Opinion post: Trilogies

Most of the time I try to keep my blog about semi-professional-sounding stuff. Namely the craft of writing. But that’s burnout for me and I don’t think it gives nearly enough content to you, so I’m going to try something a little bit different.

On Saturdays I’ll be posting more personal stuff– mostly opinions and reflections, stuff I’ve tried, etc. So please bear with me, and let me know if there’s anything that strikes a spark in you!

So I’ve got a theory about some trilogies and other multi-book sets– they’re not all like this (not by a long shot), and I may be way off base here, but I’ve noticed it in several over the years.

All seven books in the Harry Potter series in ...
A lot of the people I’ve talked to loved the first six Harry Potter Books… and were somewhat disappointed with the finale. Personally, it’s grown on me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Disclaimer: I’m not saying anything bad about trilogies in general or the writers who create them. Hell, I’m working on a trilogy right now. But I have seen this pattern enough to be concerned about it.]

The trilogy starts out amazing. The second one might flag a little bit, but usually it’s also pretty strong. But by the time you get to the last installment, the real cracks are starting to show, and it can end up being disappointing.

My thought:

  • The first book is amazing because it has to be. Otherwise it wouldn’t get published in the first place. The writer’s had lots of time to work on it. It’s been edited and critiqued and polished so many times that very little, if anything, could escape its net of editors.
  • The second tends to be as strong because it’s so heavily tied to the first– maybe the writer outlined them both roughly around the same time, maybe they started writing and rewriting the second while they waited for the queries for book one to snag a bite. They might not have as much time to simmer as the first, but they still tend to be pretty amazing.
  • Then comes the third (or fourth, or seventh). Whatever the number, it’s the climax. We have this thing about climaxes. We expect them to rock our world, and blow everything before it out of the water. Anything short of that is automatically going to feel like a bit of a letdown. Added to that, there’s now the imposed pressure of deadlines, while keeping up with all the struggles of promotion. Added to that, the writer now has Published Author status– clearly they know what they’re doing, so people may be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt when something doesn’t sit quite right. Maybe they’re contractually barred from stuff like the AQC Marathon, which would have caught the snags and plot holes they might otherwise have missed. Long story short, there’s a whole army of factors battling against them, while reader expectations are at an all-time-high.

Have you found any series that fit this pattern? Do you have any pet peeves that you’ve noticed a lot of over the years? Let me know in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Opinion post: Trilogies

  1. Interesting post. I think to some extent you have a point. There is more pressure and expectation on the last book, and there may be professional issues that affect writing quality. But I think you also have to consider the purpose of each book, and the pitfalls that come with the line-up.

    For instance, rehash. A lot of times the first book is the best for one simple reason: the novelty. The first one is new and different. It’s takes us somewhere we’ve never been and rocks our world. But when every succeeding book has the same characters doing the same types of things, the novelty is gone. So the succeeding books are automatically not as good, especially if the series is relying more on concept that story.

    Middle books (especially in trilogies) tend to be connection books. Their purpose is to get you from the first book to the last book. They neither have the novelty of the first book, nor the resolution of the last book, and often don’t have a complete story because they’re trying to connect two other stories.

    Final books have such a tall order to fill. They have to be better than every succeeding book–which can be tough, especially since you’ve already used the novelty card up. They have to answer all the questions you raised in the series–which some authors aren’t able to do, and some don’t even try to do. I think final books fail for a range of reasons:

    (Don’t beat me, oh book fans–these are just my opinions!)

    Mockingjay–the character had sunk so low at this point, she was no longer worth rooting for. Hiding in closets, whining, lying, taking over a squad w/no plan and getting everyone killed for no purpose. Not someone I can like anymore.

    Harry Potter & Deathly Hallows–plot fail for me. Whenever I think of the last book, what I remember is them wandering around for pages and pages having absolutely no idea what to do. I don’t think of the gringotts heist or the final battle–I think of them doing nothing. (Well, and I think of Snape’s death, ’cause I love Snape & Alan Rickman!)

    Last bk of The Forest of Hands and Teeth Trilogy–Rehash! This author told the exact same story three times in a row! The characters & locations changed with each book, but the basic plot was exactly the same. Plus she didn’t even attempt to answer a single real question she raised (and she raised a lot!)

    So that’s my two cents anyway. Sorry, this comment got way too long! Interesting discussion though. I’ve been brainstorming a series, so I’ve been trying to think about this stuff to figure out how I can avoid the pitfalls.

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    1. You make some very interesting points– seriously, I’m taking notes right now, because I want to avoid exactly what you’re talking about.

      I haven’t read the other two series (yes, I’m a bad YA fan) but I’ll agree on Harry Potter. One of the most frustrating things to watch is a character who’s completely lost, who needs somebody else to come in, take their hand, and lead them to the next clue in the puzzle– especially when they’ve reached the point in the story where they should be at their most competent.

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