Let me tell you something I’ve just recently begun to fully understand: People who write sequels to popular stories deserve a whole lot more credit than we generally like to give them. I’m about halfway through the first draft of the second chapter of the sequel to “Knight of the Flame”, and I’m learning just how different an animal a sequel is to an original piece. It’s very nearly, but not quite, an entirely separate kind of writing.
In the first story—this could be a book, a movie, a graphic novel, or any other tale that might end up having another part to tell later—the author only has to worry about one point of view, being that of a reader/viewer who is coming to this place you’ve created and meeting these characters for the first time. The joy is about the discovery. It’s about finding out who all these people are, where they come from, at just what’s so important about their lives that someone decided it was worth recording for posterity. People might come in with different backgrounds, different understands of, or experience with, your genre of choice, but when it comes to the world you, the author, have created, everyone’s coming in on an even footing.
With a sequel, it’s different. You can’t make any assumptions about the audience. You don’t have a single point of view to worry about. You have three.
First, there’s the person who has, for reasons dark and mysterious, managed to pick up and read the sequel first. I’ve found these people maddening for years, the sorts of folks who’ve only ever seen “Army of Darkness” and think they know anything about the “Evil Dead” series. They’re a bizarre race, but the fact is, they must be accounted for. Each and every character has to be introduced all over again, or at least be shown standing next to enough background information that a person who never read book 1 can have a basic idea of why the things they’re doing now are important.
Second, there are the people who have experienced the first work, but who read/watched it so long ago that they barely remember what happened. These people don’t need the entire plot of the first book read back to them, they just need little post-it notes along the way. “Oh right, he’s the guy with the sword,” or “Oh yeah, I’d forgotten that his abilities let him do that,” or “I’d completely forgotten this guy spoke a different language than everyone else.” They’re not nearly as infuriating as the first group. In fact, I quite like writing for them. You get to remind them about important facts by pointing to all the cool stuff you did in the first book and saying, “Eh? Eh?”
Finally, there are the people who are so much like you, who are coming into book 2 right on the heels of finishing book 1. They don’t need reminding. They know how it all went already. The danger with these folks isn’t that they’ve forgotten anything. It’s that they’re going to get annoyed by all this repeating of information. It’s that they’re going to get bored by all the exposition.
It’s a tough balancing act, writing for three different paradigms at once. Mostly, I find I’m writing with the second group in mind, but I keep stopping in my tracks and wondering if, perhaps, some aspect of a character’s background needs a bit more explanation, or if I’m “blabbering” about another.
So, to all those who ever made something we all love, then made a sequel to it, I salute you.
…except for the Matrix sequels. Seriously, those were garbage.