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What is the primary reason why sequels often suck?

I was thinking about this for a while, and I thought the reason was because you write a story beat for the first film, book, etc. and then because you didn't initially think of making a sequel, you need to come up with a different story beat for the sequel, and it may go against the character development or there's no character development because the character fully developed in the fist book.

Is it because the story beat you wrote initially didn't take into account the possibility of a sequel? Is there anything you can do aside writing a story beat with the possibility of a sequel in mind to make sure that the sequel is good?

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Sequels are often rather crummy because the author managed (by luck or intent) to write a good book or screen play that actually communicated something to the reader or viewer, then writes the sequel using the same formula (characters, plot, etc.) but lacking that important bit about actually having something to communicate to the audience.

Authors often try to "make the sequel better" by raising the stakes - the (super) heroes saved a city in the first book, so make them save the planet in the second. That doesn't really work because the first story wasn't really about saving the city - it was about the heroes overcoming their own problems to become heroes, or it was about the hero facing up to his own mistakes and dealing with the consequences. Whatever it was, saving the city was incidental to the points about life and people that were made along the way.

You avoid that by having something new to say, and using the known characters and setting from the original success as the background for the sequel. To have a good sequel, you have to have something new for your existing characters to say.

What most aspiring authors seem to misunderstand is that a story isn't simply the plot.

In a good story, the interesting parts are the things the characters learn about themselves and other people. A good story is based on an observation of life - its good points and its bad points along with how people (good and bad) deal with it.

All the action and flowery descriptions of far off places and fantastic events fall flat if the story doesn't communicate something to the readers and viewers.

Action and special effects do not make a good movie - though a good movie can contain action and special effects.

Fantastic places and magic aren't sufficient for a good novel - though a good novel might well be set in a fantastic place with magical things and magical events.


An author should study existing stories. You need to learn more than how to use words. You need to learn how good authors work more things than a plot into a novel. You need to look for the points that other authors have put in their stories - and find the things in your experiences that others will find intriguing when you put them into your story.


Movie sequels are something of a special case. Often times, the sequel isn't even written by the same author as the original. Some studio has the rights and hires another author (group of authors) to write a sequel. All they've got to go on is the formula and characters of the original - but not that magic bit of meaning that got into the original. You end up with basically the same movie, just louder and larger. More glitter, more crash-boom-bang - and no heart at all.

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In trilogies, the sequels (book two) correspond, in a sense, to the second act of a three-act structure. So, they can tend to sag, or they can be darker than books one and three, or they can be less satisfying.

Sanderson discusses this effect. It's not anything I came up with! It fits my reading experience with trilogies.

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The reason sequel movies frequently suck is different to the reason sequel books frequently suck.

Movies are often subject to interference from many different people, many who have money (or who represent the people with money) but little to no creative ability or understanding of the story. So they want to get their fingers in the pie, but they don't wash their hands first.

So sequel movies can be hopeless mish-mashes of styles, ideas, characters, plot points, dialog, etc. And much of it can be incompatible with the first movie.

The usual case where a sequel movie is as good as the first one is that the project has an absolute tyrant who demands things be done his way, who is also good at writing. This is pretty rare. Usualy the director and producer and a bunch of other people have a big tug-of-war over the movie. And the result is similar to what comes out of a drunken frat party on Halloween where somebody gets out a Ouija board.

As well, the original movie is often loved for its novelety. The first Revenge of the Nerds movie is beloved because, as the title suggests, after a long series of difficulties the nerds win. In the second one, after along series of difficulties the nerds win. So, the novelty is largely used up, but the nerds are still there.

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The best way to make a sequel work is to make the stories between the two somewhat episodic OR plan from the get go what the story is going to be. But most of the best Sequels work because they are different stories from the films that proceeded it or upset the dynamic in some way.

Consider some sequels that are considered better than the original. Terminator 2 (T2) is considered the superior film to the original film (Terminator is not a terrible film by any means. T2 is just better.). In this case, everything Terminator did that was loved, T2 did and expanded or improved. But the key here was T2 was never trying to be what Terminator was. The original Terminator was a scifi horror (Sarah Connors was being hunted by a man who would stop at nothing to kill her in Terminator. In T2, Sarah Connors goes on the offensive against the threats). Ironically, every sequel following T2, the sequal tries to one up T2, which to this day, has always been the franchise's toughest act to follow.

You can even see how different the two films end and their view on Time Travel. In the first Terminator, time travel creates a Grandfather paradox. Kyle Reese becomes the father to John Connor after sleeping with his mother while sent to protect her in the past. Sarah Connor in turn raises John to be a great military leader, which in the future John fights the machines with such success that the only way to win is to send a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah, prompting John to send Kyle (who it's implied John knew was fated for this role, hence his selection and the gift of the picture of Sarah).

However, Terminator 2 flips that. While Saving Sarah was important there were several other opportunities in the past for Skynet to kill John. Sarah was a contingency, but the remains of that Terminator were reversed engineered into what became Skynet, thus the heroes are now doing the mission of the villains in the original: Killing Skynet before Skynet is conceived of and born. When they are successful, it leaves viewers with a different issue and Sarah in a better place. Knowing that Judgement Day was inevitable, Sarah was tough on John, to the point that their relationship is strained... but by the end the pair are reunited and Sarah concludes that the future is unknown, giving a far more positive conclusion to the story than the first film.

Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 also worked because they didn't retread on Toy Story. The first film was about Woody's fear that Andy no longer loved him with the addition of Buzz Lightyear into the play room's dynamic and is a simple matter of jealousy over the new guy, who isn't trying to replace Woody, but mearly fails to comprehend the situation. When Buzz finally learns that he's a toy and not a real space ranger, Woody has to explain to him why being Andy's Toy is a big deal and an important job.

In Toy Story 2, the script is almost flipped. Woody, who has no idea of the nature of his own franchise's lore, discovers his roots at the same time he comes face to face with the fact that Andy is growing up and won't need his toys forever. This time, he believes his own hype, but in a way that is different than Buzz's delusions in the first film, and it's Buzz that has to remind him of what it means to be Andy's Toy.

In the 3, the entire cast comes face to face with the reality that Andy's outgrown them and have to decide how best they should move on. Here, the concern is miscommunication and a lack of understanding of what they truly want (They think they want to be played with, but what they want is the love of a child who cares for them. The Daycare provides the later but not the former and they realize they shouldn't be bitter over Andy's mistake.).

Other good sequels explore themes that were only touched upon in the original, or not even considered. The Dark Knight forces Batman to realize that while he trained to deal with corruption that follows a rational pattern of thinking, he was totally unprepared for a wildcard situation that is the Joker. When the film begins, he firmly believes he can save Gotham and retire as Batman, unaware that he inadvertently invited something worse into Gotham and a form of corruption that he never considered.

Most sequels that don't work are because it does the same thing as the works that are before it, without giving rise to new ideas. Most of the good ones build on and expand the lore that is loved, not rehash the lore.

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Often, the first book or movie was written without any intention of a sequel. So everything that follows is forced and unnatural, and often only motivated by the desire to make more money.

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Similar to most answers posted here:

  1. The theme is not sequel worthy, but the Author bows into reader pressure to create a sequel, basically trying to make a pish-pash story from nothing rather than an enjoyable read.
  2. Author is in a hurry to complete the book, release it early and cash in on the popularity. The result being a poorly written half baked attempt at a story.
  3. Having too many references and links to the first novel. Sequels, in my opinion should be independent and hold their own ground even though they have the same set of characters. But at the same time, readers who have read the first book should get some taste of it.

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