Updated: Oct 10
A couple of months ago, one of my Facebook friends shared a link that allowed you to get the computer game Civilization VI for free as part of a promotion. My oldest brother and I loved Civilization III when we were growing up, but I hadn't played any of the Civ games since. Suffice it to say, I like Civ VI a lot better. (Though I have yet to beat my youngest brother in a game. 😑)
Around the same time, I stumbled across the amazing song "Baba Yetu," the theme for Civilization IV. It made me curious about how the game had changed over the years. So last night, I started trawling the internet to learn more.
Among other things, I stumbled across this article, written during Civ VI's development. It contained this intriguing wisdom about writing sequels. Even though most of us are writing books rather than games, I think this advice applies equally well to us:
"Even if you aren't working on a Civ game, you may get something out of . . . [franchise creator] Sid Meier's 33/33/33 rule of sequel design. "'You want 33 percent of what's already there, existing, 33 percent improved, and 33 percent brand-new in terms of mechanics," [producer Dennis Shirk] says. "That's something he's spread throughout all the franchises at the company. . . . We try to keep that in all the games we make." . . . "Box yourself in with a set of reasonable constraints -- the 33/33/33 rule, for instance -- and you may have an easier time focusing your efforts on the things that will help your game shine."
Considering that the Civ franchise has been going strong for almost thirty years now, I think these guys are on to something.
Meier's rule addresses two common things that go wrong with sequels. First, some sequels feel like tired rehashes of the original work; they don't really take the characters or the story anywhere new (e.g., the High School Musical franchise. Seriously, when is Sharpei—or Troy, for that matter—going to learn?). Second, other sequels go off in an entirely different direction from the original, so much so that they seem to be taking place in a different story world (e.g., the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).
(Side note: As you might suspect from the examples above, here's another good rule for writing sequels: Never, ever look to Disney for examples of sequels done well. No wonder they messed up Star Wars.)
So if you're thinking about writing a sequel of your own, try using the 33/33/33 rule. I don't think it's necessary to follow those percentages religiously, which would be hard to do in something that's much more creative than mathematical. But using it as a guideline could go a long way to helping you craft something that feels like not a rehash or a turning upside down but a continuation of your original story.
Of course, writing a sequel is a tall order—maybe even taller than writing an original story. If you'd like some help, click here to book a time for us to Zoom about it.
(Thanks to Anne Nygård for sharing their work on Unsplash.)