Monday, April 19, 2010

Back to the Deep Magic of Narnia by Susan May Warren

Hey readers. Do we have any C.S. Lewis fans out there? This Manuscript Monday, Susan May Warren draws lessons from Narnia to share craft tips. Enjoy!

Back to the Deep Magic of Narnia:
How to Write a Successful Sequel
by Susan May Warren

It’s not easy to write a sequel . . .

I love series books. I can’t help it—I get to know a character or a group of people and I want to stick around with them, to know them and watch them journey on. I am sure this is what made Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series a must-buy on my list. And why I flock to movies one, two, three, four, five, and six (whatever order you want to put them in) of Star Wars and Harry Potter. As soon as we hear the word “sequel,” whether to a great book or movie, we’re caught up in the magic, the images, and the emotions of our favorite books and movies. We long to dive back into that world, to be enchanted again with the story, the characters, and the fictive dream.

But sadly, we’re so often let down. How many “sequel” movies have we watched only to leave the theater with a sense of disappointment? Or how many second books have we put down, thinking, I can’t read the third?

It’s not easy to write a sequel . . . much less make it better than the first. I had mixed emotions about Prince Caspian. I didn’t love the ending, but perhaps because I knew Susan and Peter’s adventures were over. But I did enjoy the romp through Narnia a second time—so let’s take a look at the elements of a successful sequel.

Draw us back into the storyworld. Narnia 2 (Prince Caspian) opens with an explosive start— the birth of a son of the king of Miraz (Prince Caspian’s uncle), and thus the need to kill the heir to the throne (Prince Caspian). Crossbows, swordplay, a race on horseback, an escape into the “dark forest,” and an accidental meeting of Narnians set the stage for the storyworld.

Catch us up to the characters. In the second scene of the movie, we see Lucy and Susan back in London, and immediately they intervene to stop a street fight in which Peter is at the center. Edmund bounces in to save him, and in the aftermath of their fight, Peter catches us up: “It’s been a year. How long does he expect us to wait?”

“I think it’s time to accept that we live here. It’s no use pretending any different.”

It’s like they’ve started to question the life they experienced in Narnia . . . and then the magic happens: The train station morphs into Narnia. Suddenly they’re throwing off their shoes and splashing in the turquoise waters of their favorite world. We see them explore the ruins of Car Paravel, the world they knew and loved, and at once we too are back inside the adventure. The next few scenes reach back to the past and build on the present—establishing their royalty, their skills, and their noble goal: save Narnia.

Widen the cast. Shortly after Peter and gang return to Narnia, we meet the “new players”: Prince Caspian’s evil uncle, King Miraz (who also jumpstarts the plot by raising the herald against the Narnians), and of course, we’ve already met Prince Caspian in the first scene. We also meet the starring Narnian (Trumpkin). Widening the cast not only allows the principals to interact with a new set of villains, but it allows them to deepen as they discover new conflict. Also, it lets us readers/viewers fall in love with a new set of characters—ones who can continue on in the series (e.g. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

Build on victories and defeats in previous books. Peter and his siblings soon realize that something nasty is afoot in Narnia. Car Paravel is in ruins, Aslan is missing, some of the animals no longer talk, and the land is troubled. The royal line (Prince Caspian) and the existence of Narnia is at stake (bringing up, by the way, the question about the beginning: “It’s no use pretending”), all the victories the kings and queens of Narnia accomplished—freeing Narnia from the witch and establishing peace—have been destroyed, and now they must repair the mess they left behind and save the world once again. Only, this time, it seems as if they’re in it alone because Aslan is nowhere to be found. And Narnia is worse off for having experienced peace and then losing it. A sequel must build on the past and raise a new problem as a result of it.

New Lessons for our favorite people. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund acts as the chief character of change as he betrays the others for a piece of Turkish delight. It is his faith (or lack thereof) that is revealed and tested. However, Prince Caspian focuses on High King Peter and his struggle with the loss of his noble identity. He longs to be the adult, the king, the leader he’d been in Narnia, and we the start his journey in the train station when in a burst of frustration he says, “Don’t you get tired of being treated like a child?” In a good sequel, especially with a “team” of people, the principal character change must happen with the known, favorite characters. Sure, we care about Prince Caspian, and his rise to kingship is compelling, but it is Peter we are rooting for because we already know and love him, because we already identify with him, and for us, this trip to Narnia is about him. When we see him become the leader he once was, and he defeats King Miraz, both in battle and in morals, we see that he hasn’t been pretending. He is still the High King of Narnia.

A sequel doesn’t have to be a shadow of its predecessor. It can, in fact, build on the world and the characters already created and whet the reader’s/viewer’s appetite for number three!

Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a boutique fiction editing service for writers, and runs A Writer’s Blog. See her Web site to learn more about her award-winning fiction.

1 comment:

  1. Good lessons, Susan! Thanks for sharing this with us.


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