It’s kind of hard to be at all aware of popular culture and not know what this noun’s second definition is: “A literary, dramatic, or cinematic work whose narrative continues that of a preexisting work.”
Hollywood thrives on sequels. (Or, some critics might argue, sequels are killing the industry.) In fact, some of my favorite movies are sequels – “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, “The Swan Princess: The Mystery of the Enchanted Kingdom” (okay, urgent disclaimer, that last one is a former favorite; way, way, way, former)… The reason that I was eager to watch these three movies, which all happen to be the third in their respective series, is that I had seen and enjoyed the movies that preceded them. That right there is the big draw of the sequel: Somebody liked that aforementioned preexisting work enough that they wanted more of it.
It is a dismal truth, however, that sequels do not always live up to their predecessors. Many books and movies are milked well past the point of quality’s demise. Stories are stretched to ridiculous proportions, or shamelessly recycled, or (sometimes, it seems) barely bothered with, all for the sake of spending a little more time with these characters or in that world (or in the hopes of pulling in a few more dollars).
As an author, I am faced at every book’s completion with a choice: Do I crank out Part Two/Three/Four…, or do I end it here?
I could make an illustration of “The Wilderhark Tales”, but that’s been getting more than its fair share of shout-outs on this blog. I’ll use a different example: My “World of the Dream” saga. I wrote the first book without any ambitions for a follow-up. Bruno battles evil in his sleep – action, adventure, witty quips and unicorns, the end. I would have been happy to leave it at that… except that I was soon afterward inspired to do more. I saw a storyline that could be taken farther, deeper, darker, and more urgent than before. I ran with it, and it ended on a note that loudly demanded a third installment. With the trilogy concluded, I would have been willing to swear that that was that.
That wasn’t that. For all kinds of reasons that I could go into, but then I’d have to kill you (spoilers, don’t you know), there needed to be a Book Four, which I wrote. And frankly, I would love a Book Five. But I don’t think there’s going to be one. Some sort of prequel, doubtful-but-possibly, or another related short story or novella (one has been written already). But not a Book Five. The fourth book’s final chapter felt as truly final as any ending I’ve ever typed.
I know I said I’d leave “Wilderhark Tales” alone for this one (but it turns out I can’t, because I’m obsessed), but it was really the same way. Once I’d hit the fourth book, I was planning for seven, just because I thought the number suited the series. But by the time I was deep into Book Six, I could feel it: This was the end. Never mind the suitability of seven. Never mind that I could give my tailor seventy times seven books and still find more to say. (And I honestly can’t decide if that’s an exaggeration or not.) That narrative was over, and to try to force another book would have been pathetic overkill. An artist with a heart for quality has to know when to say, “Enough.”
Whether or not Hollywood will ever adopt that attitude remains to be seen.