On the Inevitability of Trilogies

The_Hero_of_Ages_-_Book_Three_of_Mistborn

If there’s one trend that seems to have accelerated in the last decade, it seems to be the prominence of the trilogy. Recently I was reading a review by a disgruntled reader who had been disappointed by Brandon Sanderson’s third book in the original Mistborn trilogy, which, by the way, is an EXCELLENT series which I cannot recommend highly enough – including Hero of Ages, the third book. But it really got me thinking, because I’ve read several promising fantasy/science fiction books, some of them in the teen category, with very promising book 1 starts.

Yet when it comes to book 2, and sometimes book 3, I’ve noticed a growing trend: this feeling that the second or third book was written more for the sake of publishing another book than because the story needed to go there or because the author had fresh ideas to add to his or her story’s universe.

It’s a troubling trend because I do think a lot of authors decide ‘Oh, I might as well make this a trilogy.’ It’s as if a story has to be told in 3 sections, a formulaic Beginning, Middle, and End. Or perhaps a few in the publishing industry are just obsessed with the number 3?

A really good paranormal teen writer I have enjoyed reading is Sarah Fine, who wrote Sanctum, and I look forward to reading more of her books, but her second book in the series doesn’t have anywhere near the same immediacy and poignancy as the first book did. The first book held me enthralled from beginning to end. The second book…well, I struggled to finish.

Have you encountered similar roadblocks? Have you ever gotten the feeling that an author didn’t stop where the story naturally was leading, but tried to churn out another book?

I think readers and authors could all benefit by pushing for a less conventional, one-size-fits all format for fiction. We need more 2-book series (those are called dualogies by the way). We need to do what other authors are increasingly doing – and a good example of this is Jack Campbell, a great science fiction writer – by starting new series spin-offs based on characters from an original story.

In short, readers should be demanding more of us and authors should think more creatively about how we package and develop our stories. As an author, I think you do a disservice to yourself and your readers if you’re writing a trilogy because ‘Hey, trilogies are where it’s at, right?’

Trilogies can be good, but they can also be STIFLING. Be creative. Some of the best series would have made horrible trilogies. Can you imagine Harry Potter as a trilogy?

If there’s one thing I could urge to readers, it’s this: Reward authors who go beyond the conventional. Don’t simply read book 2 and book 3 because you liked book 1. An author should have to earn your finite time and money. Make them.

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