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Last week, I began to touch on several problems I have with modern fantasy fiction and it’s propensity to publish incomplete stories as full length novels. I wanted to clarify: there is a difference (my head) between sequels and split stories.

A sequel is a book that contains a complete narrative and can be read without reading the previous book. Or needing to read the next book. It is roughly analogous to a syndicated television run (for anyone born in the last 10 years, I’m sorry if you don’t know what that is. Here’s a link). Sure there are past experiences the characters share but you can jump in any time and survive just fine.

A split narrative book looks a lot like modern television: a giant overarching story split into parts because you ran out of space.

A few recent examples of incomplete stories:

  • The Magician: Part 2 and Part 3 [names, links]
  • The Powder Mage Trilogy [not even close to a complete story]
  • Pocket Books – Star Trek Relaunch universe, event books.

Examples of Sequels:

  • Harry Potter (well, the first half of the series anyway)
  • Pocket Books – Star Trek: Titan [series]
  • Narnia [all of them!]

Hmmm… The further into any prolonged series, it seems the greater the odds of incomplete stories. I’ll want to look into that at some point, I’m sure.

My real beef with split stories is that they are incomplete. Incomplete stores in book are a disservice to the reader who bought the book expecting a complete story.

If I were to generalize and break down basic plot elements in a modern trilogy, I would (in fact, I’m currently in the process of making exact said point) say that book 1 will almost always be a stand alone, self-serving story, because the author can’t guarantee they’ll get a second shot. Part 2 of a trilogy is all rising action, with no resolution, leaving an unpleasant lingering tension. Part 3 is all resolution.

Part’s 2 and 3 are the split story. The denouement is relegated to the second book, where all the threads of the previous books culminate in the climax. Which sounds great, a book of action and resolution, but it’s not a satisfying result, in either sense.

Sequels should be complete stand alone stories that benefit from past experiences of the characters but do not rely on the mandated necessity of the reader having read those adventures. There’s a phrase in comics, often used by Marvel and DC (though just as often ignored): Every comic is someone’s first comic. There will always be continuity and back story and history (three things that all basically mean that same thing, I should note). The job is to tell such an engaging tale that when your reader picks up book 5 they immediately want to read books 1-4, not burdening them with the expectation that they must.