Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Does it have to be a trilogy?
One of the writers on the VISION list asked 'Does it have to be a trilogy?' Good question.
How long is a piece of string? A book need to be as long as it needs to be to tell the story. Having said that, single title books are hard to sell. And, from a writer's point of view, they are harder to write. Think of all that work building the world and its different societies, then only using it once in one book.
Besides, readers like to come back to a familiar world. It's like going on a holiday to a destination that is an old favourite. A reader emailed asking if she could buy the sequel to the Last T'En trilogy because ... 'I feel like the characters are my friends. I want to know what happens to them.' This is why fantasy book series run to 10 books or more.
Which brings us back to the question, should you write a trilogy or could it be a duology?
Some stories just work better as a duology. They have a natural conclusion. That raises the question of word length. Rhonda Roberts was saying her Gladiatrix comes in at 160K. The individual books of Nicole Murphy's new series, 'The Dream of Asaerlai' come in at around 110K. The books of Simon Green's Nightside series are very short, around 200 pages printed. But they are tight and eminently readable because each book is self contained. I think he's up to book number 10 now and he keeps going back to the world he created, revisiting characters, making them grow and evolve, bringing in new characters.
I find, if I'm writing away and I get to about 600 pages (150K) and the story still hasn't reached a natural conclusion, I'll look for a place where I can cut it in half and expand it to two books of 100K each. Since this is a first draft, I know I'll be expanding the book as I add flavour and colour to the narrative, so I know it is going to grow.
One of the other writers on the list commented that they hate buying a trilogy when they have to wait for the other books. It means they have to wait years sometimes, and then re-read the earlier books. I can sympathise, having been in the same spot. This is why I'm glad Solaris is bringing out my three King Rolen's Kin books, a month apart. No waiting.
But it does mean that three years of work gets released in 3 months. This is another question that was raised on the VISION list. Should a writer complete the second book of a trilogy before sending out the first and moving on to another project? If I hadn't written all three KRK books, they would be coming out 6 months to a one year apart.
As you might have gathered from the description of my writing practice, my books tend to grow, so I will often have book two written in draft form, while I'm polishing book one. A writer with a great track record can sell on the strength of a proposal. A writer with a track record can sell on the strength of a proposal and three chapters. A new writer can sell on the strength of the first book and the outline of the second.
When you do sell, you'll find yourself writing to a deadline, trying to edit book one, clean up book two and plan book three, all at the same time. And sometimes it is easier to complete book three before cleaning up book two because things will happen in book three that need to be seeded into book two.
So, do you wait until all three books of a trilogy are out, before buying the first one? Does it annoy you when a trilogy's individual books don't have conclusions? What about series that run on for ever without a conclusion? Would you keep reading anyway, because you find the characters fascinating?