On Sequels Ruining the Original

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, ever since an eagerly awaited sequel came in the mail this summer and from the first few pages had me going, “Whaaat?” I’m not going to call out this book specifically, which is part of the reason I waited so long to post about it (since I do list everything I read here on the blog).

In any case, I really loved the first book of this duology, enough that it has a review here, and I even pre-ordered the sequel so I wouldn’t forget about it. The first book left off on a total cliffhanger, but almost immediately the second book veered off in this completely disturbing direction. The further I read, the less engaged I was with the main characters. Based on everything they’d experienced in the first book and how the author had set them up, I found myself checking out more and more. By the end of the second book, the first book was completely ruined for me too, because with the cliffhanger ending of the first, you really can’t keep one without the other–a real bummer!

I’ve noticed this sequel issue with more than books. I had another experience recently that I wish I could erase, and I will totally call this one out. It was the musical “Love Never Dies,” which is a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.” I love Phantom. I sang one of the songs as a solo in our senior showcase in high school, and the stage production is always amazing. I was skeptical about a sequel, but I should have avoided it entirely because it was extremely disturbing on so many levels. Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom all acted in ways that seemed at odds with their behavior in the first musical, and there were plot points that really warped events in the timeline of “Phantom” as well. If you have the opportunity to see “Love Never Dies,” DON’T. (This might be the first negative review I’ve ever written on my blog, but I’m still traumatized a month after watching it.)

Finally, while it isn’t exactly a sequel, I recently stopped watching the second season of a very popular TV show for the same reason the first book I mentioned bothered me so much. I binge-watched the first season. The characters were engaging, and the mystery kept me wanting to discover the solution. As I began watching the second season, I was increasingly disappointed. The mystery wasn’t so believable, and the characters started making decisions that didn’t line up with how they’d been established in the first season. It finally reached the point where I just didn’t want to follow their journeys anymore.

So why this rant about sucky sequels? As writers, I think we must be careful about the promises we make to readers in our books, and if we do write sequels or series, we must be consistent. As I mentioned above, what turned me off most was when the characters were inconsistent. I understand characters might change, but if they’re behavior goes completely off the rails, you have to make me believe it or I will check out as a reader/viewer.

I’ve never written a sequel myself, but that’s partially why I felt it was important to document these thoughts. Perhaps somewhere down the line an opportunity will arise where I’ll have a story that isn’t finished after one book. If it does, I want to remember the importance of character constancy and maintaining the essence of the first book. I think those are the keys to turning readers into true fans.

Have you had any experiences with sequels that have turned you off a book or other media series?

Responses to “On Sequels Ruining the Original”

  1. Lael-Heart

    A lady in my book club the other night told us that she does not read the same author more than once because she comes to dislike them. Hmm? I thought to myself. And then I picked up the new Fredrick Backman book, whom I LOVE and ADORE with all my heart, and found myself getting irritated with his style. OH NO! I need to process all this 🙂 Maybe its just my mood. I hope.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Not reading the same author twice seems a bit extreme. There are a number of authors I read all the time, although some books I don’t like as much as others. If you loved multiple books by Fredrick Backman in the past, maybe it was just a fluke. I wouldn’t give up after one, but I will admit there are also authors I’ve outgrown over time. It does happen.

      • Lael-Heart

        That was my thought too. You just never know with books…with people. It would be a shame to miss out on the gems because of one experience.
        I’m going with moodiness for this one in my case 🙂

  2. rosihollinbeck

    Boy, howdy, can I relate to this. It happens often with books, TV shows, and I seldom watch movie sequels for that reason. It happens too often. Sometimes I feel like an author got a three book deal that should have been a two book deal and the follow-up is pretty forced. Thanks for the post.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Yes, I do believe that can happen at times. But there are also many authors who do a great job creatively coming up with new storylines and ideas for each new installment in a series, and those give me hope. James Riley is one who comes to mind. The Story Thieves series is brilliant. Each new book is so creative, and yet the characters stay true throughout. I’m sorry the series ended, but I look forward to seeing what he does next!

  3. Mark Murata

    Part of a famous science fiction franchise jumped the shark for me a couple times. One they never explained was when they had to leave three people behind on a planet in an impossible situation. There was no way to get them back. Then in the next episode, they came back with no explanation. The characters themselves said they had no idea what happened.

    I suppose with TV shows it could be different writers for different episodes. Or the planned-on explanation wouldn’t work within their filming deadlines, so they just punted in terms of that part of the story.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Maybe they assumed sci-fi fans would be more willing to accept the inexplicable? Although I still think that’s weak writing, particularly if you as a viewer could come up with some ideas. I’m curious if you did :). I’ve definitely had that happen before, where I’ve thought, “If only they’d done this … ” But alas, they didn’t consult me …


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