Recently, I talked about how to write a sequel that continues a story. These kinds of sequels (such as The Empire Strikes Back or Terminator 2) continue character arcs and plots that the previous story began, so the sequel has room to explore new territory.
Other sequels, however, don’t continue plots or character arcs from the first story. They feature the same hero and a similar setting, but the hero isn’t becoming a better person or going after the goals they were pursuing in the first story.
Here’s a look at three sequels (From Russia with Love, A Shot in the Dark, The Temple of Doom) that work even though the main character doesn’t grow.
1. Have An Interesting Hero
In this kind of sequel, we know the hero won’t develop much. The plot may connect to the last story, but the hero’s not going to become a better person by the end.
Since there’s no character growth to keep us interested, we need the hero to be very interesting. He or she must have a distinct personality so we just enjoy watching them doing things, even mundane stuff. We already know the journey’s ending, but we like watching the hero take the journey anyway.
We know when Bond meets the girl in From Russia with Love what’s going to happen and that their romance won’t last any longer than his relationships with the women he met in the last film. But he romances women with a certain confidence and charm so we enjoy watching him get the girl every time. Everything else he does (from lighting a cigarette to walking into a hotel) has a unique charisma.
We know that Indiana Jones may get the magic stones he seeks in The Temple of Doom, but he won’t get public recognition for his efforts. He may get a nice paycheck and a warning to never talk about it (as in the previous film) or he may lose the treasure at the last minute. Either way, we already know he won’t successfully complete his mission. But the way he goes on that mission (how he fights bad guys, interacts with his supporting cast, and gets out of deadly situations) is so exciting that we don’t mind.
We know that no matter how many mistakes Inspector Clouseau makes in A Shot in the Dark, he will somehow avoid being fired. Still, we enjoy watching him bumble his way through the case. Every moment Clouseau makes (whether he’s turning lights on or interviewing suspects) is a little exaggerated and arrogant, so even watching him walk through a door becomes hilarious.
2. Give A Good reason Why the Hero Came Back
Typically, these kinds of sequels have the hero going through a situation that’s pretty similar to the last story. Another murder mystery, another quest to find lost treasure, another deadly mission.
Depending on how you set up the character in the last story, it may be hard to believe they would end up in a similar story.
For example, we can believe that one day a normal guy stumbles upon an important quest (National Treasure), but if he happens to stumble upon the same kind of quest again (National Treasure 2), that’s hard to believe. Lightning doesn’t strike the exact same spot twice.
Therefore, we need a good reason the hero’s getting involved again.
Maybe the hero gets recruited for a quest because someone heard about what happened in the last story.
Or maybe the hero’s job that requires going into these situations over and over again.
James Bond’s fulltime job is investigating strange events and elite criminals for the British government. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that he stopped a master criminal in Dr. No and that a major criminal network wants him dead in From Russia with Love. It also makes perfect sense for him to go on similar missions in the sequels.
Indiana Jones may be an academic, but he’s also (as someone notes in the first movie) an expert on the occult and on “obtaining rare antiquities.” He knows all about ancient treasures and cults and will get past obstacles no one else can face. Therefore, it makes sense that people seek his help finding legendary treasures. If he happens to stumble upon an opportunity to find treasure, we believe that he’ll go after it immediately.
Clouseau is a police inspector, so he routinely investigates major crimes. It makes sense to have him on another case. We’re a little confused since he was framed as a thief in the last film, but the real thief commented that Clouseau would be released once he starts stealing again.
3. Bring New Challenges, But With Familiar Flavors
Strike a balance between giving the hero new challenges, something that seems difficult or impossible to defeat, and capturing the things which people enjoyed in the first story. Audiences want hints of the first story, but also to feel unsure how the hero’s going to win this time around.
From Russia With Love, we get exotic locations, attractive women, arrogant criminal masterminds. But this time, Bond isn’t directly fighting the mastermind. He’s not going up against a man with brains and little brawn, someone he can defeat physically. His new opponent is a trained killer, someone who specializes in doing the actual killing. If there’s any doubt this guy could kill Bond, it’s squelched in the first scene.
In The Temple of Doom, we get sacred objects, cults obsessed with finding those objects, and fight scenes as Jones tries to stop them. However, Nazis aren’t the enemy this time. No villains who always seem to show up in trucks with machine guns this time. These new foes prefer to work silently with ropes or swords, and have different beliefs and rituals. Add to that the fact Jones’ new sidekicks aren’t especially resourceful, and it’s hard to say how Jones will win this time around.
In A Shot in the Dark, we get high society settings, slapstick situations, and a lot of conflicts going on behind the scenes. But this time, Clouseau’s not trying to catch a criminal he’s studied closely. He’s dealing with a murder where anyone could be the culprit, even someone he really wants to be innocent.