Play It Again Sam

For years I’ve assumed I had a problem writing sequels.  Part of the reason to drive my poor publisher insane by redoing a book at the last possible moment, which I’m doing with Darkship Renegades comes from this.  I feel Darkship Renegades is inferior to Darkship Thieves, and I’m trying to fix that.  I felt the same way about Gentleman Takes a Chance towards Draw One In The Dark, and having read both recently, I think this is true, for various reasons (partly because I was SO depressed while writing GTAC, but that’s something else.)

It’s not a marked difference, mind, I just thought the sequel didn’t quite hit the right note.  This might be subjective and predicated partly on the fact that I THOUGHT I wasn’t good at sequels.

Why am I saying “thought” as though this were somehow illusory?

Because I realized, when Iw as discussing this with someone today that in fact I can write sequels just fine for some of my books – to wit the mysteries.  I never wrung my hands and went “I don’t know how I can write a sequel to Death of A Musketeer.”  It was baked in before I wrote the first book: these are mysteries, each focusing on one of the characters.  Same with the Refinishing mysteries.

I think the difference is that my fantasies and science fiction start from the character, while the mysteries are “plot books.”  They start from the plot inward.  This is not to say that Darkship Thieves is not plot driven – of course it is, also – or that the musketeer mysteries don’t focus on character – of course they do, to an extent.

But it’s where the primary force is, and how the book presents itself to me.  Athena came to me, in Darkship Thieves, as this seriously messed up chick, by the end of the book she’s almost functional, and though I planned on a sequel, it’s weird to be in the head of a “calmer” Athena.  With the first shifter books, Draw One In The Dark, Tom was SO severely messed up that when I got him settled at the end, it seemed almost nasty to disturb him for a second book.

And yet, you know and I know, if you love a book you need to go back.  You want to go back, as a reader.

So… how to reconcile that?

Well, first, I rid myself of the idea I can’t write sequels.  I think part of the reason for this feeling is that my first series, the sequel got so severely messed around with by agent that I got convinced I couldn’t do it.

Once rid of that idea, I think I need to give myself permission for writing the sequel different from the first book.  Because there’s a built in it should be “the same.”

And then, at least with Darkship Renegade, I need not to be depressed <Grin> – I say this because it’s so much easier to see where I “stuttered” in narration due to depression.  I mean, I’m dragging around the creeping crud, and I’m still able to see this much clearer now I’m not depressed.

AND when possible (if the Earth Revolution series comes to pass, for instance, but also for other books/series) I need to set up the sequels so they have different characters – at least when the book is intensely character driven.  This is often used in Romance, for that reason.

For instance, in Noah’s Boy the Shifter series starts pivoting slowly away from Kyrie and Tom.  Oh, they’re still there.  The George is still the center of the action.  And the next two books, Bowl of Red and POSSIBLY Balloon Juice center around their relationship as much as the other plot, but the other plot starts pivoting away from them and towards the other people: Rafiel first, then Conan and THEIR relationships, so that Kyrie and Tom become only one of the legs of the series, as it were, still there, still important but not the fulcrum.

Again, this is done a lot in Romance, because of the “compelling character problem” that drives the plot, and it will – I think – work well for other series too.

What do you think?  Do the readers always want the same plot/book with different names?  Or do you want characters who grow in different ways?  And how would those of you who are not primarily romance readers feel about the “moving among a group of characters” thing?


  1. In some “series”, it’s the world/setting that’s one of the “characters” so each new book in the series shows us more about the world/setting by focusing on different people in that world/setting.

    So I see no problem with focusing on different people in the “George” world/setting.

  2. One of the recurring discussions is “what is a series.”

    Noah’s Boy wasn’t so much a sequel as an independant story set in the same world. Apart from the “Support the shifters” and the “Good Shifters have to police their own” themes, there weren’t any carry-over problems.

    Now, you could make it that way: modern shifters vs ancient, but you’d have to put a lot of work into bringing the ancients forward and showing why they needed to be gotten rid of. But I kind of liked the town sized frame of the stories, the youngsters fumbling around, learning to be shifters “on the job” so to speak. I think you’d lose that, bringing in a war between two groups of shifters.

    You’ve got Athena and Luce for that. 😉

  3. Bujold managed a rather long series with the same main character. I might have to think about how she managed that and managed to make it work on a character driven level each time.

    Changing the focus from one character to the next seems to work well. I just read Steve Miller and Sharon Lee’s books again and they do that. Here’s Er Thom, here’s Daav, now Shan is grown up…

  4. I’ve been known to read books/series by Harry Turtledove. He not only shifts POV from one book to another, he frequently shifts POV during chapters. He also has a tendency for his characters to die screaming. I love it. I have no problem with you shifting to a new focus if need be. As a matter of fact, I would encourage you to do so if it makes for a better story.

  5. Just reminded me, Jo Walton a while ago talked about four different kinds of series. Hold on, it was on Tor… ah, here’s the link.

    1. One book divided into multiple volumes (Lord of the Rings)
    2. Some volume closure but the books need to be read in order (Doctrine of Labyrinths, Long Price Quartet)
    3. Standalones, but if you read them all you get additional story arc and character growth (Miles Vorkosigan, Liaden Universe (r))
    4. Independent although same universe (Union Alliance)

    I think the question really revolves around how the stories are… I want to say catalyzed? What kicks off each one? Some premises are episodic, and lend themselves to a series of connected books. Other times, the characters are just so delightful that we readers want to see them through a series of life issues. And then there are the historic/social watersheds, where we really need to see it from a variety of viewpoints — which form a loosely related set of books.

    Personally, I like some closure to my books. I want a climax, okay? Now, you can immediately follow that with something that shows that life (and the series) is going to go on, and I’ll probably follow along. Or you can switch to another character, and especially if the problem is big and gnarly and there are lots of possible ways to play the game, I’ll probably follow along. However, the unfinished story that runs to 11 doorstopper books and we still don’t know if the uncrowned king is ever going to find his throne… or anyone is going anywhere except around and around? Nah. I don’t want the same plot rerun umpteen times, particularly, either, I think.

    Good question!

  6. Then you have Terry Pratchett and the Discworld, where there are several distinct character arcs (the Ankh Morpork Watch/Vimes, the witches, Rincewind, the wizards, Death and Susan, Tiffany Aching) as well as standalones, plus you could get any of the characters from any of the books showing up in any of the others. Some really can’t be read without reading the earlier books in that arc, others are fine.

    Personally, I’ll take good anything – and good doesn’t include either the 11+ goatgaggers, each of which advances the plot maybe a few days and a few miles, or the same plot rerun endlessly.

  7. I do think we need to add a category for “tapestries” — universes or settings that are so big and bold that they have some arcs, a few stand-alone books, and so forth all mixed up in it. There aren’t too many of these, mostly because you have to write a heck of a lot to do it, but Discworld is a good example. Good point! Thanks.

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