Fortunately there are plenty of trilogies around today. It seems to be the preferred format for books of science fiction, fantasy, and urban fantasy, especially if marketed to young readers. It has to do with marketing, I suppose: get the readers hooked and they will buy two more books. I always believed, apparently erroneously, that the trilogy is based on a good plot arc. Hence the story needed to be told across three books, regardless of the profits that might be made.
Check out these trilogies.
As a reader, I'm hesitant to commit to a multiple-book package. It's not the money, not the shelf space involved. It's the time and emotional expenditure involved. Usually I will read the first book and then go ahead and get the second book when I am sufficiently invested in the first book - after the first chapter, half-way through book 1, etc. If a novel has plenty of publicity, made into a TV series, I may get the whole set of books at once. (I did that with George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series yet I'm still in book 1.)
As a writer, however, I was always dead-set on writing stand-alone books. But when the story, the world, the characters are still there at the end of book 1 calling to you...well, you have to return. Both times I've worked on a trilogy they started with one book which I expected to be it, the whole thing, one and done, enough said. Then, sometime later, with the story still bobbling back and forth in my head, unable to let it go, I sit myself down and begin book 2. Then book 3 usually follows quickly after book 2 because it will certainly be a trilogy. There are not many 2-book series.
I have written two trilogies. The second one was completed last night: book 3 of that trilogy.
The first was my sci-fi/steampunk interdimensional warhorse The Dream Land. Book 1 introduces the main characters and how they discover a doorway to another world and learn to function there, even to rise to prominent ranks and affect their new world. One returns home, however, and finds the situation intolerable. Thus, book 2 - what happens next? Inquiring minds wanted to know.
, but immediately upon finishing book 1, I had the idea where to go next. Then I got stuck in a plot conundrum after 50 pages and let it sit for what turned out to be ten years. Life and a lot of academic/ scholarly writing took over. It wasn't until a student of mine showed me his story on a similar theme as mine that I was reminded of the novel I'd left unfinished on my computer. I found that file, saw where I'd left off, and now that the plot conundrum had magically resolved itself in my head during the interim, I could continue. I knew what would happen in book 3 before I finished book 2. I started on a book 4 before I was finished with book 3. I knew I was addicted. I just could not stop living in this world, interacting with these people - er, umm, those characters. (I've left book 4 - just a few pages - to smolder a while and see if I want to write it.)
My second trilogy began as a stand-alone. I had said what I wanted to say in that book and believed the story done. With my daughter hooked on the Twilight series - during which her reading time really expanded! - I was determined to convince her of the truth of vampirism, about the medical conditions which led people to appear as vampires and who populated real reports that became the legends that prompted first Mr. Polidori then Mr. Stoker to pen their Gothic tales. A Dry Patch of Skin was my "medically accurate" vampire story, set in the same year I was writing it (2013-14) and, in part, in the same city where I was living and writing it. I made my point about vampires. My own doctor (who was also working on an MFA in creative writing) found no flaws in the medical side of the story. But what would happen next to my tragic hero? Gotcha.
* Finally, I decided to see where the story might go. I started writing, just as a test. It had to be in the future since book 1 was set in my present. That turned book 2 into a sci-fi novel, which made it more interesting to me as a writer. At that point, I knew there would be a book 3 but I did not yet know what would happen in book 3. The main thing in starting the sequel was picking up the same character again but having him changed over the period of time between the books. The world had changed, too. Depicting that change was the fun part. You can read more about plot considerations on earlier blog posts here and here. All right, and here, too. You're welcome.
Now I have book 3 of this trilogy sitting on my doorstep (metaphor, not literally), the first complete draft literally finished last night. I still have that burst of electricity flashing through me, could hardly sleep, and still thinking about what I might have missed in the story that I need to address this morning. Plenty of time for revision, and editing, and proofreading, of course - and beta reading, and more tweaking, and looking for those five words in the manuscript that everybody but me will see are misspelled. I believe I have fulfilled the promise of a book 3: to give main characters their final arc, to wrap up plot points, to put a nice bow on the end of a three book experience. More on this book next time. For now, the experience of writing a trilogy is both rewarding and sad; we work hard to make things happen, like having our protagonist suffer, our antagonist delight in the suffering, a few jokes tossed here and there, some philosophy delivered by the serious character, a flash of eroticism, and voila! Trilogy.
Then, almost too quickly it is done. And we have the emptiness in our guts as though someone close to us had died. We want that person back in our lives again. So we imagine it was so. And the sequel is born, the characters re-born, and all is well. A sequel has saved us. A trilogy will save us longer.
*A Girl Called Wolf, although a stand-alone, could be considered a sequel of my novel A Beautiful Chill (which was written first) because the main characters of the latter novel appear in the former novel.
After writing my quest novel Epic Fantasy *With Dragons, I felt compelled to continue the story despite having announced to everyone that I had said everything I needed to say about life and love, heroism, and the universe in that book. However, some of the characters wanted me to go on, so I started a sequel but it remains unfinished after about 75 pages.
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