Sequel Syndrome – It’s not a New Thing

You know that awesome movie or book that becomes a sudden best-selling blockbuster? Everyone loves it, so what’s the next thing that happens? Yep – a sequel. And frequently, the sequel is nowhere near as excellent as the first one. Sometimes, if the sequel isn’t a total bomb (or even if it is), then an entire series is spawned out of something that probably should have remained a one-shot. (Anybody remember sequels that shouldn’t have happened, like Jurassic Park II and III, or many of the Disney animated direct-to-video sequels of the 90s?)

This is known as “sequel syndrome,” and it’s not actually something created by Disney or 90s adventure movies. It’s been a thing for about as long as we’ve had commercial entertainment. Decades ago, just like today, there were some mediocre sequels, some sequels that never should have happened, and some really stellar sequels that made the series into a win.

One of the hallmarks of sequel syndrome is to capitalize on the elements that made the original popular. If the first book or movie is funny, then the sequel is funnier. If everybody loved the sinister villain, then add more sinister villains to the next story. The monsters in movie number one were popular, so movie number two must feature twice as many monsters that are twice as monstrous. This technique is often what makes the sequels fall flat – they’re more like caricatures of the original, instead of an effective continuation.

But not all sequels have to succumb to the bad side of the syndrome and leave a bitter taste in our mouths or crummy numbers at the box office. There are approximately 271,098,335 stories that I could use for this example, but I’m going to focus on just two series. And to prove that sequel syndrome wasn’t spawned by the TV movie age, I’m going to discuss two series from the early 20th century.

The Wizard of Oz

To illustrate the negatives of sequel syndrome, I’ll use the Oz series by L. Frank Baum. Now first let it be known that I’m a huge Oz fan, and I love all of the books. But in my opinion, Baum succumbed to several negative aspects of sequel syndrome as he wrote his 14 Oz books.

The Oz stories, being fantasy, of course feature amazing creatures, monsters, and magic of every sort. These fairy-tale elements – like a scarecrow that was brought to life, or a city made entirely out of emeralds – are what made The Wonderful Wizard of Oz so popular.

So in many of the subsequent books, the fantastical world was the main focus – and often, the only focus. In several of the books, there was no plot to speak of – the story was simply a wandering journey through magical oddities. A city of china dolls is entertaining – so how do you top that in a sequel? Have a city of paper dolls, of course. Or a city of talking silverware. Or a city of people who have roller skates on their wrists instead of hands.

I’m not trying to put down Baum’s creativity – and the Cuttenclip city (the paper dolls) and the Wheelers (the roller skate people) were popular enough to keep Baum writing more and more books. But many of these wild fantastical creations became absurd as the series progressed, and things like plot and character development were often sacrificed in the name of “new fairy land adventures.”

Sure, there are worse sequels than the random, wandering Road to Oz (book #5 in the series). And I still love all the Oz stories – as does the general public, even today. (Wicked, anyone?) But from a storytelling standpoint, the Oz series demonstrates the problems inherent in sequel syndrome.

This isn’t so much of a sequel, as simply an adaptation. No Judy Garland songs or Technicolor Munchkinland in this version, though. That’s right, kids – even back in 1910 the modern marketing engine was going strong.

The Thin Man

In 1934, Dashiell Hammett published a novel titled The Thin Man, and that same year it was made into a movie. It’s a comedic murder mystery, and the main characters are a retired detective and his wife, who spend as much time drinking and being snarky as they do investigating the murder case. Because of the popularity of the first movie, five more films were made.

What was it that made the first movie such a hit? In addition to the onscreen chemistry of the two stars (William Powell and Myrna Loy, for anyone who wants to know), it was primarily the witty dialogue and the comedic use of alcohol. The plot was also engaging, worthy for any fan of Agatha Christie-style mysteries.

So what could have happened in a sequel? Focus on the most memorable aspects of the first movie – Nick and Nora’s banter and their use of alcohol. The sequels easily could have dissolved into drunken snark-fests, with a vague backdrop of a plot-hole riddled mystery story. But they didn’t.

The writers of the films (the original book’s author contributed to some of the screen plays) were masterful at not falling prey to sequel syndrome. The characters maintained consistent behavior throughout the series (snark, drinking, and crime-solving in equal parts). The plots, while all following the standard mystery trope, were consistently strong, and were never sacrificed to the comedy. From a storytelling perspective, the Thin Man series rose above the potential pitfalls of sequel syndrome.

The witty banter and frequent drinking were comedic elements in all of the Thin Man movies. This easily could have been overdone, but it wasn’t. In one film the characters stayed dry the whole time, but the plot, characters, and comedy didn’t suffer.


If you’re writing a sequel or a series, what are some of the strongest elements of the story? What can you do to make sure that the next in the series is just as strong as the original?

Interview with Singer Suzie Tighe

I enjoy music that’s unique in both sound and lyrics, music that evokes another time or place, music that relaxes me or energizes me. The songs on Suzie Tighe’s self-titled debut album are all of these.

Instead of an album review, the way I often have done on my blog, I have the honor of presenting Suzie’s own words about her new album and her musical journey. So here is Suzie Tighe, in her own words:

This is your debut album, but you’ve had a career in music prior to this, is that correct? Could you share a little about your musical journey up to this point?

Yes, I have been singing seriously since the beginning of the 90’s. Mostly in Montreal, Québec. Sometimes with bands, sometimes solo, in duos, in vocal quartets, vocal quintets, as a back-up singer and in so many styles like rock, pop, jazz, rhythm ‘n blues, Argentinian folklore, world, alternative… I have also written music for different projects, artistic or for non-profit organizations, such as jingles, themes for documentaries, community TV shows, video publicity for fund raising , artistic photography montages, etc…

How did your interest in music begin?

I was always artistic, firstly attracted to any TV shows featuring pop singers from Québec in the sixties. I knew many of the songs by heart even as a small child, so my aunts and uncles tell me. I took a year of piano lessons around 8 years old. Then I was more into theater, cinema and wanted to become an actress. Of course, the old musicals were my favorite; any films with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and later, Bob Fosse. I sang well, with good pitch, but nothing more. But around 15 years old, my singing voice changed a lot. It became very powerful, with a strong soul, bluesy colour. I could suddenly belt out any of the rock radio hits, reach all the high notes and annoy many neighbors. It is also around that time that I started to write songs, a cappella first and then with the help of a guitar and a piano.

Your songs aren’t in English or French. What is this language?

I call my “dialect” lumilandic. It is mainly some invented words, some borrowed ones from different cultures, but not necessarily pronounced the way they should. I did a Google translation of lumi, just for fun, and in Finnish it is supposed to mean snow and in Romanian, world.  Accurate or not, to me, the translation would be closer to “light” lumière in French…

How do you go about creating the lyrics for your songs? Does the melody come first, and then you find words or sounds to fit the music, or do you create the words first?

The music always comes first. It comes from humming during a walk or a car drive, cooking, listening to some music and improvising on the same chord pattern as the song that is playing. For the lyrics, the words have to fit with the ambience and the melody. But the rule is that they must have an emotional, maternal feel or resonance to me and evoke imaginary places, mostly northern, snowy and foggy…

What bands or musicians have most inspired you?

In the very beginning, around 15 or 16, it was Kate Bush who blew me away with her own musical style, unheard before and her haunting music and vocals. I wanted to be her. Then, I was a very big fan of the British band Queen because of all the vocal harmonies, and Freddy Mercury’s incredible singing ability. Later on, music from Talk Talk, the duo Dead Can Dance, some Cirque du Soleil themes, Norwegian folk singer Agnes Buen Garnås, especially the album Rosensfole with Jan Garbarek, some Björk…

What else inspires you to create music?

The incredible urge to sooth, to console, to caress with my voice. I always visualize that I can heal pain with it. Or at least, it is my strong intention. It is a very maternal instinct that leads me to create a melody and to choose how I am going to sing it.

If this album has a theme or a message, what would it be?

We all need hope, kindness and a lullaby sometimes. Even grown ups.

What is your favorite song on this album?

Too hard to answer! But the song that came to me nearly as a spiritual experience was “Kalinieve.” It came all at once, already structured almost, a very short improvisation in front of my big window in my old Montreal apartment. I was with my two cats and we were just watching these giant snowflakes gently whirling down the streets. I will always remember that magical moment and the music that popped in my head all of a sudden.

What are you planning next? Any tours scheduled, or another album in the works?

No touring for now, maybe a concert sometimes this winter in Montreal. I mostly worked in the studio these past years. I have other songs to work on, many ideas that will be on a second album, but no plans as to when.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

Only that dreams come true. It is only a matter of time and determination. I am in my fifties and this is my first solo album. I’ve been singing for decades but I never wanted to make it no matter the cost or the compromise. I wanted to wait until I could find my own voice, my true musical identity, and to choose the collaborators for that dream. And frankly, listening to the result, I can humbly say it was worth the wait, because this album really reflects who I am.

I encourage you to check out Suzie’s album. It is well worth a listen!

Suzie’s Website

My Name in Books

I wrote a post a while back using my name as an acrostic for some of my favorite bands. As much as I love music, I’m actually a writer, so here is my name with each letter representing one of my favorite books.


G – Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak by Lela Rogers. An amazingly cheesy WWII detective adventure. Fun read, though!

R – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. One of my favorite books, and a great study for writers wanting to experiment with the nuances of foreshadowing, point of view, and other storytelling twists.

A – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I’m actually more of an Oz fan than a Wonderland fan, but none of the Oz books fit this letter. I did grow up on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and had read the books several times before I saw any of the various movie interpretations.

C – Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. My all-time favorite book series – in fantasy or any other genre! I may have read Alice a few times, but I’ve read Narnia a few dozen times. The stories never get old!

E – Excalibur by Chris Claremont and others. Here I’m referencing the Marvel comic book series from the 1980s and 90s, that was a spin-off of the various X-Men titles. For you comic nerds, it featured a cast of Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Captain Britain, the fairy-ish creature Meghan, and Phoenix (Rachel Summers, not Jean Grey or some other incarnation). More importantly, the series was written primarily by the legendary Chris Claremont. To me, Excalibur is the perfect combination of dramatic super hero stories, epic fantasy, and hilarity.

Do you have favorite books that match the letters of your name? Please share!