Sequel, Trilogy, Quadrilogy – Fiveilogy?!

number-three

WITH THE PROLIFERATION of sequels and trilogies, it got me wondering how prevalent they were prior to the last 20 years. What was the first book trilogy? Isn’t it obvious? – only the number one bestseller of all time – The Bible. They knew all about marketing whoever wrote that…

Well, the first trilogies in film appeared way back in the early 1900s. The earliest book trilogy I could find was Booth Tarkingtons Growth trilogy dating from 1915 around the same time. There’s J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and Isaac Asimov’s Foundations in the fifties. Of course there are book series, that had countless printings from The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five to Goosebumps. Formulaic but highly readable, they did the job. And children’s books seem to get away with being turned into sprawling series. As a kid, I definitely liked the familiarity.

But why the flood of trilogies in modern times? It’s mirrored in film as well. There have been some outstanding books published in trilogy format such as Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, Phillip Pullman’s, His Dark Materials and plenty of hugely successful Young Adult fiction like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Those books acheived massive sales, not forgetting J.K. Rowling’s heptalogy (seven books!) – in a category of its own.

Clearly a large part of the appeal isn’t just for the readers, but for publishers, notably The 5 Marketeers (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Hachette) – hell – even the author has their work cut out recasting known characters into a new adventure. Is it lazy? Is it interesting? Am I simply just sick of hearing the words ‘sequel’ and ‘trilogy’ ? Possibly. Generally, I think trilogies point to a larger problem. Publishers don’t like risk any more than film makers. If book A sells, then chances are book B will too from the same author. The big money makers don’t want to take a chance on anything so we end up with vampires, super heroes and the inner workings of E.L. James’ mental sex dungeon.

Originality is at a premium in fiction. But originality doesn’t necessarily sell. Then if it does, it becomes the template for authors for a decade. What happened to one book and on to the next? I love coming up with new material, new ideas, different settings, twists and plots. Am I alone?

19 Comments

  1. I think it probably has to do with the author writes one book and they like the characters so much, they want to bring them back for a second *or third, or forth* round. As long as it sells, the publishing houses like it.

  2. I wonder how much of it has to do with out attention spans and other commitments. It’s hard to sit through a movie even as long as 2 and a half hours. I recently read and then watched “Gone with the Wind,” and certainly if it were attempted by the film industry today, it would be a trilogy or quadrilogy. The book may not have been as successful as such, though, but definitely could have been attempted that way, or as a series of shorter stories like Stephen King’s “The Green Mile.” There are two sequels to “Gone,” but they were written by different authors and decades later, and those types don’t tend to do very well so I don’t count them for the purposes of this discussion. What you said about publishing must be spot on, and it works for the author as well — why sell one of something when you can sell three?

    1. Your last point sums it up really. That’s the reality of it.
      As for GWTW, that’s a good comparison, in those days people had less entertainment. Now people struggle with 2hrs of a film , although it’s not something I’ve ever had difficulty with. But attention spans are being chewed up and spat out. It’s going to be interesting seeing how that progresses in the coming decades.

  3. I’m not much of a fan of those multi-volume works where the story in fact continues, because I’ve found many of them rather long-winded, and after page 2500 of the same thing I’m bound to get tired of it all. But as quite a voracious reader I do appreciate and read lots of “same-universe” series where certain characters or settings might reappear, but each volume in the series is its own entity. Which is, needless to say, an extremely common occurrence in “traditional” as well as new sci-fi that I read a lot of. More recent “space opera” sci-fi is almost as a rule like that (Hamilton, Vinge, Card, Simmons, Reynolds, etc.), and by “traditional” I mean Herbert’s Dune, Clarke’s Odyssey and Rama series, Adams, et cetera, not to mention Asimov’s Foundation (if you count all of them in the Foundation universe, that’s, erm, a “pentadecalogy” :D)

    1. Oh, only now I noticed that I could just reply “I agree” to Don Massenzio’s comment, and that would suffice 🙂 Exactly – series of standalone stories where both the characters and settings (the “world”) develop and evolve.

    2. haha @ pentadecalogy, thats a new one.
      I think the format of sequels, or a series works fine with certain books, certain stories, it’s more the modern acceptance that any successful book is bound to spawn at least a sequel that irritates me generally, but that’s not to say there aren’t great books over several volumes. Maybe its just the influx : /

      1. Ah, sequels are nothing: reboots and reduxes every ten years or so are the thing! 😉

        I suppose that on one hand the lack of marvelously original stories to tell is a realistic problem today… On the other hand the corpus of works already written or recorded is so vast that one can never even begin to familiarise oneself with any significant percentage of it during one’s lifetime (I mean, if you read 50 books per year, which is around one every week, and you did it for 70 years straight, that would only be as little as 3500 books!), so due to extreme hyperproduction it makes sense for the industry to recycle and “milk” the same concepts that have proven to sell well rather than experiment… And last but not least, the focus of the entertainment industry has shifted to young adults and kids, as their purchasing power has increased incredibly in the last few decades and they now represent one of the most significant target groups of customers – so it makes sense for the industry to recycle and stick to concepts that sell well for ten years of so… Before the brats grow too old to give a fart, a new generation starts consuming, and the industry gets to do it all over again 🙂

        For us olden farts it’s all excruciatingly tedious, of course. So no, I don’t like or support this – just pointing out the obvious 🙂

      2. You’re bang on about the number of works we can consume vs the amount newly available and books already published for decades or centuries. It’s an ocean. We can’t read em all.
        Reality is that marketing will dominate and dictate what is popular, and if that means I have to write a YA book, I might have to 🙂

  4. I like standalone stories where the same characters grow, evolve, and age through the series. Jonathan Kellerman does this very well with his Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis characters in his detective novels. Alex Cross has aged and matured in James Patterson’s books that are each standalone with call backs to previous experiences. I believe this matches real life. We all grow and experience things but have distinct chapters, if you will, in our lives.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it like that, of the characters growing book by book, you make a good point. It’s fiction mirroring reality to an extent. I think that’s why some people like familiarity too, people can learn about a character as they read through a series, sometimes its less taxing to dip into a familiar world than a brand new one.

      1. When I focus, I can write three novel length works in two years. If book one doesn’t draw, the rest leave me kind of hollow. When one of mine sells a few thousand, I’ll consider a sequel.

  5. No, you are not alone. With a very few exceptions, I don’t like sequels. I want to read something different with different characters.
    I have written quite a few manuscripts in my lifetime, and never once was tempted to go back and revisit the characters. I told what they wanted told. Anything else would have been forced.

    1. 🙂
      I’m the same. Don’t get me wrong there’s plenty great trilogies, but now it all seems like a requirement for books rather than something organic.
      I heard they were going to write a fourth book in Stieg Larsson’s series. He’s dead. Leave it alone!

Please, type what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s