The Sequel Question

Since Give Up the Ghost was released, I’ve been getting a question I suspect every writer hears after publishing a book not clearly part of a series: “Is there going to be a sequel?”

When I wrote Ghost, it never occurred to me to think of it as anything other than a stand-alone novel. The plot and character arcs I envisioned fit well within the scope of one book. I saw Cass’ story as being—well, maybe not finished—but finished enough that the rest could live in readers’ imaginations. But if people want to read more about her, why wouldn’t I pursue that?

It’s not as easy a decision as you might think. Many times I’ve read sequels to books I loved only to be disappointed: finding the book is only a repetition of the original’s events and themes, or an attempt to go in a new direction that falls flat. And the worst part is, reading an unsatisfying sequel often tarnishes my love for the first book. Once I’ve read an unfulfilling ‘what comes next,’ it forever alters my perceptions of the original work. As a reader, I would almost always rather have a new, unrelated stand-alone than a sequel.  And as a writer, I don’t want to disappoint my readers.

Of course, there are still those sequels that are satisfying, that expand on the original with twists and surprises while keeping the magic that made it wonderful. So the temptation to attempt it is there, as I’m sure it is for many authors in the same situation. How does a writer decide whether it’s worth making that attempt? I can only speak for myself, but these are the questions I ask when considering any sequel idea.

Is the main character going to have as big a problem as in the first book? I see this happen all the time with TV shows. *coughs*Heroes*coughs* The protagonists start the first season with a huge, urgent problem, one they finally overcome by the climactic episode. But after you’ve rescued the world from certain destruction, any smaller conflict can feel like a let down. Cass may not be saving cities or uncovering vast conspiracies, but she’s already faced the biggest problem I could throw at her: trying to save a life after years of pushing away the living. Unless there’s another conflict equally powerful, why should that story be written?

Will the premise be different enough but not too different? Put a character back into the exact same situation they already overcame and readers will groan. But take them somewhere completely different and you’ll face a whole ”other set of complaints. The trick to a successful sequel seems to be finding new angles on the original premise, or expanding it beyond the boundaries of the first story, while keeping the kernel of the idea intact. The best angles and expansions are not always immediately obvious, if they exist at all.

The last question, I think, is the most important. Do I want to destroy the ending I’ve already written?

Because ultimately, that’s what a sequel does. It stomps all over the previous The End and writes a new one. I don’t know about my fellow writers, but I find writing the ending the hardest part of this job. It has to tie up all the vital loose ends. It has to leave readers with a sense that the major conflict has been overcome in a believable and appropriate way. And hopefully it’ll leave them thinking back over the events of the story, re-evaluating and reconsidering based on everything that’s happened. It’s the last part of the story most people read, an author’s last chance to make a permanent impression.

Am I going to try writing a sequel? You never know whether inspiration will strike. But I know I’m going to have to be darn sure that I want to throw away the ending I’ve already sweated over and conjure up a new one from scratch.

How about you: what are your favorite sequels? Are there any sequels you think shouldn’t have been written?  Or books you wish had sequels but don’t?  (For that last question, maybe this post will give you an idea why that might be.)


Megan Crewe is a Canadian young adult author whose first novel, Give Up the Ghost, was recently published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

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