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!