequel.
It’s no surprise to me that the worst stories I’ve written as an adult (we’re not including stories I wrote in crayon in first grade) are sequels. In particular is a story called “Young Blood” that you’re advised not to read here.
The story behind the story is that this was an ill-advised attempt to write a young adult series of books. It took place on a remote island where a mad reverend had been holding a group of settlers prisoner as children for about three centuries by using the Fountain of Youth. That is until a girl named Samantha shows up and through her inquisitiveness and some well-timed kung-fu unravels everything. That was Book 1. I already knew in Book 3 I wanted to get Sam and her Puritanical friends off the island, into the modern world.
The problem was Book 2. This was supposed to bridge the gap between when Sam and company are about 10-11 in Book 1 and when they’re 14-15 in Book 3 and discovering love. The real problem was that I stupidly killed off all my villains in Book 1, specifically the mad reverend and his henchman. This left me with two options for Book 2:
- Promote someone from within to become a villain
- Recruit a villain from outside the island
In the first draft I did something that was possibly between the two. Basically I decided to have some kind of vampire bat bite one of the lead characters and then a whole vampire plague spread throughout the island. It turned out really, really terribly. Have you ever seen the movie “The Lost Boys?” It was sort of like that only without the campy fun.
Later on I decided to try another version–the one that’s still online for you not to read–using a more full-fledged #2 but still retaining some of the original idea. This time some kind of vampiric soul-sucking evil spirit convinces someone to free it and then wreaks havoc. It still didn’t make a lot of sense.
It wasn’t until later that I realized the problem was that I painted myself into a corner by killing off my villains in Book 1 and not having a replacement lined up. The story’s location had a lot to do with this as it was difficult to just bring some bad guy in. (Maybe I could have had random pirates show up or something…) It’s a lot easier to have some villain show up in Metropolis or Gotham City or New York or some huge city like that than a dinky island in the middle of nowhere.
That brings us in roundabout fashion to the main point of this entry. If you’re planning to do a series, it’s important not to paint yourself into a corner. Always leave some issues unresolved and some things on the table to use in future stories. Don’t kill off all your villains before establishing new ones and don’t have the hero and love interest ride off into the sunset Happily Ever After. Otherwise it’s going to be hard for you to find your way forward.
I’m trying to put this lesson to good use right now. Last year I started a series of superhero novels that might possibly someday become graphic novels–see “My Really Ill-Conceived New Writing Project.” This time while I killed off the villain in Book 1, I also established the villain for Book 2 at the end of the first story. And I also implied that the villain of Book 1 could make a reappearance at any time–which happens in Book 3. Check out the “What’s On Tap” entry and you can see how I’ve got it all sort of planned out through Book 7.
The idea as I indicated was to make sure not to paint myself into a corner so that I didn’t have anywhere to go. Not just in terms of villains, but also in terms of the hero’s growth and relationship to other characters. For instance, at the end of Book 3, she loses her cushy job at the Museum of Natural History. This sets up the scenario for Book 4 where she gets evicted and has to take a job for a mysterious figure in Russia. (BTW, I heard this morning that Spider-Man stole part of my idea by having Peter Parker lose his job.) Then in Book 5 I’m upping the ante even further by having my hero get pregnant–try stealing that one Spidey! This sets up not only one but two future stories. Not to mention it leaves a lot of issues to resolve in future stories as my hero would have to juggle trying to work a job, fight crime, and be a mother.
So you see what I mean now? If you’re going to do a series, don’t make the mistake I did and get yourself trapped on a ledge with nowhere to go but splat! on the sidewalk. Also if you’re going to do a series, don’t drink and write or you might end up with something like this–the second worst story I’ve written as an adult.
That is all.