The topic today is Sequels and Series - to do or not?! Please feel free to join in the discussion.
There are also equally interesting chats on:
The End ... at Anne Barwell's blog.
Choosing a POV ... at the Dreamspinner blog.
Thanks, Clare, for letting me take over your blog today and providing space to discuss an aspect of writing that has cropped up in response to Red+Blue my recently released novel with Dreamspinner Press (DSP). So far, the story has been received really well, but a couple of reviewers have complained about what they see as a rushed ending, or at least they are calling for a sequel to show that the “hooking up” is permanent or at least long lasting and there is indeed a Happy Ever After (HEA) not just a Happy For Now (HFN).
During my recent “Meet the Author” day on Facebook, I asked whether readers liked Sequels, Epilogues and Holiday Themed shorts. For the most part, the response was positive, with most readers wanting to be reassured that their characters are together for the long term. Some were prepared to pay, some wanted them free ;)
On the Dreamspinner authors’ forum where we get together to discuss craft along with generally supportive chat, I also posed the question about how you work out at what point to end a story. The topic provoked a deal of interest and rather than trying to cover it all at once, two DSP authors offered their blogs as a venue to explore both questions further.
I’ve been discussing “The End” with Anne Barwell HERE and Clare has kindly offered me space to explore the concept of “....And Then”...what comes after the two characters hook up. After they overcome whatever barriers were keeping them apart and the tension and edginess that drove the reader to turn the pages has been resolved.
As I see it, there are a few different options:
1. The Epilogue where all loose ends are neatly tidied up.
2. A short story, published separately, showing the characters living happily together. Clare’s own trilogy of shorts that follow “True Colors” is a good example of these as are the many Holiday themed stories that authors write involving their popular characters.
3. A follow up story where unresolved external issues from the past intrude, eg stories like Jane Davitt’s “Wintergreen”, the follow-up to “Wild Raspberries”.
4. A sequel where the nature of their personality differences or their living conditions provide new / unexpected conflict. (the factors that can tear them apart)
5. Ongoing books in a series where their jobs and/or world allows for ongoing adventures that are as interesting and significant as the parallel romance plot which develops over the series.
6. Spin Offs involving minor characters in the first book which show the ongoing relationship of the initial characters in their own secondary role.
Each of these has a place depending on the characters and circumstances of the initial book.
Problems can arise, however, with readers noting that follow up books where all the edginess and tension has gone can be boring, no matter how hot the sex.
In other instances, readers have developed certain expectations based on the first book and are disappointed if these aren’t met.
All books need conflict. That’s what gets readers turning the page to see if this can be resolved. However books that rely just on arguments between the two characters can lead to this sort of reader reaction:
“It was like going one step forward and two steps back.” and another reader commented on a different story:
“I just wish they didn't argue about little things so much.”
My stories trend toward the fourth type because one of the features I like to explore is the concept of opposites or characters who are immediately attracted to each other but have significant hurdles to overcome before they can get together.
My first novella, “Mardi Gras” which is centred around Australia’s “Pride” parade has two guys from different countries, different age groups and different backgrounds. A common reaction after that was disbelief that the characters would be together long term. I have yet to write the sequel, but I believe they can, and do.
My next novella, “Caught” featured men from different cultural backgrounds. In this case, the quickness of their hooking up also made some readers query whether common ground can be found in the long term.
“Red+Blue” again is posing these sorts of responses.
While “Opposites Attract”, do they “Stay Together”?
I could have written a single chapter epilogue, based it a year in the future and shown them playing “Happy Families” followed by a hot fuck. But I want to do more than that. I want to explore the concept of meeting these problems and overcoming them in a book “Give+Take”.
Clare had an interesting comment to make at the time, likening her characters’ lives to a Work in Progress.
So, here’s our discussion.
A.B. Gayle: What’s your attitude to sequels?
Clare: I've personally never deliberately considered them because I write the one story, and that's that :). However the first story I had published at DSP had a bittersweet ending - before they launched that specific range - and on accepting it, they asked me to write a sequel that would bring the main characters around to a HEA. I was happy to do that and it didn't feel like an uncomfortable compromise, but a further development (now published as one volume BRANDED).
Otherwise, I don't necessarily wrap up all the ends, but I strongly feel the story should stand on its own. Freeman's a good example - he and Kit will always be an odd couple, and they've only just come back together at the end of the book. I don't think either of them ever mentions love or commitment aloud! Freeman will continue to skate close to the edge of legality, and Kit will remain rash and independent. But I felt it had enough of a settlement to stand alone. That said, I have started a sequel but it's in very early stages *g*. Freeman gets caught up in yet another dodgy deal and Kit helps - and this continues to add layers to their personal interaction.
A.B. Gayle: Freeman is a favourite of mine and I often quote it when talking about first person POV. It would definitely lend itself to follow up books in the style of options 3, 4 or 5!
Clare: Yes, I think that's the one book I could imagine equally tense and messy and sexy sequel(s), while they *both* grow up! They may spend time apart as a result, but I'd still hope to bring them back together.
A.B. Gayle: What I find is that these two concepts “Hooking Up” and “Staying Together” don’t always fit comfortably in the one story. What’s your take on that?
Clare: You raise a very intriguing thought - how much do we truncate our stories at an early get-together stage to fit the romance HEA trope, yet the characters are so sparky with each other it's possible they won't stay together long-term? I'd say all my characters have long-term potential - but that's because I'm publishing in the romance genre. Some of my free fiction explores less stable and/or healthy relationships, and that can be both fun and challenging for an author.
A.B. Gayle: Sequels would be easier for me, because my heroes are "Opposite" and have already got major hurdles that aren't going to go away, eg Danny and Taylor - cultural, Patrick and Damien - age, Ben and Adrian - location as much as anything. These things are already built in so sequels are almost being demanded. Are there any sorts of sequels you don’t like?
Clare: The HEA sequel where nothing happens except they cook dinner and have perfect sex all the time *lol*. I don't mean any disrespect to "slice of life" sequels - and you're right, they tend to come up at holiday periods - but they're not as interesting for me as a reader, however much I liked the characters first time around. However, I'm pretty sure that's because I don't read much in the cosy romance genre anyway, whereas many readers love to feel part of the domestic life of their favourite characters.
A.B. Gayle: What sort of series do you think work best?
Clare: This relates to my response to the last question. My favourite characters are ones who struggle in the first place i.e. the HEA in book#1 is the beginning of a story, not the end. Look at Jordan Castillo Price's PsyCop series - there's no doubt Jacob and Vic are a great couple, but they still have plenty of friction. That's actually what makes me love the series so much. There seems to be scope for more stories, and she feels that way too. Whereas her Channeling Morpheus series - while I love that even MORE - has a definite arc that it followed, with a beginning and end, and that was that. Perfect!
Dennis Lehane wrote an excellent series with Pat and Angie as P.I.s, but the last in the series had them breaking up over a point of moral principle that was very powerful. I've just read a new sequel to that, when they're back together and married, although re-addressing the case they broke up over. It's still a good thriller, but the break-up one made a far stronger impact on me.
A.B. Gayle: Would you like to explain your rationale behind the writing of the sequels to True Color?
Clare: They were a chance for me to revisit the guys after they got together, essentially to explore sex scenes, but also to progress the relationship further. Admittedly it establishes them more firmly rather than examines their conflict, but I still wanted to show *some* conflict, even if it's only personality-based like your (option 4), and ways they find to compromise and complement. A pretentious theory for 3 short sex scenes I suspect :), but that was why I wrote them. Mind you, several people had expressed disappointment they didn't see Miles bottom in the original story. I wouldn't have written the sequel showing it if that wasn't true to the characters, but I felt that Miles *would* want to explore that - though not enough for a whole novel!
A,B. Gayle: Speaking of Spin Offs, is there any chance to see if Red and Carter hook up?
Clare: Funny you should say that :). I have started another story with Red and Carter - that's me giving into peer group pressure again *lol* - but I don't intend to have it feature Miles and Zeke's relationship too strongly, just them as friends of the couple.
A.B. Gayle: What sort of follow up stories don’t you like?
Clare: I can get irritated by the manufactured conflict, just to make another book. A previously-unknown stalker turns up, or a long-lost - and threatening - relative suddenly reappears, or one of them suddenly reconsiders his love and they break up over something daft just to be able to re-live finding the HEA, etc etc.
A.B. Gayle: One reason I end my books where I do (and explore this further in Anne’s blog) is that I like to think I’ve shown enough about the characters’ personalities and strengths that the reader, using their imagination, can develop their own futures for them. How do you feel about that aspect?
Clare: That's a great viewpoint and I agree. It ties in with my opinion that a book should be self-contained, although it's fine if threads are left for a potential sequel - and for the readers to develop their own ideas, as you say. I often won't read a book in the first place if I know in advance it'll end on a cliffhanger - it feels like I'm being "tricked" into buying a long-running series before #1 is even out. I like to read a book, love it, then find there's another about the characters that I'd also like to read. The difference is difficult to explain! and I'm struggling to think of an example. Maybe for me it's the difference between the Black Dagger Brotherhood books, which are fascinating individually, and some of the long-running crime series, which start to pall and become repetitive after too many.
For me, it's all about contrivance - if another book rises out of the ending of the first, all well and good. I find it less justifiable to set out to write a series - and also tricky in the m/m genre because it implies an endless supply of gay main characters, all in the same setting! The Sean Michael series is an example of handling this logistical problem, with the BDSM clubs.
A.B. Gayle: I was advised that rather than write a sequel, I should write a totally new story as sequels don’t sell as well.
Clare: I got similar advice from a publisher, too - that sequels don’t sell as well unless they *are* a fully-fleshed plot on its own. It's heartening to hear on one level. However, I can see plenty of series books doing excellently! It must have its pros and cons - on the one hand, a much-loved book will have an established and supportive market for a series, but on the other hand, if a reader didn't like #1, they're perhaps unlikely to try #2 through #12.
A.B. Gayle: Well, thanks for letting me pick your mind, Clare. I’ll be interested to hear your readers’ thoughts on the subject and maybe even hear examples of ones they think work and ones they don’t.
Clare: Great to see and chat with you!
~~From Clare: click the banners for A.B. Gayle's website, plus my page at Dreamspinner and the three follow-up True Colors shorts.
Keep Calm picture credit to keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk