Friday, February 13, 2015

Thoughts On: Trilogies

Untitled by Ginny is licensed under CC 2.0
There has been a lot of discussion about the recent trend of splitting the last film in a series into two parts, and the general conclusion is that it's an annoying money-making exercise that rarely results in better films.  However, I think it's time for the reading community to acknowledge that we have our own version of the two-part final film.

I'm talking about trilogies.

Now, just to make this clear, I don't think that every trilogy is bad. I liked The Lord of the Rings and Chaos Walking as much as the next person.  There are some stories that need a lot of space to be told well. What I'm talking about more specifically are unplanned trilogies; when a writer didn't initially intend to write a series, but decided to do it after the success of their first book.

Now, this trilogy isn't necessarily doomed to be terrible either, just like all movies that are split into two parts aren't necessarily awful.  It's just that if you didn't initially want to write a series, chances are there was a reason for that. Hence, if you suddenly decide to write one, you are setting yourself up for failure.

For instance, most writers justify their unplanned sequels with the idea that "the story didn't end there".  Yes.  Believe it or not, readers do not go around thinking that the universe ended after the book did.  We assume that more things happened afterwards.  It's just that, chances are, they were less interesting then what happened in the book we just finished reading.  If there was something more engaging, funny, tear-jerking or terrifying that happened afterwards, then that should have been in the first book. Therefore, chances are that the plot of the next book is almost inevitably worse than the first.

I've also noticed that sequels have a nasty habit of emphasising the worst aspects of a series. This could just be because there is more time to go back and reflect on the first book.  However, it also might have something to do with the fact that the most interesting, meaty bits of the story were wrapped up in the first book, and now the next book has to address the parts of the book that nobody, not even the writer that created the universe, cared enough about to resolve. I can't have been the only person who was profoundly disinterested in whether Katniss ended up with Peeta or Gale, right?

Now, this could all be said for any book that gets turned into a series, but the trilogy is a particularly dubious offender, because the structure is designed to get you to buy all of them.  In spite of everything that you know - how rarely trilogies are satisfying, or how the plot was wrapped up so well in the first book, you are still going to be curious about the next installment; convinced that this time, this writer, isn't going to let you down, so you buy the second book.  It disappoints you. But here's the catch, you still want to find out what happens in the end.  So, even though you know it will be painful, you still go ahead and read the final installment. This is how two-part movies and unplanned trilogies work - you get invested enough in the first part that you are willing to seek out the subsequent installments.

What about you? Have you ever been disappointed by a single novel turned into a series?