Trilogy Rant – Three is NOT always a Magic Number

March 30, 2013 Bookish chat 21

Three is a magic number! So says Schoolhouse Rock and every book publisher across the globe by the looks of it. But Bookish Trish says ‘No, it’s not.  Not always!’.  We are bombarded with series in general and trilogies in particular and the stand alone books are rarer than a warm summer in Ireland. Slight sidetrack sigh – one warm summer, even one month together of sun and no rain, not so much to ask is it, apparently it is though.  And I love reading in the sun.  Sigh.

I think series were more popular with kids books in the past, yes Enid Blyton – I’m looking at you in particular – but I could list countless others Elinor M Brent Dyer, Antonia Forest and so on. And yes there were series in adult books but they weren’t as common. I feel the trend really kicked off with the hype over the Harry Potter books. Publishers and authors saw the events at the book stores and people queuing and thought ‘ cha ching, I’ll have myself some of that’!

And I can see the appeal in a way, the first book sets the scene and allows you to build your characters and develop your plot, the second allows you to add layers and complexity, then the third wraps everything up nicely. And gives the author a chance to move on to something new before they get too tired of their characters or before they themselves get too pigeon holed in this world they have created. And of course, they get 3 sales instead of one, cha ching.

Hands up as a reader, I have to admit; sometimes I want a book with characters I already know (like in Cheers where sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name but with me it’s a familiar book and not a bar!). I have already built up a relationship with these folk and I’m always curious to see what direction they go off in next. But ONLY if the plot can sustain my interest. And this is the problem. I don’t want pages and pages of bland filler. Some books are stretched so thin that if the book was an elastic band it would come with a safety warning. And worse the book might have worked ok as a standalone but spreading the plot over 3 books is the kiss of death for it. I’m reading The Sweetest Dark right now and this exactly the way it feels, I’m losing patience and want to yell ‘get on with the story’!

When I see a book is a standalone now, it does catch my attention. I love that the author can tell and complete a story in just one book. I feel automatically that the plot will move faster and I like that I won’t have to invest in a number of books (time wise and financially) . So I’m not saying no more trilogies, some of my favourite books are trilogies – The Hunger Games for example.  I’m just pleading to authors, think long and hard about whether this is the right platform for your story. Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean its right.

And hopefully the pendulum will swing back soon and we’ll be treated with some excellent, fully complete, single book masterpieces.

Bookish Chat: So what’s your take on trilogies? Love them, hate them? And what is your favourite one?

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21 Responses to “Trilogy Rant – Three is NOT always a Magic Number”

  1. bookblogbake

    I do like trilogies, but I do HATE that there seems to be this idea that if you’re book has a sequel, it must be at LEAST a trilogy. It’s so rare to see a book that has a sequel with a story that ends at the second book, which is too bad, since I think sometimes trilogies that definitely suffer from second book syndrome are a side effect of this. I think trilogies connect with readers well because it’s a story told in three acts, which is often what we’re (sometimes subconsciously) accustomed to, but then I feel like some authors drag their stories out so that it can be a trilogy.

    I felt this way a lot with the Delirium trilogy; I loved the first book, felt “meh” about the second, and haven’t even picked up the third one yet on account of most of the reviews I’ve read have been negative.

    There definitely are awesome trilogies though. I love The Hunger Games trilogy and thought it was done extremely well(there are others as well, but this is the first one that always comes to my mind).

    • Trish Hannon

      Thanks Storm, I agree. And there is an idea that 3 is a magic number not just for books but for everything. I just hate when a good plot is ruined by doing this. I have to read the final Delirium book yet, I enjoyed book 2 and the cliffhanger ending though so trying to ignore the negative reviews till I make my own mind up 🙂

  2. Lark

    Hear, hear for the stand-alone book! Most authors can’t sustain their plots and characters over 3 books. (Book 2 in the trilogy usually ends up being the worst for some reason.) And I’m tired of having to slog my way through 3 (or 4, or 5) books before I reach the end. Here’s to more stand-alone books with a great beginning, middle, and end! Because lately, the good trilogy seems to be the exception, not the rule.

    • Trish Hannon

      Yes Lark, that’s it exactly. And book 2 usually is the one to suffer and then I don’t bother to read book 3. Eve and Matched series are both examples of this for me.

  3. astichoquette

    I wrote a comment but I don’t see it. So if it went through delete this but otherwise I’ll try to repeat what I said >< Pretty much, trilogies are a love-hate thing for me. And the hate usually comes down to if the plot is bland (like you mentioned) or if it’s there but feels like it all should be one book instead of three. Sometimes I feel like an author writes a book but they split it into three parts to sell a trilogy. I rather be able to finish a book feeling satisfied with the story and not have to read the sequels if I don’t feel like it to get any sort of closure.

    • Trish Hannon

      Thanks Asti for trying again, I get frustrated when that happens and move on! Glad you didn’t I always like to hear your opinion. A stand alone book is starting to become something I actively seek out now. Hate feeling obliged to read sequels just to complete a story that I’m only half engaged in.

  4. Diamond Cronen

    I was just thinking how refreshing it feels now to be reading this book that is just a stand along book! It’s from the 1930s, but still ;).

    So The Sweetest Dark fits into that bland blend, eh? Too bad I actually have a copy of the first and second and was thinking they looked good.

    • Trish Hannon

      Maybe its just me, I have seen some rave reviews for The Sweetest Dark. It did pick up a bit towards the end, I have a post about it on Wed so you’ll see exactly what I thought.

  5. LisaILJ

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I’ve actually gotten to the point where I have to think long and hard if I want to read a book if it’s the first in a trilogy. I can usually finish about 100+ books a year, and this year I tried to plan ahead and select books that were going to be continuations where I had already started the series. I ended up with over 50 books. That’s HALF my reading time. I totally agree with the trilogies being out of control.

    • Trish Hannon

      50 books just to continue series, lol, that’s crazy. But I suppose if I sat down and counted up, I’d have a fairly high number that I need to read too. Out of control, the very words I was looking for!

  6. appelkers

    I love trilogies at times, only when it just feels as if each book has enough story to feel complete. Otherwise, just write a stand-alone or just a duology. Recently I feel like there are many trilogies out there that would have been a lot better as a duology, there would have just been that smidge less useless description about things we don’t care about if there were only two books to tell the story instead of three.

    • Trish Hannon

      Thanks Appelkers, agreed. They can be great but how could one platform work for every book. More duologies would be good and we avoid middle book syndrome too 🙂

  7. anothernovelread

    Trish, I COMPLETELY agree. It’s really annoying that everything seems to be a trilogy these days. Sometimes I find a series that is two books, or four books, and I’m like “whaaaa, you mean it’s not a TRILOGY?” You’d think that YA books only CAME in trilogies. Augh!

    Yes, when I find a standalone, I am very, very interested. And when I read a book and I’m satisfied with the ending… then I find out it’s part of a series, I sometimes want to scream. Not that I don’t enjoy series and familiar characters/worlds, as you said. It’s just that sometimes I want to finish a book and then it’s over. You know? You know.

  8. Kelly W

    I hate any trend that is used only to monetize, which it seems a lot of trilogies are lately. If the story has the content, characters, and emotional punch to stretch over multiple books, great, I’m all in. But when, as you said, writers and publishers take a whole story, chop it into thirds, then add a bunch of pointless filler, it’s obvious. And it’s annoying.

    Darkest Powers trilogy by Kelley Armstrong is another perfect example of this. The story would have made a fantastic stand-alone, but instead they seperated it into three books and slapped separate price-tags on them. I kid you not when I say nothing happened in the 2nd book. And they’re doing that all the time now. It makes me want to get my green on and go on a rant about how not everything has to sacrifice quality for a bigger paycheck.

    I try to wait until at least two books have been released in a trilogy/series before I decide to start it so I can binge on reviews and find out if it’s a waste of my time or not, unless I just have to have a first book before the second is available. All of these new trends have me scared for the future of YA, honestly.

    Great post with a lot of fantastic points, Trish!


    • Trish Hannon

      Thanks Kelly, feel free to get your green on and go on a rant!
      I tend to wait until we are on book 2 before I invest also. Partially so I can check reviews on book 2 before I start and partially because if it IS good, I hate years to finish the story. Come on my memory isn’t that good!

  9. Ralph E. Vaughan

    I like a stand-alone novel, but if it’s good I find myself wishing it were part of a series. But I’m usually hesitant about starting series, especially if the writer is into “evolving” the protagonist, because if I like it, then I have to track them down and try reading them in order. Trilogies? Tetralogies? Pentologies? Dodecologies? As soon as I see the blurb “First Volume in the Blah-Blah-Blah Series” my rule is to pass it by. Of course, I rescind that for Tolkien, Peake, Asimov, and C.S. Lewis. And I liked the “Schrodinger’s Cat” trilogy as well.

    • Trish Hannon

      Thanks Ralph, yes I have some standalones that I wish were part of series. See, I’m never happy! Some great authors mentioned there.

  10. Michelle @ In Libris Veritas

    I have to agree…but I think it goes both ways. Sometimes a series is too long and sometimes a stand-alone is simply not enough. I always get irritated when I see so much possibility in a story and the author doesn’t explore it, it seems like a waste. I know it’s their story ultimately but I just want so much from it.
    And there are the authors who don’t know when to quit or rather simply don’t want to. I think as a reader you can get burnt out on a single world if there are too many to go through or if it’s not introducing enough for so many.
    Trilogies do seem to be ‘all the rage’ right now though, and sometimes it just doesn’t work.

    • Trish Hannon

      Everything you said above had me nodding my head in agreement. Knowing when enough is enough is a must. I hate to get burnt out on something I previously loved as eventually and inevitably the quality does suffer.

  11. Kat C @ Books and Sensibility

    I heard an author explain that when you query, it helps to say your book has series potential. So, often times companies are just stretching the book (and the author) to make it into three. The best example is Stephenie Meyer, she only planned one Twilight book and then one from Jacobs POVA, but they told her to make 4.

    You should check out Malinda Lo, she write a lot of duology.

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