Sequels and the Art of Repetition

When I  heard that the sequel to THE MAZE RUNNER, THE SCORCH TRIALS, will be available October 12th, I wondered how in the world Dashner could revisit such a narrow construct. THE MAZE RUNNER had a fantastic premise: kid wakes up in a maze and must find his way out. There was more to it, but that’s the basic idea. So what could a sequel possibly entail? Dashner can’t exactly stick the kid back into another maze without suspending disbelief further than readers can manage.

Actually, the sequel will follow Thomas and co. as they cross a scorched wasteland in a race to reach a safe haven. But that description leaves me scratching my head—how does that story connect to a story about a kid in a maze? Certainly it’s poised to answer questions left up in the air at the end of THE MAZE RUNNER, and it will bring new challenges, and—I hope—more puzzles to solve. But is that enough to create a coherent series? Perhaps navigating this wasteland will be similar to navigating a maze?

I had the same issue with THE HUNGER GAMES. I loved the first novel, but it left me wondering how the sequel would revisit the main premise: girl must fight to the death in an arena, on camera. I’ll confess that I found much of the set up of its sequel, CATCHING FIRE, to be boring. But I loved the last third of the novel, when Katniss was thrown back into the ring. Some said that that particular plot point was too much of a stretch—but I welcomed the familiar construct. Now how was Collins going to revisit the premise yet again?

I’ll keep this discussion spoiler free and just say that I appreciated her attempt to recreate the structure of the games without actually instigating another round (that certainly would have been completely unbelievable). Katniss and co. still had traps to evade and opponents to fight. Our hero worked toward the same goal she set in the beginning: Defy the Capitol.

I suppose I’m a fool for repetition. If I love the original book, I hope the sequel will provide the same joys. I don’t just want the story to continue, I want it to cycle. Or rather, to spiral—to move forward even as it repeats. But it’s a fine line a writer walks between reprising and repeating.

Do you enjoy sequels that repeat the original premise or do you prefer for the author to find new ground to cover? Which sequels do you feel have the perfect blend of old and new?

Parker Peevyhouse is a master maze-navigator

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5 responses to “Sequels and the Art of Repetition

  1. Lots of series are formatted to have similar things happen in each book–Harry has a birthday, meets up with his friends, takes a train to school for a feast and sorting ceremony, followed by a school year filled with magic, quidditch, and deadly mysteries, and ending with the start of summer again. It works because there are enough variations to keep it interesting, like the year that Harry and Ron came to school in a flying car instead of by Hogwarts Express.

    But I’d say that if readers think that plots are repeating in an unnatural way, that’s a bad sign. And if the characters start to notice that their lives are an endless cycle of things happening over again, that’s really trouble.

  2. Natalie Aguirre

    I do like the sequels to move the story along, not just rehash the first one. P.J. Hoover did a great job in her second book moving the story along. Linger was a great second book too. I’m hoping Blue Fire by Janice Hardy and The Iron Daughter by Julie Kawaga (just started this) will be great sequels. I’ll have to see. I guess it just depends on the author and the series. And your taste in books. Some people prefer stand alone books.

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I think it also might depend on whether it’s a series with several books coming out per year or whether it’s a book with several sequels. It’s nice when the sequels move things along, as in the books you mentioned.

  3. I really don’t like series where each book is just more of the same type of thing. I read series because I like the characters and want to know what happens to them. If it’s just another year at school, another fight, another race, another whatever, I get bored. I like to see the characters grow and tackle new challenges. Plus it’s fun to see them get shoved out of their comfort zone.

    I also like torturing my own characters by doing just that.

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Yes, it’s nice to see characters grow. As with Harry Potter–the series followed the school year format but Harry had to acquire new skills and face greater challenges throughout the series.

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