I attended a presentation recently about writing sequels and series which was incredibly interesting, particularly as it plays into a pet peeve of mine – the tendency to write pointless numbers of books in a series when the author clearly has little more to say about the characters. A good author should know when a story is done and should ideally not be tempted by market or money to keep going in the same vein if there’s nothing more to say. I know it’s easier said than done because no one’s beating down my door offering me tons of $$$ to sign multiple book deals involving trilogies, quadrologies and heaven knows what else.
I’m also aware that sometimes a writer doesn’t get a final say in the ending of an initial book and may be encouraged, compelled, etc. by an editor to create a cliffhanger to allow a market for a second book, even if (s)he doesn’t have enough good material for a whole new follow-on book.
One thing I’ve noticed recently in the YA area is that many authors are writing duologies rather than trilogies or longer series. This seems to occur when the story is too big for one book but doesn’t really require three or more books to tell the tale. Some notable examples are: The Dark Unwinding/A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron, Dualed/Divided by Elsie Chapman which I hope is a two-book series because the second book finishes things up nicely. Likewise, Pivot Point/Split Second by Kasie West, and Proxy/Guardian by Alex London (same issue – I hope this series is done at two books because it seems like the story has reached a natural ending).
Two books can be a terrific compromise between a standalone book and a trilogy.
I’ve read a number of YA trilogies (mainly in the dystopian area for some reason) where there simply wasn’t enough strong material to string the story out for that long. I’m loathe to name them because they’re all series where the author is obviously talented and I really enjoyed the first book, and in many cases also the second, only to be thoroughly disappointed by the third. So I don’t want to “dis” those authors who obviously worked hard and many of whom were debut authors when they started. I suppose one obvious high profile example (yeah, okay, I feel really bad about naming her, but she’s really successful so I doubt my thoughts will impact her bottom line) is the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. I knew I wouldn’t particularly enjoy the third book when I reached the end of the second because, without giving away any specific plot details, the end of the second book pulls the rug out from under everyone’s feet and says “hey, remember that world I spent two books building up and inviting you into? well, it’s not what I’ve told you it was”. I know folks have criticized the third book (Allegiant) for a number of reasons to do with the actual plot of the book, but my reasons for not loving it were that I really felt the story was done at two books and there was no need to take the story into a completely different direction. I suppose I’m saying that I didn’t love the ending of the second book either. Sorry, Veronica! You really are a terrific writer …
And don’t get me wrong. I love series, particularly when I’m engaged with the characters and plot and there’s more of the story left to tell. But when the story’s done, it should be done. Orson Scott Card likely couldn’t have written Speaker for the Dead if he hadn’t first written Ender’s Game. But did we really need Children of the Mind? (No comment re Xenocide. I think I was still into the initial series at that point, but could have happily stopped reading at the end of that one.)
I know those aspiring writers amongst us should be so lucky as to be pondering how MANY books to write in a series. But it is food for thought. If you’re boring your readers in one series, are they going to stick around for the next thing you try? Just my two cents’ worth.