Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sequel Mania!

As regular readers will know, The Shining was one of the most influential books I've read.  My world opened up afterwards as I began to understand how to build tension.  It will always be one of my favorites.

It was on this note that I picked up the long anticipated sequel to it - Doctor Sleep.  The novel arrived at my house on last Wednesday, and I finished it up this previous Tuesday.  It's a quick read, but it doesn't measure up to the first.  The sheer terror of The Shining isn't present, and there's never any doubt as to the outcome.  In fact, I kind of figured out the specifics about halfway through.  Don't get me wrong, it's still a good book, but The Shining was a masterpiece, and Doctor Sleep...wasn't.
(Good but not great)
The afterword by Stephen King himself affirms all of this.  He acknowledges that there's no way that Doctor Sleep could measure up to The Shining because the writer who wrote it no longer exists.  King has grown and changed over the years, and his style isn't the same as it was in the 1970s.  Further, he says that no sequel ever measures up to the original.

That got me wondering why.

We all look forward to sequels with great anticipation, but they almost never pan out as we envisioned.  The fault usually lies with ourselves.  Once immersed in a particular universe, we have our own ways we envision that universe unfolding.  We then try to impose that view of what's to come over what actually gets written, and the results rarely please.

This got me to thinking about Canidae, the novel I finished last year that's the sequel to Akeldama.  I tried writing it as a reader, and it didn't meet the quality of the first.  I intend to go back in and re-write several portions(limit the scope in some places while expanding on character aspects in the others), and hopefully bring it up to a better standard.

Think about it - when we love a story, we want to know what happens afterwards.  Did they live happily ever after?  Did they have more adventures?  We care about the characters and want them to be okay, which pushes us to buy the sequels.  However, that story is rarely part of the original plan, so it gets thrown together.  King admits that he thought about Danny Torrance, but there was never a true plan to revisit him until recently.  That meant the story came out good, but it would've been just as good as a stand alone with new characters.  However, nostalgia for the first brought business, so why not?

Series work well if planned in advance, and maybe that's something we writers need to plan for.  I love stand alone work, but we can always revisit things, so we should give thought to what might be in advance rather than throwing something together that's kind of related to what we've written.  If such a thing is a challenge for a master like King, what does that say about the rest of us?

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