The Trouble with Trilogies

I have a problem with trilogies. But not just trilogies.

Sequels, series, you name it. Anything that’s to be continued is just trouble for me right now.

Why?

Because after a certain point, I just don’t care. If I have to wait a year to find out what happens next, most of the time, I simply won’t still be interested enough to bother with it.

Why are there so many trilogies in the YA fiction world now? Why is it practically the norm to turn every potentially good story into a series? Whatever happened to a beginning, middle and end all in one book?

I loved The Diviners by Libba Bray. I preordered book 2, which was supposed to be out this summer. Lo and behold, the release has been delayed until 2015. Guess what? By the time Lair of Dreams comes out, I don’t know that I’ll feel like bothering any more. Sure, I loved the characters and the setting of the first book. The plot was different and interesting and made me want to know more. But I was also mostly satisfied with how it ended, and in fact my only quibble about the book was the fact that it was clearly building up to an ongoing story, even though the main plot of The Diviners did have a pretty great wrap-up.

Another example: I just DNF’d a book that concludes a YA trilogy that I’d enjoyed so far, by an author whose writing I admire very much. But yeah… I read the first two books, and I liked them a lot. But time has gone by, and I don’t feel a burning need to know more about the story, and when I read the first couple of chapters, I realized I’d be totally fine with not reading the book. Just. Didn’t. Care.

So what’s this mini-rant all about? I guess I’m just fed up with stories being stretched into three (or more) books when they could be told in one. The trilogy I just walked away from could have made one really good book, and I can think of a few others where the same would be true. Is it just publishers wanting to sell more books? Does a series have a glamor to it that a stand-alone doesn’t?

Look, I do read series. Take Outlander or A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance. These books are huge, and the worlds they contain are vast, and each book is an event. Or, for example, some of the great ongoing urban fantasy series, such as the Dresden Files books or the Mercy Thompson series. Each book in these is a new chapter, a new adventure, in a carefully created world that continues to grow and expand. I love all of the above — and will keep reading them until the authors are done, or until an asteroid wipes out life on Earth, or something equally cataclysmic occurs.

The problem with so many of the series out there, particularly (but not exclusively) in YA, is that a lot of them feel like filler. With many of the YA trilogies I’ve read over the years, the story is stretched and padded and chopped in order to make three books out of a story that, with some good editing and tightening up, could have been one great book. I’m tired of the “to be continued” ending that exists just to keep us coming back for more (or, to put it more cynically, exists just to keep us taking out our credit cards).

Not that my complaint is about the money, really: It’s about the storytelling. Tell me a great story, make me care, introduce me to amazing characters, and have a compelling story arc. With an ending.

Like I said, some series are great and deserve every page and every volume. But sadly, there are a lot that miss the mark by a long shot.

So, yeah, today I walked way from book 3 in a trilogy that I actually thought had a pretty good start.

If it’s been a year and I haven’t thought about the earlier books in all that time, even if I liked them when I read them, then chances are when the big finale finally rolls around, I won’t be around for it. Because I just won’t care any more.

Just something to think about.

16 thoughts on “The Trouble with Trilogies

  1. Ugh! I couldn’t agree more. So often I feel like its “Spaceballs 2: The search for more money” or it’s just buying so much into the fad that EVERYTHING has to be a series even if it doesn’t really need to be.

    • Glad to hear we’re on the same page. Sometimes it’s just so clearly about getting people to buy more books, because I just can’t see another reason for a decent book to be turned into a mediocre series.

  2. I so hear you and agree. Unfortunately I think it is about the money, for the publishers that is. What ever is big at the moment they push for, hence all the dystopian madness that replaced the vampire madness in the YA world. The more I read the more I realize the publishers like some book sellers only care about the bottom line and they feel a trilogy that hooks their young audience is going to bring them the biggest bang for their buck. My personally strategy is to wait until all the books are out to even start some of these trilogies or series, no waiting. Still doesn’t fix the filler problem, but I’m less likely to forget about the series or what is going on.

    • Your strategy makes a lot of sense, and it’s one that I’ve tried to stick to as well in the last couple of years. If I’m going to start a series, I prefer to read one where all the volumes have been published already so I can just read them straight through while the plot is still fresh in my mind. Dystopian madness, indeed. It’s super-saturated with these right now, and I just can’t look at one more dystopian YA story.

  3. Amen to that. I generally try to avoid starting any new series until it’s been written, but sometimes I fall into the trap without realizing it. In a recent interview I read from a new author, she talked about getting her debut novel published, but the publisher required her to rewrite the story arc into a format amenable to a series. Book two was filler, sadly, and not good enough to stand alone. I wish publishers would just let the authors write their stories!

    • Wow, that’s really disheartening. I do feel that some authors are pushed into the series format, and it may sell more books, but it also dilutes the story in a lot of cases. I really hate starting a book and not realizing it’s “to be continued” until I get to the end and realize that there isn’t an end. So frustrating.

  4. I totally agree. The time issue is why I nearly always wait until a series is complete before reading it. Ongoing series are a different thing entirely, but when it comes to series with a planned end in sight (usually trilogies, but not always), then I’ll (usually) wait. But even when I get to read it all at once, there are still stories that feel like they were forced into the trilogy model.

    So… pretty much just an all around yes, to all of the above.

    • Ha, thanks. I suppose part of the problem is my own memory — but seriously, how can I possibly be expected to stay interested in characters I read about a year or two ago if I’ve read another 150 books since then? Having to wait for books in a series (like you said, except ongoing ones) is pretty much a guarantee that my investment in the story and the characters will have dropped by at least 50%. Give a a good stand-alone, and I’ll be happy.

  5. Lisa, I agree with everything you wrote. I lost all my patience with series and trilogies. When some of them do catch my attention, I wait for all books to be published, because, as you said, I loose interest if I have to wait to long.
    Other thing I have to add is that all this “serial” writing looks more like businesses and not literature – it’s like they are only thinking about earning more money. And we end up with a lot of books that suck. I am especially annoyed with realistic series – why, God, why? At the most cases they are pointless.

    • Thanks! It’s good to know that I’m not alone! And yes, I agree about the business aspect, and just find it sad… and a turn-off.

  6. You are SO not alone on this! This has become a big pet peeve of mine lately. Like you, I love Outlander (and really want to read A Song of Ice and Fire!) and agree that series like that one are different because of their scope and depth. They are filled with characters I really care about and want to follow wherever the story takes them. I’m not saying YA doesn’t have scope, depth, or characters I care about, but it seems much more common to find what feels like filler in YA series. And I HATE the cliff-hanger endings that leave me DYING to find out what happens, but also with a wait so long I start to not care as more time passes. With so many unread books on my shelves and a wishlist a mile long, I’ve been holding out for a series to have all the books published before even starting the first one. When I hear about a new book that’s only the first in a series, I literally groan. I’m no expert, but I really do feel like there is pressure on authors to turn book ideas into trilogies or series instead of stand-alones and I really wish that trend would cool off!

    • Holding off on a series until all the books are published is definitely something I try for these days — although sometimes I don’t realize that what I’m reading is part of a series until it’s already underway. Grrrr. I agree, I wish the trilogy trend would cool off. Sometimes it makes sense to take a big story and tell it in pieces, but more often than not, it seems, we get a lot of filler for not that much story. Thanks for jumping in with your thoughts!

      • Not knowing it’s a series until you’ve already started reading is the WORST. My husband got so mad at me when I picked up a book for him once and didn’t know it was the beginning of a trilogy with a long wait for #2 & #3 — it’s still a sore subject, lol. I don’t mind so much if the first book wraps everything up really well and the author decides later on to continue writing — then it feels like a “bonus” — but that is very rarely the case 🙂

  7. By and large, I agree with your thoughts here. I don’t really like series that much, but more than that I dislike series that all end on cliffhangers. There definitely are many instances I can think of where the series could have been completed in only one or two books. And it’s frustrating when that doesn’t happen.
    I don’t think we can necessarily blame authors or agents or publishers, but perhaps the industry at a whole is to blame. Maybe authors are being told this is what they need to do to be published? And I mean it makes sense to continue on with an idea if it’s a really good one. But there should be a happy medium.
    Now I’m curious as to what trilogy ender you dnfed.

    • Wellllll…. I’m hesitant to say which trilogy I just dnf’d, because I really do like the author and I wouldn’t want to imply in any way that the trilogy wasn’t worth reading! Just that after waiting over a year for the 3rd book to come out, I found myself not caring enough or wanting to get re-involved with the characters… and I have so many other books to read right now that going back to a series I wasn’t really thinking about just didn’t make sense any more. Sorry for my evasiveness! 🙂 Good point, that books in series with cliffhanger endings are unfair! It feels like they’re just begging you to buy the next book!

      It really does feel like an industry trend to have so many trilogies — so yes, maybe telling a multi-part story is what is takes to get published right now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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