1. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Your opinion on trilogies

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Elena Schmetterling, Aug 9, 2015.

    Hello,

    I just wanted to get some opinions on writing trilogies and how you think it should be done. For some, trilogies where Book 1 leaves many questions unanswered to be followed up in Book 2 is great (an incentive to keep reading and find out what happens in Book 2 and so on...), but for others it doesn't work - trilogies need to be able to stand as a satisfying standalone. What would you think of a trilogy consisting of completely independent stories? How do you think that would work?

    The main question is though, how do you think trilogies are best done?
     
  2. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    As a reader I much prefer to read a complete story. In that sense a book that works as a complete standalone would be better to me. If I like the story world then I buy the next book in the series to see what happens next.

    Lord of the Rings
    is probably one of the most successful trilogies that springs to mind and that is definitely the opposite of what I just said, it's one story spread over three (six) books, I think as long as the book pauses in a natural place and not on a cliffhanger with the MC on the point of mortal death then it's OK to break part way through the main story. After all, long books get really heavy after you have been reading for a while!

    If you write three books each of which are a standalone, is it still a trilogy or is it a mini-series?
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The Merriam Webster online site gives a couple of definitions, or rather a couple of different takes on the definition:

    1) a series of three novels, movies, etc., that are closely related and involve the same characters or themes
    2) a series of three dramas or literary works or sometimes three musical compositions that are closely related and develop a single theme

    For the purposes of novels, I think there are three different types of trilogies:

    One is basically a single story divided into three parts. They may be sold as three separate volumes, due to length, but they are not stand-alone stories. We're talking about a VERY long story here. Lord of the Rings is a good example. So is Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy. This kind of trilogy sometimes ends with a 'to be continued' page, letting the reader know there is definitely more to come. In this sort of trilogy, it would be a mistake to read the middle or last book first.

    Two is a trilogy of books that may or may not contain the same characters. Each volume IS a stand-alone story. However, they are usually linked in some way ...they can be an ongoing family saga, or a history of a particular place or development of an event. The one that jumps to my mind first is Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" series, Red Mars, Blue Mars and Green Mars. All three of these books develop the settling of Mars by human beings from Earth, but each of them can be read separately, as a stand-alone story.

    Three is the kind of trilogy that straddles both other types. In other words, some trilogies 'feel' like each volume is a stand-alone book, but in fact all three need to be read, in order, to get the complete story. While you could start with a middle book or even the end—the author wrote the first chapter as a synopsis of what went before, and the story within that volume comes to a conclusion, of sorts—it's still probably best to read them in order. If nothing else, if you don't start at the beginning, you will encounter spoilers that will ruin your enjoyment of previous books. The example that comes to mind is Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, The Crystal Cave, the Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment.

    As to which version is best, well I reckon that's down to the story you're telling. If it's a place-centred story, probably the stand-alone books will work well, if it develops the place from start to finish throughout the trilogy. If it's a character-based story, possibly the three-parter continuous story might be a better choice.

    I think certain genres prefer certain types as well, but I don't claim to be an expert on what is most likely to get published.
     
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  4. Aaron Lopez
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    Aaron Lopez Member

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    It's a good question actually, but let try answer it by asking people the ultimate question:

    Why write a trilogy?

    Why not a duology or a tetralogy?

    If I had to place my bet, most writers will simply say "the trilogy feels like a complete saga". It seems natural that if we write a complete story in three acts, we would write a complete saga in three acts. A two parter seems like nipping it in the bud, and a fourth book sounds like a tooth getting too long.

    That's the answer, right?

    I'm going to say that it it's partly right, but it's also part of the economic conditioning ingrained into us. Trilogies aren't completely natural. We've been sold on the idea of them.

    The Lord of the Rings, due to its immense popularity, maybe have started the craze for massive fantasy (and sci-fi) epics to come in threes. And do you know what's strange? Tolkien considered The Lord of the Rings as a two-parter, the second volume being The Silmarillion. That's right, LotR was one book, and The Silmarillion would be the second book. Who decided to turn his one LotR story into three volumes (six books over the course of one year)? His publishers.

    So here's my perhaps controversial opinion: if you're intentionally writing a trilogy, your first book will feel like a set up, your second book will feel like a sandwich filling, and your third book will then feel unjustifiably epic because you saved everything for it.

    I've read published works like that, and I've written (unpublished) works like that. When we think in trilogies, we end up trying to save the best for last, and therefore the first story has little pay-off, and the middle one feels like filler.

    The best approach is to simply always turn in your best work every single time. Don't save your villain or your seismic events for the sequel. You can't count on being around tomorrow, and people get to enjoy your better stuff faster. Once you got your first story out of the way, and if -- and only if -- there are more tales to tell, write a sequel. And if, and only if, there is another tale after that, write another sequel. Rinse, repeat ad infinitum until there are no more stories left in that world.

    I've been trying this approach and it's taken a massive load off my chest. Plotting one story well is heavy work itself, and only after did I realise trying to plot three is exponentially more exhausting.

    Still, if you are encouraged to write simply based on the idea of writing a trilogy, don't let my opinion hold you back! It's about simply getting it done, not "having an idea" =P
     
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  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The advice I've always heard was to write every book as a stand-alone. If a book gets popular and the people/agent demands more, you can develop the conflict to accompany two books. Other than that, stick with just one book.

    @Aaron Lopez said it best: we were conditioned to think that trilogies are a must. They're not. There are plenty of good stories out there that don't have any sequels/mid-quels/prequels. Plenty of good stories that only have two books. Just write your best stand-alone book every time, and if people demand more from a given world, expand on that world.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    They can be wonderful when done right. Especially the first trilogy ever - The Oresteia, but as @Link the Writer says, they aren't a must.
     
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  7. fivetoesten
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    fivetoesten Member

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    It's been quite a while since I've read anything that wasn't part of a trilogy. It's LOTR's fault. Stand-alone novels, if they're good, make me feel lonely for their characters and situations after I finish reading them. But three or maaaayyybeee four books is the limit. I've tried to make it through long series, and have been prevented from enjoying them by the idea that they would never, ever end. The Wheel of Time? No thank you. I imagine lots of vacant staring and slobber.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2015
  8. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure if this is the type of opinion you're looking for, but it's an opinion all the same, so I'll give it. If I'm casually browsing books - usually in the sci-fi section - and pick up one to find it says 'Book 1 (2,3) of the ....' on the cover, I can't put it down quick enough.

    Just give me a self-contained, complete novel, damn it. If I wanted a story in series form I'd be watching tv.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I prefer a self-contained novel, and if I like the characters a lot I like to see later self-contained novels featuring the same world and characters. I will buy books that are part of a series, but before doing so I generally check to see if the series is complete. If Book 1 has just come out, I'll often avoid it.
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    For the most part, I don't want to buy trilogies until all three are completed, unless each one truly is a stand-alone (like KS Robinson's Mars trilogy.) Neverendums—whether three books or 12—do not appeal to me at all.

    Once a trilogy has been completed, however, then I'm in.

    Actually, I'm eagerly in, because I love a long tale and the immersion value a long story will have for me. I want to read it at my own pace, though, and not have to wait 5 years between volumes, or get a hastily-constructed one every year.
     
  11. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I specifically look for books with sequels. Stand-alone books often make me feel cheated, wanting more. I want to see more from these characters, immerse myself within their world. One book just isn't enough for me.

    I like trilogies in particular. Maybe it's conditioning, as was mentioned, but I enjoy them nonetheless. I know that the first is the intro, the second is the build up, and the third is the ending. And I feel satisfied with that. I can close the third book feeling as though I spent an adequate amount of time with the characters, and now it's time to move on.

    Five is my limit on sequels though. Further than that and it feels like dragging.

    ETA: I don't care whether the stories are self contained or not. I am just as much interested in stories that end with a cliffhanger as stories that feel complete.
     
  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't understand this logic. What if a trilogy's story was written as one massive tome? Would you still feel cheated, even though you'd be getting the same story as you would if you bought them as 3 individual books?
     
  13. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    That depends in how it was written. If it was three novels packed into one book, no. If it was one massive story the length of three books, yes.

    My favorite part of a series is the individual stories that make up a trilogy. Each novel, whether self contained or left in a cliffhanger, still has a beginning, a middle, and an end. So I feel like I'm part of the story, following the character through three (or more) separate events in their lives. One story alone, no matter the length, doesn't give me that sense that I've been with the character long enough.
     
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  14. Elena Schmetterling
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    Elena Schmetterling Member

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    Hmm, I'm guessing the general idea here is stand-alones are best, or trilogies/series which have the ability to be stand-alones. I feel the majority of trilogies published now start off so well in Book 1, and deteriorate - likely due to deadlines, etc.

    I think, I'll try and keep to a single book.
     
  15. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    There are three distinct stories in my dream project. When I discussed this with a friend, she said it was a good idea to have the other novels planned from the beginning, that there is nothing worse than having to wait too long for the next book in the series to come out, and that new authors often lag with their sequels.

    All my favourite books have had sequels: Dune, H2G2, Lensman, Culture, etc.

    This thread has been good, and encourages me to make sure the 3 novels will be informative enough to not need the preceding read, and have enough closure to not force the following read.
     
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  16. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I have read a few. As well as a partial in the Xanth Trilogy, I say partial as it is 27 books. Piers Anthony kind of made up his own version of trilogy. It just depends on how you want the story to be in each book of the series. I think it helps if they all tie in really well as you progress, otherwise it could get a bit confusing. IDK though, I read the Conquerors Trilogy end, beginning, and then middle ( I sort of didn't know that I had initially bought the ending first), and it was a great read despite my own ineptitude on the flow of it. What ever makes you happy I suppose, if it works for you then great. I more of a hand me a monster to tackle instead of having to hunt down the pieces kind of guy (cause I will probably start at the wrong end or in the middle). I am on the fence about a lot of sequel books as like movies they tend to have a strong front runner, followed by less than desirable sequels. Guess that works in either direction though. I say go for it if you want, no one is going to stop you, but you. :p
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I'm the exact opposite. :p I want to enjoy a book series as it's going as I then get to immerse myself in with the lore and interact with the fans of the book series who are just as eager about the sequel as I am. My years as a member of various Harry Potter forums will always be treasured in my memory. If a series is completed before I get to it, though, I feel cheated, sadden because I've missed it! All the excitement, all the anticipation had long since passed. Sure I get to start at Book #1 and go from there, but half the fun is anticipating the sequels with others! Take the Green trilogy by Jay Lake. I'm really enjoying the series, yet I'm a bit bummed out that it's all over. If there were discussion forums dedicated to this series, I've missed out on all the "Oooh, what's gonna happen in Book #2/Book #3??" discussions and mostly crackpot theories on what they think's gonna happen. Nope, all over now. :[

    I've never heard of neverendums before. Sounds pretty bad. :[ Sooner or later, the author has to call it quits on a series, especially if they're afraid readers are going to get quickly bored with a plot that's taking forever to resolve.
     
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  18. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    For a guy who joined yesterday, you sure know what's what. Welcome to the forum, brother.
    Your comment about how the ordered books are perceived is spot on. I've seen it play out countless times.
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I used to be like that, too. It's not that I don't mind waiting (discussing, etc) but that I hate being disappointed. Neverendums? Well, although it's gone on far longer than a trilogy, I can think of no better example than "Song of Ice and Fire." It's still not done, and by now the TV series has overlapped it. I checked out at the end of Book 4, when I realised how long the series was going to be and that nothing was even close to being resolved. I didn't mind the immersion, but the fact that I seemed to have climbed aboard a soap opera.
     
  20. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    My opinion: If the first story can't stand on it's own, then the trilogy sucks.

    And TLOTR was never meant to be a trilogy. He just couldn't help expanding his story.
     
  21. Aaron Lopez
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    Aaron Lopez Member

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    Out of interest, have you started writing your dream project? When call my projects "dreams", it means I'm procrastinating =P.

    Thanks mate. The quotes in your sig are interesting... sounds like you're well read. Have you written anything yet by any chance?
     
  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Tolkien never thought of it as a trilogy - instead it's apparently a single novel in 3 books, 6 volumes.
     
  23. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    The poor publishers probably had a heart attack when he handed it in. They just wanted a simple sequel to The Hobbit.
     
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  24. Masked Mole
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    Thank you. The last one is a quote from a forum member. I'm not sure which one.
    Yes, I have. No trilogies though. :)
     
  25. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I wish there were cameras there.

    Publisher: <stares at the large stack of papers, shaking> W-what is this?

    Tolkien: <smoking his pipe> A sequel to The Hobbit. It chronicles the journey of a Hobbit and his friends as they try to destroy the Ring Bilbo found 60 years previous. Oh, and I believe there's a charming part about old Tomb Bombadil that I believe the readers will enjoy. It covers quite a few pages, though.

    Publisher: <wipes sweat from brow> Uh...

    Tolkien: There are many tales of battles fought all over Middle Earth. The story of a Fellowship formed, broken, and re-formed. The story of a Strider, an elf, and a dwarf. Ancient kingdoms and old grudges.

    Publisher: <hyperventilates, grows pale as he looks at the giant stack of papers>

    Tolkien: <motions to the stack with tail end of pipe> Oh, and all of that is to be one book. Possibly split into volumes, but one book only.

    Publisher: URK! <grabs heart and collapses to the floor, twitching. Tolkien peers over table with concern>

    Tolkien: Are you quite all right? <looks around> Oh my...

    :p
     

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