Writing The Sequel: Demonkin
“How could the same [stuff] happen to the same guy twice?”
Somewhere during Die Hard 2, scrappy underdog John McClane delivers the (censored) line above as a wink to the audience. Yes, he says, we know this is the same story, but we hope you’ll like it anyway. That’s one method of writing a sequel. As much as I enjoyed Die Hard 2, I decided to go a different way.
When it came time to start Demonkin, the sequel to my first book, Glyphbinder, I wasn’t sure where I wanted it to go. My first book tells a complete story, and I debated how I wanted to develop a follow up. Characters must return and stakes must be raised, but how best to go about doing that?
Die Hard 2 knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s a decent action movie that takes the scenario from Die Hard, changes the location (an airport instead of a skyscraper) and raises the stakes. Rather than a single building of hostages, we have multiple airplanes full of them. It’s a fun movie, but it plays out just like the first Die Hard. Our scrappy hero wins, the bad guys lose, and McClane reunites with his gutsy wife.
As I went back over sequels to movies I’d enjoyed, I kept coming back to the same sequel over and over: The Empire Strikes Back. In my opinion, it’s a perfect follow up to Star Wars, building on the first movie while taking the series and characters in a completely new direction. ESB does everything I want in a sequel, so as an author, I decided to dissect what it was about ESB that I liked so much.
ESB expands the universe, changes the characters in permanent ways, and reveals the cost of earlier mistakes. ESB’s ending is bittersweet at best and sets up a third movie where I know many pieces will collide in a final battle — and I’m okay with that, because ESB understands what it is. It’s the second act of a three act play, rising conflict that sets up the climax of a trilogy. A complete story, if a brutal one.
ESB also refocuses on underdeveloped characters from the first movie. In Star Wars, Luke is the hero and the story revolves around him. Han and Leia support Luke and don’t change very much. In ESB, we go another way. Han and Leia have significant character arcs and while Luke’s still in the movie, he’s off learning from a Muppet in a swamp. Luke had his story. Focusing on Han and Leia kept me hooked.
ESB also doesn’t limit itself to the same cast. It’s not afraid to introduce new characters (like Lando and Yoda) who have roles equal to the original cast. Rather than raising the stakes by rehashing the first movie (what if the Empire fielded multiple Death Stars?) ESB raises the stakes by flipping the script.
The Rebellion fights the Empire (like at Yavin) but at Hoth, the Empire wins. Risky decisions that went fine in the first movie (like Han’s decision not to pay off Jabba so he could help Luke) become huge problems. Our heroes unite to rescue Han (like they rescued Princess Leia from the Death Star) but this time, our heroes fail. Luke arrives at Cloud City to save everyone (just like he blew up the Death Star) and this time, Vader defeats him. We see our heroes savaged and forever changed.
ESB ends with one hero captive and all the others battered by huge losses and costly victories. They’re safe, for the moment, but facing even bigger challenges. It’s because ESB resolves most but not all of its threads that it works as a middle movie. It’s a soft cliffhanger. The bad guys landed some big hits, and now our battered heroes must fight even harder to recover. I’m hungry to see them redeem themselves and finally defeat the Empire, which is right where I want to be after the second volume of any trilogy.
Once I figured all that out, I was ready to write my second book. If Glyphbinder was my Star Wars, then Demonkin is my Empire Strikes Back. It’s a complete story, just like my first book, but new characters take the lead, heroes fall, survivors are traumatized, and bad guys strike mortal blows. I tried to write an exciting yet brutal story that I hope satisfies readers of my first book and gets them excited for my third.
If you enjoy darker stories where the heroes might not always win, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
Eric Bakutis is an author and professional videogame designer based in Maryland. The staff of Balticon selected his debut adventure fantasy novel, Glyphbinder, as one of eight finalists for the 2014 Compton Crook Award. Glyphbinder has since received positive reviews from Kirkus and other review sites.
Eric’s dark fantasy short story, Hunted, recently won second place in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s 2015 short story contest. Eric’s short fiction has also appeared in various markets and anthologies including Fairly Wicked Tales (from Ragnarok Publications) Superhero Monster Hunter (from Emby Press) and The Ways of Magic (from Deepwood Publishing).
You can read the first five chapters of Glyphbinder for free at Eric’s WordPress site, Tales of the Five Provinces, along with sample chapters of Demonkin (so long as you don’t mind spoilers). Glyphbinder is now available on Amazon Kindle (and compatible platforms) for $0.99, and Demonkin will be available on December 18, 2015. For the latest news, including pre-orders, please check out Eric’s Twitter feed.