The Stand-Alone versus The Sequel
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately, as I’ve gotten deeper into writing the first draft of “Book of M”. It’s especially come to the fore the more I think about the background material that I’ve developed – and continue to develop – for this project.
I’d always conceived of “Book of M” as a “Stand-alone”. It has a self-contained plot with a clear beginning, middle, and end. I didn’t always know exactly where the story was going or how it was going to end, but I had a general vision for it. And now that I’ve got the thing outlined, I’m confident the story can be told in 250,000 words or less – even if I do go over my target length of 125,000 words, it will still be within the bounds of a typically-successful epic fantasy novel. From my outline, I don’t really see a satisfying way of splitting the book into a longer story. My plan for the novel does not make for the springboard to a traditional fantasy trilogy.
And yet, I’ve now committed nearly 50,000 words just to the backstory: the background details, the history, the worldbuilding. That’s a significant investment in detail for a one-and-done story. And naturally I’ve wondered: Should I make this the beginning of a series?
Well, I don’t know the answer to that, yet. Whatever I might do, I’m firmly committed to “Book of M” as a single, complete story. But I’d decided I wouldn’t close myself off to the possibility of further stories in this world. But there was another problem: how would I go about telling more of those stories? Because not only was “Book of M” a complete story, but it’s also pretty epic. It’s kind of a “Big Idea” piece, with the whole plot, world and story built around a few big ideas, and I feel like the story I’ve plotted out explores those big ideas pretty thoroughly. So I wasn’t sure there would be any more ground to cover in this world. No matter, I figured. I’d always figured this to be a one-shot. And that’s okay.
But recently… recently I’m not so sure that “Book of M” will be wholly stand-alone, after all. Because while I realized I do a fairly thorough job in this book of exploring all the big ideas… there are some unanswered questions. And a good novel leaves some unanswered questions, right? But some of the unanswered questions of “Book of M” are big enough to drive an Epic Fantasy Doorstopper through.
All of which is to say… “Book of M” was a big idea piece. But what if there was a bigger idea that I hadn’t really poked or prodded with this book, but which is alluded to time and again throughout the story? Well, whadayaknow? Maybe… just maybe, I’ve got an idea for a sequel after all.
Well, that is, I’ve got a big idea. And, wouldn’t you know it, I’ve even got an idea as to what the title would be. It’s just the big idea of the story, though. I’ve got no idea at all what the plot would be. At first, I figured that if I did a sequel it would center entirely on a different character from the protagonist of “Book of M” – just be another story set in the same world, and not a direct sequel. But the new big idea works, in part, because of the protagonist of “Book of M”. So while I think she wouldn’t still be the protagonist of the sequel, she’d probably still be a major character.
Without a plot and a story to actually pursue, this is all still very hypothetical. And it’s a bit premature, perhaps, to be worrying about the sequel before I’m even halfway through with the first draft of the first book. But thinking about this has caused me to reassess some of my worldbuilding. There are some loose threads there that I hadn’t fully explored. And now, as I write the first draft, I find I’m digging into some of those loose threads and throwing down the bones of some additional worldbuilding that will tie “Book of M” in to the big idea of the possible sequel. Whatever story happens, it will be a separate story from “Book of M”. “Book of M” will still have a definite, hopefully satisfying ending that brings about the conflict presented to a clear close. The sequel will be it’s own story, just set in the same world, dealing with the ramifications of some of the peripheral questions that were hinted at, but never really asked aloud within the story of “Book of M”: questions that, when you follow the threads, lead to a whole new and exciting story.
It’s kind of weird, and exciting, and also faintly reassuring to think that I may have more story for this world left to tell, once I finish this book. It sort of validates the experience of writing it. But man… I’ve got a long way to go before I get there.
What about you? Do you have any plans for sequels in the stories you write? How do you feel about the issue of stand-alone stories, sequels, and stories in a defined cycle (one long plot spread over several books)?