On ‘Thinking in Trilogies’

BetrayalThe Aware (Isles of glory)The Ambassador's Mission (Traitor Spy Trilogy)The Hunger Games (Hunger Games Trilogy)Myrren's GiftThe Magicians' Guild: The Black Magician Trilogy Book 1The Pirate King (Forgotten Realms: Transitions Trilogy)Battleaxe (Axis Trilogy)

This article is based on a session at AussieCon 4.

Why trilogies?

It was suggested that trilogies are partially publisher driven because it’s more commercially attractive to sell three novels rather than one. However, if this were the primary explanation of why trilogies are published trilogies (and series) would be much more common in other genres beyond fantasy.

It was also suggested that a publisher can nurture the authors whose work they publish by getting them to write trilogies. Trilogies can be a way of maintaining a reader’s interest in a particular author’s novels by continuing with the fictional world, characters and stories which readers enjoy in the first book. Also, the faster a newly published author can get a second or third novel out to take up more shelf space and reassure potential readers that the author was worthy of having a second and third novel published the more readers are likely to choose their novels from the shelf in a bookstore.

The practical issue of binding large books during World War 2 (due to rationing of resources) was brought up as an influence on the splitting of large books into trilogies because smaller books were more economical to bind together effectively.

Another reason suggested for fantasy trilogies was that, whatever the reasons for trilogies becoming popular in fantasy novels, it is a fantasy tradition which many readers have come to enjoy.

How much of a trilogy do you write before releasing each book?

Several different ways of writing trilogies were discussed:

–          write three before releasing any of them

–          write one book at a time with a series in mind

–          write one long story then break it into three

–          write a standalone book, then a self-contained sequel, then another

By writing all three before releasing any, you can change previous books after writing later ones and coming up with ideas of extra things to add or do differently.

Readers can read each book in a trilogy as it comes out. However, there are also readers who will wait until all three books of a trilogy are out before they read the first book, so they don’t have to wait months or years to get to the end of the story.

Trilogies are often released with a year between each book because many writers write on a schedule of one novel a year. However, some trilogies are released with six months, three months, or one month between each book. They can even be released all at once.

Trudi Canavan, Russel Kirkpatrick and Glenda Larke said they take a year to write a novel, while Fiona McIntosh said she takes about 16 weeks to write a novel.

There is no set structure for a trilogy

A trilogy can be one long story split into three sections without any special consideration of how each section would be received by a reader when read separately from the other books

A trilogy can be three interlinked books with consideration of how each can be read alone and be satisfying in its own right, and how each book leads to the next and/or follows from the last one.

Trilogies have room for lots of character depth and you can dwell in a fictional world for a long time, you can have more characters without sacrificing character depth, and there is room for detailed ‘world-building’.

Trudi Canavan suggested the following simplified version of a story as a basic description of many fantasy stories:

–          A character discovers a power

–          The character learns how to use that power

–          The character kicks butt

An example of a simple way for expanding a basic form of story like this into a trilogy is:

BOOK 1

A CHARACTER DISCOVERS THEY HAVE A POWER OR SKILL

–          A character discovers they have a (smaller) power or skill

–          The character learns how to use that (smaller) power or skill

–          The character kicks butt (while gaining the main power or skill)

BOOK 2

THE CHARACTER LEARNS HOW TO USE THAT POWER OR SKILL

–          A character discovers they have a (smaller) power or skill

–          The character learns how to use that (smaller) power or skill

–          The character kicks butt (while learning how to use the main power or skill)

BOOK 3

THE CHARACTER KICKS BUTT

–          A character discovers they have a (smaller) power or skill

–          The character learns how to use that (smaller) power or skill

–          The character kicks butt (while concluding all the storylines in a satisfying way)

From a very basic generic outline like the one above, you can plan out various obstacles and characters to complicate each step of the story. There are many ways this can be done. For example, Glenda Larke said she writes many drafts, Trudi Canavan said she writes out notes and partially-plots story details before she writes the story itself, Fiona McIntosh said she writes spontaneously in a single finished draft, and Russel Kirkpatrick said he usually makes a map of his story world before he starts and uses that in the process of writing but that he will try having no map in advance for his coming book, giving him freedom to be spontaneous with just a general sense of a story arc to guide him.

Publishers want to take on an author, not just one book

Fiona McIntosh mentioned that publishers generally want to take on an author – not just one novel – and a trilogy is a good way to build that longer-term partnership not only between a publisher and an author but also between an author and readers.

A three book contract can also provide reassurance for an author because they can focus on writing their next few novels with the confidence of knowing they will be published.

A good fiction writer controls how they use the genre; not the other way around

Russel Kirkpatrick advised: “Don’t let the genre write for you.” It’s not a matter of identifying ‘the structure of trilogies’ and what ‘fantasy conventions’ are and then applying them. A good fiction writer should bring something original to their fiction which will satisfy readers.

Resolutions or cliffhangers?

There was also some discussion of whether, to what extent, or in which circumstances resolutions or cliffhanger ending are preferred at the end of the three books in a trilogy. Opinions were mixed among the authors on this issue.

NEXT: On ‘The Novella’

BetrayalThe Aware (Isles of glory)The Ambassador's Mission (Traitor Spy Trilogy)The Hunger Games (Hunger Games Trilogy)Myrren's GiftThe Magicians' Guild: The Black Magician Trilogy Book 1The Pirate King (Forgotten Realms: Transitions Trilogy)Battleaxe (Axis Trilogy)

The Australian Literature Review
www.auslit.net

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3 Responses to On ‘Thinking in Trilogies’

  1. I’ve written (and had published) two books in a series and am now awaiting my publisher’s decision on whether there’ll be a third (I suspect it has something to do with sales). My plan, which I outlined to the publisher, was for a “double trilogy” – a 6 book series, but they’ve baulked at that and so I wait to see if Hannah and Jake will be having further adventures or not!

  2. Michael says:

    Out of interest, Ian, did they sign you up for a trilogy?

  3. M G Kizzia says:

    I am sure this was covered at Aussiecon.4, but you know the first trilogy and the coining of the word was for Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote 6 books, but his publisher insisted it be three. I guess trilogies and fantasies go well together, even prequals as Lucas might say. I guess all that work to create that other world just begs for more than a mere 300 pages.

    -Michael
    The Fiction Side: The Storyteller http://mgkizzia.wordpress.com/
    The Non-Fiction Side: Word & Spirit http://michaelkizzia.wordpress.com/

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