Blog: How to Write a Good Sequel

A lot of people make a lot of sequels, but a lot of people aren’t any good at it.  Here are five rules to make your sequel worth your time!When I wrote this, I was coming up with an idea for Men in Black III.  No, not the one that would be released a year or so later; this was conceived before that was announced.  Men in Black II was not a very good sequel.  It was an…okay movie.  It wasn’t a great one, but it wasn’t as bad as its reputation would leave you to believe.  A lot of its reputation comes from the fact that it is nowhere as good as the original, follows a different tone, and generally doesn’t follow the rules listed here.

This was originally posted for MiBreviews on January 3, 2011.

Since my primary form of expression is writing, and the primary target for this rant is writers, I thought it rather pointless to format this rant in Vlog format. Today’s topic is: most sequels suck. Or something like that.

One thing I’ve thought about a lot since I named this site was what would happen if I were ever called upon to write a screenplay featuring myself in a sequel to one of my favorite modern films, Men in Black (that’s pretty much the only way a role I could actually act in could be devised). In the process, I’ve had to analyze what the essential ingredients to a good sequel are.

  1. A compelling story. Seriously, this has to be the first consideration of any story, and a sequel is not exempt from this.
  2. Its own two feet. This is sort of part of point 1- a story that relies on the fact that it is a sequel is not a Good Sequel. It may be a Fair Sequel, but by the definition of a story this automatically makes the sequel sub-par. On a related tangent, this is why any attempt to review a multi-part episode of a TV series (specifically, I was considering Green With Evil) as if it were a movie will generally result in an abysmal score: these were not intended to stand on their own, and they are part of a greater compelling story, with many of the essential ingredients already delivered. Of course, this often applies to disappointing movie adaptations of television shows, but that’s a rant for another day.
  3. The elements that made the original so good. There’s something else that this point includes, something that some sequel writers seem to think makes a sequel on its own and something that some of them seem to think is irrelevant: the characters. This is where Predator 2 could have done much better and where the third and fourth installments to many franchises utterly fall flat. Past the characters, though, I mean the important details of the plot, the mainstays about the characters, etc. Men in Black II, for instance, tried to do this and failed, by trying to combine the badass veteran Agent J with the fumbling comedic rookie J, with little in the way of segue. To properly fit this point, they would need to use Agent J in such a way where his “young black man” attitude, his no-nonsense attitude and refusal to be wrong (the Will Smith-ness) and his role as a former NYPD and all that entails, would all be used in a non-contrived way. For example, being forced to work with a partner that someone of his backstory would take issue with (in my own hypothetical screenplay, I envisioned a Michael Corleone-esque character) would utilize J in a way that allows his full character to be used, and…
  4. Be original. Once you’ve established what from the original needs to stay, establish how much of it you can cut out. Alien bars and space stations are fun, but not necessary? Leave them out of Empire Strikes Back. Already used the Hero’s Journey in installment 3? Maybe you need a Fall and Redemption story for part 4, or something altogether unrelated.
  5. Stay faithful to the original taste. This is a simple thing, really. Why do I think my Men in Black sequel would fail? Because the new partner I mentioned? Most studios would cast Shia Lebeouf. Why do so many people dislike the Land Before Time sequels? Because the taste is so completely unlike the original. Again, you don’t want a carbon copy, but you want to be able to appeal to a similar fan base.

All put together, a Good Sequel is something that makes new viewers or readers want to pick up the first one, and fans of the original explode from the sheer awesomeness of what is being put on screen. Think about that before you sell your Land Before Time XIV: Mysterious Sharpteeth Beyond to Universal, won’t you?

Indiana Jones 4* 1
The Clone Wars* 1

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