Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Trilogies, where would fantasy readers be without them?

I've been thinking about trilogies recently, since I'm in the throes (and I don't mean that lightly) of cleaning up my latest trilogy, The Outcast Chronicles, to send to my publishers. What started out as something that should only have taken me 6 months has grown until I've written another 400 pages of manuscript and I'm only halfway through cleaning up book two.

Don't get me wrong, I love writing. I love spending time in my book with my characters, but I feel like I'm undergoing the labours of Hercules. Will it never end? The books just keep growing. I want to be where Dave is in yesterday's post with a completed book, or in my case, trilogy.

It all started out innocently enough when I thought I needed to end book one in a different spot so that book two had a better beginning. This meant I had to enlarge on narrative thread to create a stronger subplot to give the first book a better resolution. Then, when I started cleaning up book two, the changes I'd made on book one necessitated a rewrite and tweaking of scenes in book two's opening. Every change you make has a roll on effect. And I'm sure book three is going to require a major rewrite. The characters have taken on a life of their own.

I have to keep a flow chart for the time line, another one for birthdays, feast days and special events. I have to remember who is related to who and how. I have to remember sayings and rites. The hardest part is remembering who knows what at each given moment in the story's time line.

I'm sure you have the same problems. I had a look around to see what advice was out there for writers of fantasy trilogies.

Here Jonathan Stroud talks about writing his Bartimaeus trilogy. (It took him 4 years and 3 drafts of each book). Here Holly Lisle talks about plotting trilogies. And here is an article by Vicki Hinz on how to approach a publisher with the proposal for the trilogy. While agent Kristin on Pub Rants has a different view. And here at Bookends Literary Agency, Jessica has her opinion.

Here is a transcript of a panel at the latest world con by fantasy writers on writing trilogies. (Trudi Canavan, Glenda Larke, Russel Kirkpatrick and Fiona McIntosh were on the panel). It is amazing the difference in time that writers take to complete books. The average is about a year. Fiona McIntosh says she can write a book in 16 weeks and I know Karen Miller can produce 3 fantasy books a year. (I don't know how they do it).

And here Juliet McKenna sums up trilogies, their history and why they exist in the publishing world. And I'm going to be very post modern and reference myself, Over at the ROR blog I ask, Does it have to be a Trilogy?

Which brings us back to trilogies. Readers love them because they get to visit old friends and take a holiday in a familiar world. Writers love them because they invest so much time and effort in building the world, it would be a shame not to explore it further. And publishers love them because the trilogy has a ready-made market of readers and the publisher can slot it into their publishing schedule.

How do you feel about trilogies?


MataPam said...

I have a love-hate relationship with trilogies.

I love them, except when they come out so far apart I don't remember(or care!) who the characters are. Or if they drag out too long, turning into five or six books with slavish devotion to some idea that seemed cool when the first one started.

Sometimes the accumulated "Things the writer does to the MC" just gets too much, even when strung out for longer. Sometimes the Bad Guy lasts too long. Please! He deserves to die three times over! Kill him, already, and let his henchmen squabble over who and how many of them get to be bad guys in the next book.

Jim McCoy said...

I love trilogies because I love the one long story thread and the character/plot development that comes with it. With a trilogy an author doesn't have to tie everything up neatly in a bow in 100K words or less, they can give things time to go their own way.

I actually like when a skillful author can make a much longer series work. A couple of good example's David Weber's Honor Harrinton series and Harry Turtledove's series that starts with How Few Remain (originally a stand-alone) then continues with the Great War Trilogy followed by the American Empire Trilogy and concludes in his Settling Accounts err..Quadrogy? (four book set) Of course, I'd have to throw JK Rowlings and her Harry Potter series in there too.

My dream is to one day have the skill to pull something like that off. It's not something I could manage yet because I haven't learned fo plot that far out, but I'd love to do it someday.

MataPam said...

I think the Honor Harrington series works so well because each book, or at worst, pair of books has a very clear cut military goal and "win" point. Then the over all war carries the reader from book to book.

Jim, like you, that's a skill I haven't developed. Or maybe it's the nature of a war to be more easily breakable into a set of clear goals.

Jim McCoy said...

MataPam, I wish that were true in life as well as in fiction. It may break up more easily in the world of fiction where an author doesn't have to just his/her/its starting and ending points to their audience.

Even at that though, building a COHESIVE storyline over the course of 16 novels and (I think) 9 anthologies requires a LOT of pre-planning and fact-keeping-straight. Even if I weren't a fan (and please believe me when I tell you that I am a HUGE fan) that's impressive.

C Kelsey said...

Heh. David was showing some of the pre-planning and research he does for the Honorverse last June. He has a map of the galaxy with hundreds and hundreds of stars. They're ALL named along with their attached polities, trade routes, and tech levels. Truely amazing how detailed his worlds really are.

I kind of like trilogies as long as they are released close enough together that I don't forget the series. Trudy Canavan's first series was more than a trilogy, but it was her best work.

twittertales said...

Karen Miller averages 16 hours of writing a day. Why do I get the feeling she doesn't have kids? She's made of tough stuff - I saw her speak, and she was literally green. She kept excusing herself to throw up, then she'd come back and keep on teaching, slowly turning greener until she excused herself again. Yikes.

Louise Curtis

Synova said...

I dislike them.

I'd rather see on-going series of stand alone novels that don't need to be read in sequence.

I don't like being left to hang. I feel cheated. (I did not feel cheated by King's Bastard.) But even when that's not the case it's still sometimes a problem to get the next novel and a person doesn't want to skip. Sometimes this means I simply drop the whole thing. True enough, Amazon and other ways to order books now makes missing them in the book store less of a risk.

Often enough I have decided to wait until all books in a series or trilogy are complete before buying them because I dislike waiting for months upon months between them and often enough by the time they are all published I have lost interest. (Sorry again, Mr. Ringo.)

Now, OTOH, it is also profoundly true that I like to know what I'm getting, I enjoy familiar settings and familiar characters and I prefer "more of the same" when I can get it, even from the same author.

Probably more people agree more heavily with my last "pro" trilogy/series point than my first one.

I like when all books that *must* go together are published relatively rapidly.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

LOL, Matapam. Yes, kill of the bad guy and let someone else take over.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Jim, I don't know whether those authors do plot so far in advance.

My guess is that they have a general idea, then they let their inner-story instinct take over and go along for the ride.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, I do like it when a trilogy/series offers some resolution, even if the resolution turns out to be not what the character discovers they really want.

That's a bit convoluted. But you know, how in real life you have a goal, you achieve it and discover that you now have a goal off at a tangent?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Jim said:

'Even at that though, building a COHESIVE storyline over the course of 16 novels and (I think) 9 anthologies requires a LOT of pre-planning and fact-keeping-straight.'

Have you come across an interview with the author where they said they planed all 16 books beforehand?

They probably didn't know if more than the first couple would sell.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

C Kelsey,

I can believe the author has the Honor-universe planned out.

I have files on my series. You can't remember everything.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Louise, you have to admire Karen Miller.

She doesn't have kids so she can write all day and into the night.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I will wait to read the whole series in one go. Otherwise I get frustrated.

My son is a great reader. When a new book comes out, he will go back and re-read all the previous books, before he plunges into it.

Kate said...

I thought the natural length of fantasy was "trilogy"?

Seriously, we can blame Tolkien's editor for that one, releasing The Lord of the Rings as three not really complete books instead of the one humongous book it actually is.

Personally, I don't care so long as any one book in the series (or non-series as the case may be) can stand without needing a "what has gone before".

As for what I write, usually it's self-contained but can become a series. Sometimes it's a series from the get-go. And sometimes it's just too weird to have any kind of official name (Knights in Tarnished Armor, now available over at www.nakedreader.com is a good example of that - sort of a novella, except it's entirely letters between characters. And I could keep it going forever if need be.)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Lol, Kate. I do think stories have a natural length.

Chris McMahon said...

Bring on the decology:)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

10 books, Chris?

I guess if the world is interesting enough it can inflict suffering on the characters and their descendants!

MataPam said...

Chris, only if they come out every six months, never get stale and the writer promises to not die in the middle of it.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, you don't want much from a writer!

MataPam said...

:D If they're going to hook me on something ten books long . . .