Writing Sequels: Lessons from Disney

Writing Sequels: Lessons from Disney

I love Disney and I love a good sequel. But I don't always love *whispers* Disney sequels. Over the years, they've made many sequels to go with their more popular movies. Among those, they've had both successes and failures.

Today we're looking at how to write a sequel using Disney movies as examples. We're going to talk about things you should do and what you shouldn't. Ready to get started?

Just compare that animation. What happened, Disney?

1. Do keep quality consistent

Just because it's the second book doesn't mean it needs to have less quality than the first one. In fact, the quality should be as good, if not better. Readers won't keep reading your series, even if they liked the first book, if the second book is crap.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, Aladdin 2, The Little Mermaid 2, and Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas are all examples of sequels whose animation quality went downhill. Even if the story is good, a bad look, or bad writing, can turn people off.

In contrast with that, movies like Finding Dory and Toy Story 2 show an increase in quality. If you can, that's the best way to go. Wow readers even more with your second book than the first.

This is also another one where the animation went downhill

2. Do actually have a story

If you're going to write a second book, make sure there's an actual plot. You can't mash together a hodge podge of ideas and expect it to work.

I liked The Emperor's New Groove and  Atlantis: The Lost Empire but their sequels weren't half as good, mostly because neither of them really had a plot. Atlantis: Milo's Return had Norse myths, a bit of Western action, and a Kracken creature with mind control. Yeah, it's as disjointed as it sounds. The same with Kronk's New Groove. Most of the story was backstory. Yes, I'm serious.

You need to work hard to make sure your sequel has a good plot. Second books, especially if they're in a trilogy, have to be pretty good. Don't write it just because you want to write a trilogy. If that second book isn't needed, make it a duology.

3. Don't make it a repeat

If you make your second novel have the exact same plot as the first one, but with a different protagonist, people will be highly disappointed. They didn't ask for a repeat of the first book, they asked for something new and fresh.

Kronk's New Groove and The Little Mermaid 2 are both exactly like the first but with a new main character. It makes the whole thing predictable and somewhat boring. If you can't figure out a new story for your second book, maybe you should drop the idea of a sequel.

4. Sometimes switch the protagonist

It can be nice to follow one person for the whole series, but it can also be good to see other points of view. It can add depth to the story, or it can allow you to see things the first protagonist can't. Like the POV of a peasant versus a prince.

Cars 2, Finding Dory, and The Lion King II all feature different main characters than the first one and each one is still a good story. Don't be afraid to try something new. Just because lots of popular series have the same MC throughout the whole thing, doesn't mean yours has to.

5. Do raise the stakes

When your sequel isn't exactly connected, it's okay to keep it about the same stakes as the first book. But if there's one connected plot overarching the series, then you need to keep taking it up notch with every book. And don't forget not only to raise the stakes but kick up the epicness (which is totally a word).

Disney, especially Disney•Pixar, is excellent at raising the stakes as their stories progress. The first Cars on has the stakes of losing a race, but second has actual lives on the line. The first Toy Story has some danger, but nothing compared to the dump scene in number three. (Of course, we don't discuss number three. Oh, the feels in that movie.) Keep upping the cost and you'll have readers hooked for sure.

6. Do keep the story's heart

The heart and theme of your sequel needs to be consistent with the first one, or no one will like it. There must have been something that made people love your first book, and it needs to be carried over to any sequential books.

Think about Toy Story. The heart of these movies is friendship and family. The fact that they will be together no matter what. That's what people love about them. Or what about Lilo and Stitch 2? It also keeps the same warmth and depth of feeling from the first one, making us smile and cry. So much crying.

7. Do make your characters consistent

Your story is nothing if you don't have a plot, a theme, and a good character(s). Without one of these things, the whole thing falls apart. And when you're writing a series, you need to especially make sure your character remains consistent with how they acted in the first book. Of course, if they change, you can keep that, but you don't want to lose their personality or make them act completely differently.

The Tinkerbell movies are an excellent example of this. Tink is a feisty little fairy whose temper often gets her in trouble. If she had stopped being so temperamental and big hearted, no one would have liked them. Or what about Mater? His dorky, dumb personality is what makes him so endearing. Even when he gets caught up in a spy mystery, he doesn't lose what makes him Mater.

8. Decided if you really need a sequel

Writing a sequel just because, or because you think people want it, is a bad idea. Make sure you have a good reason to write another book in the same story arc. Maybe because it wasn't finished in the first one, or because you want to tell another story in the same world.

Many of Disney and Disney•Pixar's best films have been standalones. They don't have many sequels because they don't need a bunch of sequels. Even if we want one, it doesn't mean the story actually needs one.

Another option, besides writing a sequel could be to write a prequel story. The problem with that is you can only do so much with the characters, because they have to end up in the right place for the next story. If you want an excellent example of a prequel, try Monsters University. The ending is quite the twist.

Let's talk! What sequels can you think of that were done well? What about bad ones? Do you agree with my Disney examples? Tell me in the comments.


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