Monday, December 19, 2011

Sequels: A note, with more to come

One of the five or six most beautiful words to a writer must be "sequel." It's right up there with "published," "royalties," "options," etc.

I mean, if someone wants to publish a sequel to your work, it must mean the first was successful. And it's a chance to get paid to spend more time with characters you've already created in a situation you already know a lot about. No, it's hard to see a downside to sequels.

So here is the first of three notes on the subject.

Finished – I just finished reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in time for the movie. I'll tell you the truth. I don't see what all the fuss was about. Yeah, it's a good story, interesting characters, a lot better story than many, but I've read a lot better, too.

It starts slowly, and is overwritten, especially that half a chapter explaining how Swedish guardianship law works. Didn't need that. I'll bet no Swedish reader needed it either.

I'll also be honest when I admit I read them backwards. It just happened that way. Someone gave us "Hornets Nest" about a year ago, and I read it. Liked it better than the other two, and loved the courtroom denouement. Then last spring we found "Played with Fire" and so I read that. It felt weak, and someone just a few days ago told me he thought it was the thinnest of the three, just "connective tissue between the first and third." I couldn't disagree.

Then I got my hands on "Dragon Tattoo" about a month ago and finally read it. It was OK, but there weren't a lot of surprises, I already knew about Harriet Vanger, about Wennerstrom, some other things. So that probably wasn't the best way to do it.

And if Dragon's half chapter on guardianship was bad, the obsessive drumming in Hornet's Nest on the history of postwar Swedish politics was even worse – not enough to make the reader actually understand, but way too much to let the story just run unimpeded. And that was the one I liked!

Together, they don't feel like three separate books, an original and two sequels. They feel like one huge mother of a book that was just too damn big to publish, so they broke it into three. And that's definitely a lesson to be learned. Sequels are all well and good – in fact, from an impecunious author's standpoint they seem fantastic! But make sure each book is complete, stands on its own and ends satisfyingly to someone who doesn't read any more in the series. Ironically, that's probably the best way to guarantee they will read more.

So anyway, I've read it, finished the cycle, and I'm glad I did. It was pretty good.

But I don't understand what all the fuss was about.

Next – Teflon sequels.

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