Sequels are infectious things. I say that as an observer of life as well as a writer/reader. One only has to look at the charts of books and films to see a trend: where book one is popular, its sequels are present, too. Hunger Games. Harry Potter. Twilight.
I can see the commercial point of sequels, definitely – as an actor, I would rather be given work in a novel-turned-movie that came with certain follow-ups (in which my character would still be present, of course; there’s only a little bit of fun in dying!) than act in a single film. Too, everybody else involved with movies gets money and attention from sequels.
From a simple writing point-of-view, sequels are just as commercially valid. In the more complicated view, commercialism aside, a sequel gives a writer the chance to further interact with characters they know and may love. I know this for certain – it’s one of the reasons that, once I had finished OJAP, I knew I wanted Agnetha to have more adventures, to the point of fantasising about giving her a TV detective show (yeah; it’s cliché, but so much fun to imagine).
Yes, these sequels are often necessary to complete the long story (I say ‘often’ because Twilight could well have been left after Film 1), but on the book charts, trilogies are storming ahead. 50 Shades of Grey, for instance.
Why do so many writers scribe trilogies? Trilogies are overrated. They are almost archetypal.
Yet: the trilogy is the novel – it’s the Three-Act Tragedy (Agatha Christie reference!), the change of parts and people over the rhythm of three. My romance novel has the working title ‘Triangle’ because, at basic, it’s in three parts, between three people, involving three settings.
Three, it seems, is a magic number.
I’ve always liked tricolons; as my Classics Tutor says of segments and phrases: “four is too many, two is too few”. Perhaps readers and writers notice this rhythm of three, be that consciously or not. Certainly, books that only have one sequel create a disjointed appearance to their set (though there’s nothing wrong with that) – beyond three, the number doesn’t appear to matter as much.
So. Do we sequel or not? Do we create a trilogy or do we go further? Some stories naturally flow from book to book – and good for them! I’d hate to force a sequel out through my pores. Of course, the most obvious answer is: if a story feels incomplete or might have a following way of being told, a sequel might well work.
I know I sound like a stuck record with the point of genre, but it does depend a lot on genre. I have trouble imagining romances (at least, the type I have written) as being available for telling through following books. Looking at classical writers like Jane Austen shows that family-grounded, observational romance doesn’t need a sequel when it closes the way it has done.
The whole saving-the-world genre, though, is probably the easiest to write sequels on. Another enemy appears or turns out not to be vanquished, and so the ‘team’ are called back into action to save the world. That’s why the there is currently a great popularity for writing high fantasy and urban supernatural.
Personal opinion and tastes play a huge part in whether someone would write a serial of novels. I think some début authors nowadays are expected to churn out a trilogy (like I said: it’s a bit of a cliché), but some authors are simply better suited for the standalone.
Why have I chosen to turn my standalone into a trilogy? I’d always had budding ideas, but I could have turned them away. I did for two years. But then I didn’t. It’s the silliest reason to give, but I’ve been called the Title Mistress and I have the right:
I couldn’t deny life to the titles. They just slotted into place, hinting at explaining the questions that When the Clock Broke hadn’t fulfilled. Then logline writing came and I could no longer suggest that I didn’t want to write a trilogy. Sometimes, it has to be done, that the characters are writing their own scripts.