I will start with this disclaimer: not all sequels are better than the original. This is especially true in the film industry. A lot of sequels are made as a fan service and don’t receive quite the same love and care as the original content.
When it comes to my love of sequels, I’m referring to books and more specifically planned series. I most often see this to be the case in trilogies. My favorite book in the Hunger Games series is Catching Fire and I my favorite in A Court of Thorns and Roses Series is A Court of Mist and Fury. I read both sequels in about half the time as the first and each left me desperate to read the final book.
As I’m now plotting the second book of my epic fantasy trilogy, I wanted to take a look at why sequels tend to pull me in a bit more strongly than the first book of a series.
SPOILER ALERT for the Hunger Games series
There is already an established foundation
When reading a sequel, the reader has a base understanding of the world the story takes place in. If the series is of the fantasy genre, then things like the magic system are already established. With major concepts already in place, the author can immediately dive into action and conflict without having as much exposition and scene setting.
It’s like you are in a comfortable relationship with the main character. Not only do you have a familiarity with the status of the MC before the series began, but you understand how the character has shifted and grown in the precursory novel. When the hero is pulled out of their “ordinary state” during the story’s inciting incident, it is a state the reader is familiar with and this change can be very gripping for the reader.
There is something terribly enticing about spending an entire novel cheering for a character, watching them get a happy ending, and then experiencing the “oh crap” moment when you and the character both realize there is still more torment coming their way
The plot thickens!
Since positive character arcs are most common for main characters, the MC is generally in a better spot than they were in the beginning of the sequel than the beginning of the first book. In Catching Fire, Katniss has won the Hunger Games and no longer fears that her family will starve. That means that the conflict has to be even more extreme to knock her back down.
It would be rather boring to read the same story with the same stakes and the same lessons learned as the first book. Since the MC has already been tested in book one, the stakes tend to be raised even further and the conflict becomes more extreme.
Looking back at the Hunger Games series, Katniss returns back to the arena in Catching Fire. However, when she goes back it is during a Quarter Quell and all of her competitors are past Victors and this time simply winning the games isn’t enough. The stakes are raised even further and the novel is even more compelling.
The world expands with every page
Because the reader already has a base understanding of the characters and the world, that means the author can introduce new pieces of information. My favorite Harry Potter book is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the main reason is because JK Rowling seriously expands the wizarding world.
While I eat up the information of foreign wizarding schools and the Quidditch World Cup, these details would have overburdened the first book and could only have been introduced when the reader has a base understanding of Hogwarts and the sport of quidditch.
This idea of building upon an established platform also exists for the introduction and the importance of characters. One of my favorite fiction tropes is the “secret boss”. In this trope the main antagonist is actually a puppet or a servant to a greater villain. Going back to Harry Potter, this would be like Professor Quirell to Voldemort. I love whenever this happens in a series, because generally the first book consists of the MC facing off against one baddie, only to realize that there is some bigger and badder foe working behind the scenes the whole time.
Loose ends get tied up
Often when series are planned, authors won’t answer all of the questions that are introduced in book one. Some of these questions are saved for the grand finale, but sometimes these reveals are strategically placed in the sequel.
It is interesting for the reader when these lingering questions are answered. But the author can also use these questions as a device to subvert the reader’s expectations or they can create even more questions by answering one.
I personally love when an author loops loose ends from book one into a sequel. Even if the two stories are very distinct, I love seeing the threads that weave the stories together. I give extra bonus points if the author drops hints and foreshadowing for some larger reveal from the very start.
Book series tend to follow and overarching plot structure
All stories within a series have their own independent plot structure. If an author is setting out to write a trilogy, they generally envision the series to follow an overarching 3-act structure. This means that the sequel occurs during act two and overlaps with the series midpoint. Since much of the establishment and build up already occurs in the first book, things can be a lot more action packed in the sequel.
That means that the beginning of a book isn’t weighed down with so much exposition and the end isn’t weighed down with as much resolution. The author isn’t obligated to tie up every thread and loose end. Not having every question answered in a sequel works two-fold: the reader is excited to read the next book and there is less of a chance to disappoint them with the ending because they know that there is still more story left to tell.
Now that I have thought a lot about sequels it is time to start outlining my next one. I find that I am more excited to dive in and see exactly where this story goes. Comment with your favorite sequels!