The Trilogy Trap

First let me make something clear. I’m not against trilogies. I’m NOT! But what I am against are CLICHÉS! Recently I had a conversation with a friend and I informed her of my recent good news of me signing with Curiosity Quills. During our conversation I informed her that I was planning to make Curse Breaker a 6 book series.
She was shocked that I, newly published author would even attempt such a thing. I told her that book trilogies or any kind of trilogy written nowadays tend to turn themselves into clichés and I’m afraid of falling into those trilogy traps. She asked me to explain and told me to blog it.

So here are The Trilogy Traps you should avoid.

Like I said before, I don’t dislike trilogies, just the clichés that unfortunately sometimes comes with them. I love Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy Trilogy and Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy and I love the Star Wars original Trilogy. (Nowadays I need to specify 😉
But when most writers, especially new writers plan out a trilogy they almost always fall into one trap or another. Do yourself a favor, either plan a non trilogy or do your best to avoid the traps below.

Trap 1: “It’s a trap!”

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. While I’m not saying Star Wars was the first to use this format it was certainly the first to make it popular. And writers have been stealing this formula and applying it to their now cliché trilogies ever since.

Book 1: Wizard kidnaps farm boy, boy gets a sword, wizard gets killed or goes missing, simple but not great battle at the end, happy ending and the boy turned hero looks forward to the future.
Book 2: The Empire Strikes Back. The evil wizard and his evil army gets his evil revenge against the hero and his friends by winning battles, killing off several minor characters and one or two major characters. Hero barely escapes with his life and is no longer optimistic about the future.
Book 3: The resolution. Hero looks back on the past (visits old planet, old farm, old friend, old shire) bad guy is defeated in battle. The End.

The third book may not be riddled with clichés but that is not necessarily a good thing. I’ve read trilogies where the third book is just an excuse to tie up all loose ends. The new places they seem to visit tend to be more different than new. A direct reflection of “It’s a trap!” aka Return of the Jedi. Luke goes to Jaba’s palace which is on his home planet of Tattooine. Different but not really new. And the forest moon of Endor (which orbits a gas giant) is not much different than the forest moon of Yavin (which also orbits a gas giant and is the last planet the first Death Star tried to blow up if not for a certain blond farm boy). Again, different but not new. And oh yeah, a second Death Star blows up. Visiting the past isn’t a bad idea, when it’s left in the past. In my experiences the more entertaining trilogies tend to only talk about the past but they move on to a new and different future.
The real sin of this trilogy is the third chapter. Tell a story, tell a more interesting story where (or because) the bad guy wins, then tell another story that’s just a retelling of the first story on a larger scale. It’s fighting a second Death Star, fighting a much stronger Agent Smith, returning to Las Vegas because the sequels filmed abroad didn’t do as well as anticipated (Ocean’s 13 and The Hangover part 3). You can listen to oldies or any hit song from the past and while you may listen and still dance to it that same song will never capture the general public the way it once did when the song was new, fresh and dare I say, original.
My advice if any of the above sounds familiar, avoid it

Trap 2: The Hangover

Book One: Unique or somewhat unique story
Book Two: Retelling the once unique story from book one but changing major details instead of simply telling another story.
Book Three: Telling a completely different story than either one and two (which are both the same story) but is so different it seems tacked on rather than the completion of a story.

If you are writing a trilogy or planning to write a trilogy do this exercise. List all the major events in all three of your books. If more than five of those events sound too similar, change them.

Take the Hangover parts 1&2. Days before wedding, Doug’s gone, Alan drugged everyone, wild animal needs to be returned to owner, baby/old man need to be returned home, trade with criminals, Stu sings song about missing party member, the person they were looking for was trapped in the building they woke up in the entire time, they let Chou out of a tiny cramped place they put him in to begin with, Stu stands up to person who treats him like dirt, Mike Tyson, wedding, and let’s not forget the pictures of last nights shenanigans on a digital camera which Doug instructs them to delete afterwards. And these are the ones that came from the top of my head while I was watching the Hangover Part 2 in the theater.

If people want to be told the same story they will reread the same story. Give your readers something to look forward to. Not something that they can predict hours in advance because all they need to do is remember the original story.

Trap 3: The Worse Guy

This always pisses me off because of the sheer laziness of it. So much so that some writers don’t even bother to explain it any more.

Book One: Hero kills bad guy.
Book Two: Bad guy rises from the grave. Major and minor characters are killed, bad guy lives. There is talk of a much more powerful Worse Guy that makes the bad guy look weak.
Book Three: Both bad guy and Worse Guy are killed by hero.

I’m not saying this can’t be done right but man do I hate it when writers get this wrong. There’s hardly any foreshadowing, the hero has no personal relationship to him whatsoever, and if there is one its usually tacked on (“oh by the way, this man really killed your parents”) and they’re usually added as an after thought. (“Oh by the way, here is the real bad guy by the way who’s much stronger and more powerful than the first bad guy.”)

The only way the Worse Guy works is if he’s there from the start. If you just add him on, even if they are the ones who really killed the Hero’s parents, wife, kids or all of the above, it’s still going to feel tacked on. The reader is already emotionally invested in the original bad guy you had. Now they have to force themselves to hate the worse guy with whom they have no previous reason to hate. And oh yeah, the bad guy wants to (and most times will) kill the worse guy the first chance they get.

The sad part about these clichés is that they can be avoided once they are placed well outside a trilogy format. When writing a non trilogy writers have to force themselves to write an interesting albeit long story that doesn’t have the luxury of falling into those overly familiar plot points.

The real tragedy of a trilogy is that too many amateur writers tend to overuse previously successful trilogies as crutches rather than tools. Worse than that, some writers tend to only see a trilogy as a beginning, middle and end there’s only room for cliché derivative events with absolutely no room for surprises. The secret of a successful trilogy is being able to tell one story as three separate stories. And they don’t have to be familiar or overly familiar to be entertaining.

Thanks for reading.

Now that I’ve signed with Curiosity Quills I should have a few more updates as I once again count down to my release date. Take care and keep it classy.


About berleykerr

A Steampunk Author from Los Angeles.
This entry was posted in My Writing Process and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Trilogy Trap

  1. im a sci fi writer ( in case you wanna look me up) and that trap 3 you described is LITERALLY star wars episode 7….supposedly they’re raising a bad guy worse than the emperor from the dead

    • berleykerr says:

      Oh man, really! I have faith in J.J. So hopefully he doesn’t let me down. Then again the rebooted first Star Trek movie was kinda like A New Hope so I’m genuinely curious where he plans to take that with Star Wars.

  2. Pingback: 15 Urban Fantasy Clichés to Avoid – Ok Huge

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