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November 29th, 2004, 11:09 PM
Why is it that so many series are written in trilogies? Is there some obscure psychological reason why three parts tends to be the most popular?

Anyways, another part of this post deals with writing three independent stories that flow together. Take two trilogies: Star Wars (original trilogy) and Lord of the Rings.

Star Wars would be, what I consider, three independent stories with strong links together because you really could watch one without watching the others, and know what was going on.
Lord of the Rings, however, seems to be a trilogy that you have to start at one point and end at the other (but then again, it was written to be one story and broken up because it was massive).

So is the trilogy meant to be told as three stories within one greater story, or is it meant to separate one story into three parts? Give your opinions.

November 30th, 2004, 01:42 AM
Interesting thought. I tend to lean away from thinking trilogys are written, filmed, whatever, for phychological reasons, except of course for the herd instinct factor. I remember listening to some guy on classical radio going on and on about how Beethoven wrote a song incorrectly, there was a part missing according to the accepted form of the day.--I'm thinking if Beethoven wants to write it this way, who am I to argue?
I think trilogy is an accepted form, something people feel comfortable with these days.
If you want to you could attach some deeper metaphysical meaning to the number three: This, that and the other. Beginning, middle and end. Sacred, profane and mundane. Height, width and depth. Chevy, Ford and Harley. Larry, Moe and Curly. :cool:

November 30th, 2004, 01:59 AM
Some stories are too long to fit into one volume. So the publisher breaks them up into two or three books so it seems more managable. Then later the publisher prints it as one volume so you buy it again.

Some stories are told in two or three or more parts.

November 30th, 2004, 06:36 PM
Well a proper trilogy is one where you can pick up any single volume and read it and get a feeling for what is going on. Each book has its own proper story with beginning, middle, and end and also has a bigger story going on around and through it.

The LOTR was actually written as one novel and, for publishing reasons (at the time apparently it was unfashinable to print a novel with more than 200 or so pages) was split up. If you really look at it, the entire trilogy is shorter than the average Robert Jordan book.

As for why people write in Trilogies, well I'm thinking part of it is marketing, and part is that they, the author, is still captivated with the world they created and wants to write another story in that world. Or, lastly, they finished a part of the story, but the greater story is still on-going and therefore they must continue.

December 1st, 2004, 09:32 AM
The odd thing is that it seems to be very much a fantasy thing. You rarely get horror trilogies or even Sci-fi trilogies. That being said three is a very good number. When lecturing I always try to group points in threes, it just seems to be more memorable that way. A lot of health campaigns aimed at children are in threes too, Stop, Look, Listen and Slip, Slop, Slap spring to mind.

I'd guess though it is simply because a lot of fantasy writers need to learn how to edit more effectively...


December 1st, 2004, 10:48 AM
LOTR was broken up into three books so that it could be sold in paperback editions, which was the main format for fantasy and sf fiction at the time. Because of the success of those paperback trilogies, sf publishers began to seek out other epic fantasies and very naturally, a lot of those began as paperback trilogies. With the success of some of those trilogies, the epic fantasy trilogy became a standard approach. This quickly evolved into longer series, often made up of consecutive trilogies. The trilogy format drifted into sf, but has not taken root there as longer series in sf were already common. Historically, multi-volume novels are not unusual and the trilogy often pops up in mythical literature. (Not to mention the Christian trinity.)

The appeal of the trilogy is that it allows a large story to be told in three acts, like a play. In the first volume, there is crisis and discovery, in the second there is escalation and catastrophe, and in the third volume there is resolution. Not that you have to follow that road map in a trilogy, but that is the route often taken. Horror, where the point is often to kill the beast at the end, has the tradition of standalones (at least in books, films seem to like series franchises.) Mysteries have the tradition of long series featuring a recurring detective character. Epic historical stories tend to get told in one massive volume (hardcover,) or in a long series (paperback.)

What I'm curious about is whether the fantasy trilogy is dying off, to be replaced by the long series, complete with sequels and prequels.

Gary Wassner
December 1st, 2004, 01:11 PM
I don't know too many authors any longer who plan at the onset how many books it will take to complete their story. Of course, if you have a specific requirement in your contract for 'x' number of pages and 'x' number of volumes, then that's another situation entirely.

Some stories, particularly Epic Fantasy ones, just take a long time to develop and then just as long to evolve and conclude. If your last book in the series sold well and your advance for the next one was as good or better than the previous one, you might think about keeping it going. If the reverse is the case, then you might want to wrap it up.

But, for the most part, economic and publisher considerations aside, they end when they should end. What the publisher does with the manuscripts might vary. Some believe in shelf presences and want three to five volumes on the shelf next to one another, in the belief that such a presence will increase the likelihood of people noticing it and hence buying it. Sometimes, publishers ask the authors to take a trilogy and split it into six books with different subtitles and new endings and beginnings for each but the first and last, to achieve the shelf presence that they desire.

Epic Fantasy readers tend to like long books and long series, so publishers try to give them what they seem to want. Authors, on the other hand, at least many that I know, write the best stories that they can write, and they worry about the length later.

Bitter Buffalo
December 1st, 2004, 06:42 PM
I'm sure it is almost always a marketing device. How many more people would have read "War and Peace" if it had been published as a trilogy instead of the 1000+ page monster it is?

December 1st, 2004, 10:53 PM
So, help me out with this because I can't really see the line, but what turns something from a trilogy to an epic?

To me personally, an epic is just the type of story where a character goes off and finds out about the world through a long long journey and many experiences. But from what I am seeing here, it seems that a trilogy is similar, but different. It's more than just breaking an epic into three volumes.
Am I right or wrong with this?

December 1st, 2004, 11:13 PM
For me, a trilogy tells three distinct story arcs that can combine to make a larger story, though make perfect sense on their own. Many of what are being marketed as trilogies, I feel are single volumes broken up for money reasons, i.e. they can make more by making people buy three books rather than one.

So no, I don't feel you're wrong. I see a trilogy as distinctly different from a three-volume epic.