typewriter logo

The Falcone Essay

February 2022

Hello everyone! Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. As part of this thanks here is the first in a series of short essays that I’ve written exclusively for my subscribers. Your support means the world and I hope that you’ll enjoy my musings on writing, pop culture, productivity, and ancient history.
On the Sequel

Every writer hopes that their work might be well-received enough that it merits a sequel, but in general, that isn’t the goal when we first set out putting pen to paper. There are some exceptions of course (Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors often plan for a multi-volume magnum opus), but most work starts as a single, self-contained piece that introduces the audience to a new world. Getting to revisit that world is an exciting privilege, but not all sequels are created equal. Some sequels merely regurgitate the plot from the first entry, while others increase the spectacle for shock factor, but the most successful sequels (story-wise) are those that are able to answer a simple question that was completely unimportant in the first story.

To illustrate this, I would like to examine two recent sequels: Frozen II and John Wick 2. I understand that the target audience for these stories could not be more different, but the stories ask the same question: where did the protagonist get their powers?

In Frozen II we return to the land of Arendelle, a slightly mythical and pre-industrial kingdom in some Nordic land. Queen Elsa rules as a benevolent dictator and uses her ice witch powers in a positive fashion for the betterment of her kingdom (as evidenced by the short stories and Christmas specials). Yet, despite having her happily ever after at the end of the first movie, the mystery surrounding the death of her parents and the origin of her powers weighs upon her, and she sets out to discover the truth. The question of where Elsa got her powers doesn’t even enter into our thoughts as we watched the first Frozen movie, but it provides the spark that sets this second tale in motion.

Similarly, when moviegoers were introduced to ex-assassin John Wick, it was under the conceit of wondering what would happen if a very dangerous man retired and then was pulled back into the criminal underworld by very ignorant people who killed his dog. But how did John Wick become the deadly Baba Yaga? How did he get his skills? And what mysterious world did he leave behind? Yes, we are introduced to elements of this in the original story, but how the Continental Hotel runs, how debt markers work, and how John Wick became Baba Yaga in the first place were not at all important to the original tale of revenge.

Now, while the sequels both explain how John Wick and Elsa got their powers, Elsa is learning along with the viewer, whereas John Wick doesn’t gain new knowledge, he is just forced into reckoning with a deal he made long ago. The sequels expand upon the “rules” of their respective universes to give the viewer more information. Elsa is one of several elemental beings, and John is one of a worldwide cadre of honourable assassins. Now that the audience has this knowledge the writer is able to take these characters down new paths in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s simply a do-over of the first movie. And often I really enjoy do-overs. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be fun, entertaining stories! But a sequel that doesn’t seek to expand its universe rarely seems to resonate with viewers and readers. (My favourite example of this is Ghostbusters II, which, while I love it, did not achieve the success of its predecessor).

Think about your favourite sequels. What did they reveal to you? How did Don Corleone rise to power? Who was Anakin Skywalker? Was Judgement Day stopped? How did the Aliens get to that planet in the first place? All of these movies answer a question that was unimportant during the original tale but forms the basis for the structure of the sequel.

Asking new questions and providing new answers is an integral part of growing your world as a writer, and is a key factor in developing new stories that will resonate with your audience.
Email Marketing Powered by MailPoet