hands passing seedlings

The price of success as a sequel seed

At the end of your story, your protagonist and their friends should have achieved some elements of success. As readers, we celebrate with the characters and the story ends.

Only now, the readers are begging for a sequel. What do you do if you alerady have a happy ever after ending?

Why, make it less happy of course.

The law of unexpected consequences

Is the happy ending as stress-free and happy as the characters thought it was? Most things we do have consequences we were expecting and ones that we never saw coming. It is these unexpected consequences that can be great hooks for sequels.

Example: The prince and the throne

For this example, let us imagine a book where a prince has to win back his father’s throne.

By the end of the book, the prince has ousted the orcs from the woods and defeated the evil wizard to claim his throne. Only, the orcs were keeping the vicious gangs of goblins away and the evil wizard was using his power to keep dragons out of the land. Moreover, the farmers quite like the wizard as he made it rain at the right time.

The newly crowned king has a whole bunch of problems to deal with that are all consequences of his earlier success.

Example: The two lovers

For this example, let us consider a female protagonist. She spends a book winning the love of the man of her dreams. The story ends as they take a road trip to meet her parents.

However, it turns out the two families have a long history of hostility. He is, technically still married but has not seen his ex-wife in seven years. Furthermore, her jilted ex-boyfriend is willing to be as underhanded as necessary to split the two of them up.

The couple now have just as many obstacles to overcome to stay together as they did to get gether in the first place.

The price of success

The success that your characters had may not have come without a price. For your sequel, the price is demanded.

If you don’t count unexpected consequences, there are three types of prices – debts, promises, and lies.

Debts of success

A debt is a promise that the character can be compelled to do. in other words, a promise they cannot get out of.

Example: The prince and the throne

In order to drive away the orcs that had been harrassing the citizens of the fantasy world, the prince may have promised – in writing – a neighbouring power a treaty of friendship in exchange for some troops. Now the neighbour is at war with a powerful nation.

The newly crowned king must now support a war he has no direct interest in. This could force him to divert money for rebuilding into weapons for another country – just like the evil wizard that we just saw de-throned.

Example: John Wick

at the end of John Wick the protagonist (John Wick) has succeeded in what he set out to do and the story has concluded. In John Wick 2, we learn there is a price for his success.

A debt is called in which John Wick must now honour. This debt propels him forward as the price of his previous success.

At the end of John Wick 2, he has paid off the debt but in doing so he has created a new debt that sends us with him into John Wick 3.

Each movie comes as a consequence of the previous one while also being a complete story in its own right. This is an example of sequels done well.

The promises amd lies of success

A promise is something that the character has offered but the only compulsion to fulfil that promise is a moral one.

An unfulfilled promise becomes a lie.

Promises can also be unspoken. For example, someone who helped the protagonist before may come seeking a favour in return. The expectation of reciprocal aid is the unspoken promise and can, likewise, become a lie.

Whether or not characters fulfil their promises will have repercussions in the wider story.

Example: The two lovers

In order to arrange to “accidently” encounter her dream man, the heroine may have asked for a no questions asked favour from someone else. Now that someone has come asking for the same.

She must keep her promise and hide it from her man. Now she is acting in a suspicious way and her man is starting to suspect something is going on. can she keep her promise and her man?

Example: The prince and the throne

To get the lords on side, the prince promised power and/or prestige.

In the next book, he has to make good on all his promises. That, or betray the lords who supported him and turn those promises into lies.

The repercussions either way will be the foundation of your new story.

If he gives the lord’s power and land, he must take that from other lords which will cause unrest. But if he betrays them and sides with the existing lords, he loses allies. Which sounds like a recipe for lots of compelling drama and conflict.

Over to you

Can you think of any more examples of consequences or prices of success that can drive a sequel forward? I would love to read your ideas. That’s what the comments section is for.

Do you disagree with my analysis of story structure here? Are there better ways to approach things? If so, what would you recommend? Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments.

Can you think of other movies or books where these price of success elements made for equal material? Please share your favourite examples in the comments.

2 thoughts on “The price of success as a sequel seed

  1. ronbush says:

    Interesting, keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you, Ron. I’m glad you liked what you read.

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