Monday, January 31, 2011

Of Sequels and Series and the characters we love

Today I finally finished watching a movie which I  began to watch so many years ago that I've forgotten just how long it was.  I'd never forgotten it, nor how fascinated I was with it, and how much I wanted to see what happened, but you know how that works - life just sort of gets in the way and time passes.  Until recently, most people whom I would talk to about this movie would say never heard of it.  But now, thanks to the power of the sequel, even one that was twenty-eight years in the making, most people would know exactly what I am talking about.

Yes, it was Tron, the 1982 film which has finally gotten its sequel.  Needless to say I haven't seen that yet.  Was the original as good as I had built it up in my mind to be over the years?  Absolutely.  Loved every minutes of it.  And I know I'll love the sequel, just having seen the trailers. I think it's great that Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner are back in their original roles, and saddened that David Warner is not (although I did notice on IMDB that Cilian Murphy plays his character but is uncredited for it).  David Warner was chillingly effective as E. Dillinger, the man who stole Flynn's programs to begin with.  If you want to know more, watch it.  And if you want to see David at his sexiest most evil self, catch him in Time After Time, against a totally cute Malcolm McDowell.  For those who enjoy time travel and romance, Time After Time more than fills the bill.

Watching Tron, I couldn't help but think about sequels.  Sequels are funny things.  It took them twenty-eight years to bring this one to life?  Why?  I have no idea.  Perhaps it took that long for someone to finally push the idea into being.  Maybe it was a lack of a good script.  I don't know, but I do know that often sequels pale significantly beside their originals for many reasons.  But not always.  In fact, there are instances where the sequel is better than the original.  For example, Star Trek.  Personally, I didn't care for the first movie very much.  It seemed sophomoric, and substandard by Star Trek standards and just not that interesting.  So when the next one came out, I was less than interested.  Until I found out which Star Trek TOS episode it was based upon, at which point my interest meter fell off the charts.

It was based on an episode entitled Space Seed, in which we meet the genetically created übermensch Khan, played magnificently by the late Ricardo Montalban - which just happens to be my all-time favorite episode ever.  I still consider that movie the best in the entire series.  Sadly the next two did not come close to its greatness.  Not by a longshot.

Turning to Star Wars, although the first movie was great, the second exceeded it, and the third was excellent too.  I actually saw The Empire Strikes Back before I saw the original, didn't make any difference whatsoever.  I was still able to watch and enjoy.  That brings up another question for sequels - how dependent should they be on the original?  Doesn't common sense say you should watch the first before the second?  Or should the writer make them so user friendly that you can jump in at any point in the series?  Granted, there were nuances I didn't get in ESB til I'd seen SW.  Personally, I'm a believer in doing things in order.  You build a proper foundation before you attempt to add a second story.

We all know of films that had sequels that sucked ass.  Films that made you cringe and ask why?  Even good series can become watered down thinly veiled pleas for money by the time  you get to the eighth, ninth and tenth in the series.  What keeps people going to see them?  Why are they even made?  First, because someone wants to make money, that's a given.  But secondly, because people have become fond of the characters in them, and want to see more of them.  Even in the case of Saw, where I'm sure someone will say there are no likable characters, consumer interested is inflamed by the ghastly premise and the morbid desire to see what comes next, but I disagree - I happen to think John Kramer is a not unsympathetic character with actual motivation for what he does, whether you agree with him or not.

So this brings me to series, more specifically book series.  It seems that most authors, or at least a number of authors, these days are writing their characters into series.  There are obvious reasons for this, of course, and monetary reward is certainly not the least of it, don't let's kid ourselves.   But I don't mean that in a bad way, nor do I find that a bad thing.  Except in the case of bad series.  Do I think there are bad series out there?  Of course I do.  I've read excerpts from them and cringed.  Are any of them successful?  Of course they are, because somebody likes them.  My tastes aren't everyone's tastes and I don't expect them to be.  I happen to like Saw, not everyone does.  So what other reasons are there for series?

From the author's point of view, it's a chance to keep playing with the characters you love to play with, to continue telling their stories, to keep them alive for readers to enjoy.  Not to mention, the more you write of them - at least in theory - the more familiar you are with the world you're building, which should make the process even more exciting and interesting, as you add to your story. From the reader's point of view, they get to keep their relationship with their favorite characters alive.  You lose their interest, you'll probably lose the series, at least insofar as getting it published is concerned, because numbers talk, right?  Although poor numbers aren't always the author's fault, there are reasons for everything.  Sometimes a book needs to find its niche, its target audience, if you will.  That is very much something the publisher needs to address, and it's all too easy to blame poor sales on anyone but yourself.  Which isn't to say that authors don't need to promote themselves, they do.  The trend toward self-promotion has certainly grown as the publishing industry has changed over the past few years, with the advent of the e-reader.  Traditional ways of doing things are going by the wayside.  Sadly, hardback books are becoming obsolete - I'm not saying they'll entirely disappear, but they'll never be what they once were, especially with the absurd prices publishers are charging for them.  I don't remember the last time I bought a hardback book, although at one time they were my preferred format of choice.  Paperbacks are what I turn to now.  And no, I don't have an e-reader.  I'm still old-fashioned enough to like holding my books in my hands.  Which isn't to say that won't change some day too.

Because of the rise of e-publishing, these publishers have set the standards for what is happening, but at a price.  They are publishing authors who could not get a foot in the door of traditional publishers (and many for good reason), authors who are so grateful to see their works in print that they are willing to take over the responsibilities that should belong to a publisher or agent and do it themselves.  The trouble with that is you end up spending time doing that when you should be writing.  And not everyone has a knack for self-promotion.  We're not all social butterflies with the gift of gab.  In time, and a time that is rapidly approaching, the older traditional publishers are going to have to step into the game, or lose out.  When they do, and when they bring their more traditional, successful best-selling authors with them into this new world, what happens to the ones that are being e-published now.  Will they be pushed aside in favor of these others, who outweighed and outsold them hands down before?  Or will they have accumulated enough reader support, series interest and general clout to take them on?  Remains to be seen, but it should be interesting.

I'm not knocking series, not at all.  I have some myself.  I enjoy them, especially playing with my characters in new situations, watching them - hopefully - grow and develop.  The nice thing about them, too, is that if  you ever have enough, or you think the series has lost your interest, or lost its edge, or gone one too long - you just stop reading it, watching it, or whatever.  The author can continue pumping them out for the ones that are still interested, no sweat off your nose, so why not?

Do I ever grown when I see promos for certain series, and wonder how in the hell that one is still going, when it's so craptastic?  Of course.  But to be fair, people might ask that when they see I've written a sequel.  It's all a matter of taste, and everyone's is different.  As for my Max series, I plan to write it until I die, published or not, because I love writing Max that much.  Would I prefer to see the books published as opposed to not?  Of course, because that is the way I hope to support myself, in order to keep writing more Max, as well as my other characters.It's what most of us want, isn't it, those that write?

So for every sequel like Grease II, that makes you ask yourself why, remember there are others, like Wrath of Khan and Empire Strikes Back that make you cry YES, can I have some more please, sir?

What do you think about sequels and series?  I'd love to hear!


  1. Some sequels are horrible and some are great... and then there is taste of course. When it comes to Max... KEEP WRITING! :)

  2. Aw, thanks, Kitty! Don't worry, I'll always let you read Max, even if the publishers reject him. *huggles*

  3. *huggles* I am glad... *waves at Max and Richard*

  4. This is true. :) And I can't wait for Max and Richard too! I'm trying to be patient really I am!

  5. Then I won't tell you that I haven't started the third one yet lol Of course you still need the sequel first. I would hope that would be out no later than early summer, I didn't get a date.