Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The disappointing trilogy

Recently, I seem to have been stumbling on lots and lots of YA series and trilogies. In December alone, I read all of the Mortal Instruments books (and am not so patiently awaiting the publication of the final one in May), and the entire Divergent series. Last year, I also finished out Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series, and happily returned to Suzanne Collins' world for the second Hunger Games movie.

In January, I was happy to finish James Dashner's Maze Runner trilogy by reading the final installment, The Death Cure. What has struck me is that, with the exception of The Mortal Instruments, all of the trilogies I have just mentioned had disappointing final books for me. Though Mockingjay held my interest and Endlessly was very entertaining, I barely pushed my way through Allegiant and The Death Cure. They reminded me of television series that just went on one or two episodes too long.

Since I am currently writing a YA trilogy, I am now a bit concerned. Clearly, failure is not inevitable. There have been lots of successful trilogies, just look at The Lord of the Rings, which got progressively better with each book. But still, with current YA, finding a series that stayed strong all the way through has been the exception and not the rule for me.

So what is it about the trilogy that makes for soft endings? Anyone have examples of those that do it really well? Any thoughts on what the difference between a strong finish and a disappointing close really is?


  1. Having written several (unpublished) trilogies, I've given this a lot of thought and studied the reviews of third books of trilogies very carefully. I think it's about a lack of planning.

    I think a TV series falls apart as the writers continually try to one-up the last season with a new, more spectactular plotline. I find that they lose sight of what made the characters and their relationships compelling and intriguing to me in the beginning. Details from the first few episodes that seemed like important portents to me never get followed through on. Back at the Gouch, I was writing the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager based on some details about Kess in the pilot that always seemed to me like the obvious solution to the central dilemma of the series, threads that were occasionally picked up in later episodes, but never fully realized. In fact, I hate the actual series finale (not because it's not what I imagined!) because it's a total left-field, deus ex machina cop-out when it could have been so much more consistent!

    A certain degree of one-upping makes a great trilogy (I'm thinking LotR, or the original Star Wars, or the work of Jacqueline Carey), but it has to be grounded in strong, consistent characters. I think about how the first half hour of "A New Hope" sets up Luke and Leia with all the mysteries in their backstories that make the "Gotcha!" moments work later.

    I think a trilogy falls apart when you're just trying to up the ante, instead of starting with a plan. I'm thinking about JK Rowling saying that she started Harry Potter knowing how the last book would end, and more or less how many books there would be. You can see how carefully she plotted, how closely she tracked all the little details, by the progression of her secondary characters. A student like Luna Lovegood might only get a sentence in the first book, easily overlooked or dismissed as one more eccentricity of Hogwarts, and then play a major role several books later. I don't think that's Rowling going back and saying, "Oh, I forgot I mentioned her ... maybe I can use her now!" I can only think it was deliberate foreshadowing.

  2. Hi Shauna, I can't offer any advice about trilogies ... but it does seem to be 'the way to go'. I don't see why though, books can't stand alone?
    Maryah's advice seems good.
    I found you while randomly stopping by on the A-Z Blog challenge list. Suggest put up your badge?
    Good luck!