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Thread: Trilogies: why?? (And how...?)
May 11th, 2005, 03:09 AM #1
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Trilogies: why?? (And how...?)
I have just submitted book 1 of The Mirage Makers trilogy to Harper Collins Australia - made the contract deadline by the skin of my teeth, and have now embarked on that period termed "author trepidation" by my colleague, Alma Alexander. What will the editor think of it? What will my agent think of it? It is set in a totally different world.
So, why a trilogy anyway?
For me, the answer is simple. I am selling first to the Australian market, and in OZ that's what sells in the genre. Publishers say that stand alones don't sell - unless your name happens to be Terry Pratchett.
If it weren't for that, I would probably write several stand alones that were set in the same world, rather than trilogies.
For those of you who have read my first trilogy, The Isles of Glory, you will realise that I tend to give each book a fairly satisfactory ending anyway, although - as in life -it is also obvious that there is a larger story that is not finished yet. I don't believe in cliffhanging. That's ok for a TV show that comes on again next week; to my mind it is not ok for a story that will take another year to see the next episode.
I've done the same with this book 1 : The Heart of the Mirage. It has an ending, and although I hope there is enough there to draw the reader back for a further installment, it also won't frustrate them by keeping them nail-biting on the cliff for months. (Ok, so a nail-biting cliff-hanging dude may be in real trouble...)
And now I am writing book 2, tentatively entitled The Exaltarch. And just as I did in Gilfeather, bk 2 of the Isles, I am making a special effort to avoid the "middle book syndrome", where nothing much is resolved except that things get much worse for the hero/heroine. I am told that the ending of Gilfeather knocked people's socks off and I intend to do the same with The Exaltarch. I hope.
I refuse to write the stereotypical trilogy!
May 23rd, 2005, 05:52 AM #2
I prefer stand alones set in the same world, personally. I find I have a lot of trouble reading things in order. I have a lot of trouble with order generally.
For instance, I have a copy of Gilfeather, should I not read it alone?
May 23rd, 2005, 08:30 AM #3
Congratulations on finishing, Glenda! I hope the author trepidation doesn't last for too long. I am always so relieved when I finish a book. I just finished my first rewrite of Book 3, so I can forget about it for a couple of weeks. Phew.
Is it true that stand alones don't sell in Australia? Surely not? Hmm. My trilogy morphed into a quartet, but after that I want to write a stand alone. Set in another place. Just to be difficult.
I'm a bit like Rocket Sheep, in that I can quite easily read things backwards or in the wrong order.
May 23rd, 2005, 08:31 PM #4
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Sheepie - the reader is always right. You can read the books in any order you like! However, they are designed to be read a certain way...
I have been told (by one of the judges of the Aurealis, no less), that she did not read Book 1 (which was elegible the previous year) before reading Gilfeather and The Tainted for judging. Happily she was still impressed enough to shortlist me anyway and to go out and buy Book 1 later!
Re stand alones: So I have been led to believe, Alison...the funny thing about this is that readers are constantly saying they want stand alones, but Oz editors say that every time they publish one, it doesn't sell.
Another thing that can possibly be factored in here, is that a Bk 1 is going to stay on the shelves longer and therefore have more of a chance to sell, because there's not much sense in a bookseller trying to sell bk 2, or 3, when bk 1 is not around. Whereas a stand alone that had not taken off in the first few months is liable to be dropped by the bookseller.
The duology or trilogy suits the fantasy genre anyway as you know, because we do need a greater number of words - we not only have to tell a story but we have to describe a world and a whole system of magic or supernatural elements or whatever.
May 23rd, 2005, 08:58 PM #5
Yes, absolutely. Before I started the Pellinor books, the longest thing I had written was 100 pages - and I never thought I'd get past that! I thought I was a sprinter (that's poetry for you) rather than a marathon runner. But when I started The Gift, I found out very soon why these books need to be long. There's no aspect of the reality you're describing that can be taken for granted. It's kind of fascinating, because the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it's true of any book; just in fantasy, it's on the surface.
May 25th, 2005, 09:22 AM #6
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Yes, you're right. It is true of all books, but fantasies are indeed in a class by themselves.
A sentence in a mainstream novel might read: "In 1999, Alice was a civil engineer in Manhattan." And in those few words we know so much: the gender of the character, her level of education, her job, the kind of city she works in, her country of residence, her probable socio-economic status. If I say: "In the second year of Alba's reign, the Massix was a feddle-maker in Zommerdepe" I have told the reader exactly nothing!! To dispense the same amount of information about Massix as the first sentence tells us about Alice would probably take a whole chapter...
May 27th, 2005, 10:35 AM #7
An interesting reaction I've been picking up lately from listening to readers is an increasing tendency toward not wanting to start a series until all of the books in it are done. I suspect this has a lot to do with the never-ending Jordan books and the long intervals between Martin books... However, I'm sure both publishers and booksellers like the series idea (steady cash flow, and all that), and as Glenda noted it has the advantage for the author of making it more likely (as long as the series as a whole is doing well) that all of the books in the set will stay in print. Not that it always happens that way, mind; I do know of authors where the bean counters dropped, say, books 1 and 3 of a triliogy but kept book 2 around because it cleared some mysterious threshold...
When I started my Tonogato books, I wasn't sure if it was going to be a trilogy or a duology. I had maybe a little more than would fit into a duology, but not enough for three whole books. In the end I stuck with the duology. While being aware of the market lore of which Glenda speaks, about the direction of going with trilogies, I felt that I should not force the tale into something that did not fit just so that it would match market expectations. While I may not be quite as "anarchic" as Rocket and Alison, on this point I felt comfortable bucking the trend.
Although one could say that a duology was just a compromise between stand alone and trilogy.
May 27th, 2005, 06:34 PM #8
Well, epic fantasy got stuck with trilogies because Tolkein's publisher broke his work into thirds. So when they started doing more epic fantasies to help launch the genre, everybody did trilogies to resemble LOTR. Some of those trilogies were successful enough that the authors did a second set of trilogies, and when those were successful too, the stage was set for longer series. And the success of authors like Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett with long running humor series definitely contributed. The trilogy is still very popular for publishers because it's less of an investment than a long series, but provides a substantial enough backlist. In other sub-genres of fantasy, stand alones are usually more common -- maybe because they have less explaining stuff to do about world systems, I don't know.
But Australia's genre market has had a different history from the UK/US ones. I know you don't have a lot of sf, but is there much non-epic fantasy? And if there is, do they do series, trilogies or stand alones?
May 27th, 2005, 07:22 PM #9
Nobody seems particularly stuck on trilogies: there are lots of series, of varying lengths (Sara Douglass, Isobel Carmody) and stand alones as well.
The attraction of the trilogy is, I think, exactly the same as the attractions of the classic three-act play. You can get a whole arc of action in there.