“The original 'Hobbit' was never intended to have a sequel - Bilbo 'remained very happy to the end of his days and those were extraordinarily long': a sentence I find an almost insuperable obstacle to a satisfactory link.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
“Anything worth doing is worth doing twice….” – Arthur Leonard Schawlow
These days it seems as though every form of entertainment follows the franchise model. A story is successful and, boom, along comes the next in the series. Sometimes they're fantastic and sometimes they're questionable. But either way, a tidal wave of sequels keep getting produced.
Movies obviously fall into this pattern. Star Wars was followed by Empire, then Jedi, and now we’re in the thick of what can be called as Star Wars 2.0. New movies, new characters, new worlds*. I’ve lost count of the Fast and Furious franchise, but I think we’re somewhere in the mid-teens. Breakin’ was…not a movie one would expect warranted a sequel, yet before viewers knew what was happening, Breakin’2: The Electric Boogaloo graced the silver screen**.
Somewhat less obvious is music. Queen cranked out A Night at the Opera, then produced A Day at the Races while Alice Cooper produced several sequels (Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, Welcome to My Nightmare 2, etc) to his groundbreaking Welcome to My Nightmare. And who can forget Bat Out of Hell 2?
But as impressive as movies and music might be, no one holds a candle to franchising like the book industry. Ngaio Marsh wrote 32 novels featuring Chief Inspector Alleyn. Suzanne Brokmann has 19 books in her Troubleshooters series thus far, not including short stories and e-shorts. Edward S. Aarons wrote 42 Sam Durell adventures in his lifetime with 6 more written by his brother after his death. The Discworld series by Terry Prachett? 47.
And those are just series with one author. If you include franchises with multiple authors, you’d be in the hundreds with Star Wars and Star Trek. Goosebumps and Animorphs were pretty robust as well. And if you want to include booklets, Perry Rhodan’s adventures are…vast.
So why is there so much love for franchises? Why the constant cranking of movies, music, and novels? Is it a grab for money or is it something more?
Personally, I think it’s the latter. Granted, Troll 2 didn’t have anything to do with its predecessor and was likely a stab at capitalizing on a “popular” movie***, but producers, lyricists, and authors wouldn’t continue to provide us content if there wasn’t a demand for it. Readers threatened to revolt unless they got more Harry Potter books. And still are 20 years after The Sorcerer’s Stone was published.
Part of this is because readers, in particular, fall in love with the characters. We ride the roller coaster of emotions throughout a wonderful novel, but upon reaching the end, we’re overcome with both joy and sadness. The former because it was such a great ride. The latter because it's over. And while a one-and-done means that the character’s tales have been told, a franchise offers more to the overarching story. Readers can gobble up 2, 10, 50 books before tapping their foot impatiently while the author sprints to fill the demand for more.
For us authors, that’s a great mindset to have when writing. Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should write nothing but series. I love a good one-and-done and there’s a lot of merit to writing a single, phenomenal book. But there’s also merit to approaching the brainstorming period with a potential series in mind. Fiction, and certainly Sci-Fi/Fantasy, is steeped in the franchise model. And a lot of readers, myself included, are pre-spun to expect more. Having Book 2 in mind when writing Book 1 that can make it easier to figure out what to reveal in this book versus delaying for another or how best to slowly stretch a character's boundaries over the long haul.
In the end, what happens with a story is up to the author. Maybe that’s a single novel or many it’s several dozen. But if you’re doing to do it, by all means do it well.
And maybe, just maybe, consider doing it twice.
Joshua Roots is a car enthusiast, beekeeper, and storyteller. He enjoys singing with his a cappella chorus, golf, and all facets of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. He's still waiting for his acceptance letter to Hogwarts and Rogue Squadron. He and his wife will talk your ear off about their bees if you let them.
His Urban Fantasy series, The Shifter Chronicles, is available wherever digital books are sold.
He may or may not be working on a new franchise....
*But the same awesome X-Wings, so we’re cool, New Star Wars. We’re cool.
**And it was glorious.
***And unwittingly created a cult classic.