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Discussion Starter #1
I might have put the cart before the horse, but I'm writing a trilogy with the 1st book complete and the 2nd almost complete, with the 3rd plotted. I've never read trilogies, so I dived into it blind with just a basic understanding of what I wanted to achieve.

I've always written standalones, and the trilogy was a standalone idea for a story, but decided to write it a trilogy as my story idea was too big for 1 book which would come in at around 270,000 words to complete.

Basically my trilogy is 3 separate plots with goals and outcomes to resolve the subject of the individual thrust of the story in each of the books. Saying that, there is an ark over the three books and circumstances occuring in each of them for the overall plot to develop political and world events that sits in and among each individual book in a time line as a progression that builds to a conclusion that is not resolved until the final book. You could say that it's a little like a modern day Game of Thrones (Which I've not read, only seen on TV). There is no way you could read any of the three books out of order, so it can't be a series. My intention is to publish all three when complete on the same day.

Doubt has crept in having belatedly searched the internet for writing trilogies to find that Literary Agents say the first book should be standalone. This leads my to think that maybe all trilogies out there that are trad-published are standalone first books.

We don't have the same constraints as self-publishers, but as I said, not having read trilogies or written one before, I'm wondering what your views are if you have either read or written a trilogy as the standalone nature of the first book?







 

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Disclaimer here that most of the trilogies I've read have been fantasy/sci fi, so perhaps it's different in other genres, but as long as each story has an individual plot that is resolved at the end, I don't see any problem with the first book not being a standalone. That requirement actually seems a bit odd to me, more like something I would see in a longer series rather than a trilogy. Maybe it's a more recent trend, as publishers don't necessarily want to commit to a trilogy until they've seen how the first book does? My expectation of a trilogy has always been that it will be one large story broken into three distinct parts. From the sounds of it, it seems you've crafted a trilogy that works exactly the way it ought to!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Louise Bates said:
Disclaimer here that most of the trilogies I've read have been fantasy/sci fi, so perhaps it's different in other genres, but as long as each story has an individual plot that is resolved at the end, I don't see any problem with the first book not being a standalone. That requirement actually seems a bit odd to me, more like something I would see in a longer series rather than a trilogy. Maybe it's a more recent trend, as publishers don't necessarily want to commit to a trilogy until they've seen how the first book does? My expectation of a trilogy has always been that it will be one large story broken into three distinct parts. From the sounds of it, it seems you've crafted a trilogy that works exactly the way it ought to!
Thanks for the insight. Sounds as though I have it right, I hope. The trilogy is post-apocalyptic, so it is a sort of Sci-fi, but commences pre-apocalyptic, set in a world recognized as in the here and now. The sites I looked at were Readers Digest and a few literary agents with names I recognized. Some posts were recent, some older, but yes, it was all about that 1st book selling. They all said they wanted to know nothing of the other books, only maybe a mention it was intended to be a trilogy, or a series.
 

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The traditional trilogy arc is birth-life-death of the plot.  So, like forming the fellowship of the ring in 1, characters breaking off and having their own journey in 2, shrinking everything back to conclusion in 3.  Usually the book one can be standalone because book 2 is where you get the departure from the norm.  An example that comes to mind is the golden compass books.  Book 2 was where things started to get really strange and go in many different directions, but book 1 by itself is fairly self contained and consistent in tone.  But by the time you get to book 3, it's almost not recognizable anymore from the first one.  And, I loved those books when I read them back in the day, it's just, I'm sure that a lot of people just read the first one and left it at that.  Also, it's why there was only one movie made.  The studios never would have made the other two.

So, from a traditional writing perspective, the first one is standalone because when you get to Life in book 2, that's when everything needs to change.  But, is it the only way to go?  Of course not.  The trilogy doesn't need to follow the birth-life-death theme, and if it doesn't, then the conventions of the system don't really apply.  You could have an anthology trilogy where everything is standalone but there are commonalities, which I'm not sure, but maybe more like what you are thinking with the 3 separate plots.

But no matter what, I think there is a good case to be made for making the first book the most consistent within itself.  Some amount of readers will always stop at that one, and if things aren't wrapped up, then it can be disappointing.  But once you get into number 2 of a trilogy, things can get whacky because the people reading book 2 will probably be the readers that want to see how the whole things turns out.

I'm definitely not saying that this is the best way to go, or even that it's what I do (heh, I always seem to do whacky things) but that's some of the traditional thoughts I remember from writing classes and things.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
NikOK said:
The traditional trilogy arc is birth-life-death of the plot. So, like forming the fellowship of the ring in 1, characters breaking off and having their own journey in 2, shrinking everything back to conclusion in 3. Usually the book one can be standalone because book 2 is where you get the departure from the norm. An example that comes to mind is the golden compass books. Book 2 was where things started to get really strange and go in many different directions, but book 1 by itself is fairly self contained and consistent in tone. But by the time you get to book 3, it's almost not recognizable anymore from the first one. And, I loved those books when I read them back in the day, it's just, I'm sure that a lot of people just read the first one and left it at that. Also, it's why there was only one movie made. The studios never would have made the other two.

So, from a traditional writing perspective, the first one is standalone because when you get to Life in book 2, that's when everything needs to change. But, is it the only way to go? Of course not. The trilogy doesn't need to follow the birth-life-death theme, and if it doesn't, then the conventions of the system don't really apply. You could have an anthology trilogy where everything is standalone but there are commonalities, which I'm not sure, but maybe more like what you are thinking with the 3 separate plots.

But no matter what, I think there is a good case to be made for making the first book the most consistent within itself. Some amount of readers will always stop at that one, and if things aren't wrapped up, then it can be disappointing. But once you get into number 2 of a trilogy, things can get whacky because the people reading book 2 will probably be the readers that want to see how the whole things turns out.

I'm definitely not saying that this is the best way to go, or even that it's what I do (heh, I always seem to do whacky things) but that's some of the traditional thoughts I remember from writing classes and things.
Appreciate the reply. Reference to the bolded part of your quote.

There are three clearly identifiable goals, or conflicts which are resolved for the MC as separate plots. It's the same MC in all three books in the same World setting. but the World setting and the governance of this World changes as the story progresses. The changing World is as much part of the story outside the bubble of events that happen to the MC and as much as the character arcs change over the trilogy. Basically, I am destroying this World physically, economically and politically, then over the course of the three books binging back from the edge of disaster, but unrecognisable in the way it is governed. So questions are left unanswered as to the World setting in the first book, but the MC resolves his conflict and goal. I was just hoping some of you will have read similar crafted trilogies.

It has multiple POVs as different events occur outside the MCs bubble through the three-book story arc, all connected to the conflicts encountered by the MC that converge in the last book with the World set up for the final conflict. Hope that makes sense.

If I took out the changing World settings, then it wouldn't be an epic story that I intended, but the first book could be standalone and would likely only run to a two book series of standalones.
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Short Answer: You're fine.

Less Short Answer: Literary critics have a certain (not-necessarily bad) agenda. They need to know you know how to write a complete story. They need to sell that story with no guarantee there will ever be money for sequels. So they tend to advise newbies to do things that are in their best interest rather than things that are THE ONE TRUE WAY!

Lord of the Rings is a case where the first book isn't particularly complete or satisfying to a reader on its own. The first book has themes, and a climax, but no answers for what it sets up at the beginning of the book. It's not recommended, but it can be done, and done well when the story is bigger than any one book can contain and there's no simple way to break it into smaller complete stories. (See GOT as well.)

The original Star Wars trilogy is a good example of the preferred method by literary critics. Star Wars: A New Hope tells a complete story resolving every setup, but further sets up a world where much more can happen, where there's a larger story that can be revealed later. And the second in the trilogy goes full cliffhanger before the ultimate resolution. I've heard Hunger Games has a similar structure, but I haven't read it (or seen any but the first film.)
 

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Someone else mentioned that one reason for suggesting that the first book is a stand alone is because some readers might finish that one and decide not to continue with the rest. I agree that having a satisfiable conclusion in that book will result in those readers being less likely to feel like they got robbed or short-changed. Sometimes you start a trilogy and just find that it isn't really as interesting as you might have hoped, but you still would like to have some sort of conclusion.

Having said that, the fact that you are intending to release all three at the same time will make it easier to promote them together as a trilogy. Even as such, some people may want to read the first one just to see if they like it before investing any time or money on the next books in the series. Since you said that they can't be read out of order, it will be very important that you identify which book is the first and which is the second. If somebody starts with the second book and then go to the first, they may immediately have a bad reader's experience. Just add a sub-title on the cover identifying them as Book x in the Whatever series.

I have written two fantasy novels, and even though each comes to a satisfying conclusion, I made a point of dangling some threads to let the readers know that there may be more of the story yet to be told. I had planned at one point to make each of them into their own separate trilogies, but life and other projects kept getting in the way. I was glad that I didn't leave either on a major cliffhanger or leave a major plot point unresolved, because I'm sure that would have led to a lot of very negative reviews. Now that I am in the process of completing the first trilogy and planning to relaunch the first book, I'm even more grateful that I didn't alienate any past or future readers by leaving them hanging.
 

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.

You want a hook at the end of each book that creates the need to read the next book. If it's entirely a self-contained adventure then you are setting up for readers to not continue.

One long plot arc that covers all three.
Three smaller plot arcs that cover each book but feed back to the main plot arc.

On the covers you should include
"The Post-Apocalyptic Chronicles Book #1" then 2 then 3 so readers clearly know the sequence. This is common for SF/F.

I once made the mistake of releasing all of a trilogy on the same day, felt like I wasted the second and third books that way -- I have had better luck writing a series together but spreading them out by sequential months.

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Discussion Starter #9
J. Tanner said:
Short Answer: You're fine.
Thanks for the input and the examples.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Steven R. Drennon said:
Someone else mentioned that one reason for suggesting that the first book is a stand alone is because some readers might finish that one and decide not to continue with the rest. I agree that having a satisfiable conclusion in that book will result in those readers being less likely to feel like they got robbed or short-changed. Sometimes you start a trilogy and just find that it isn't really as interesting as you might have hoped, but you still would like to have some sort of conclusion.

Having said that, the fact that you are intending to release all three at the same time will make it easier to promote them together as a trilogy. Even as such, some people may want to read the first one just to see if they like it before investing any time or money on the next books in the series. Since you said that they can't be read out of order, it will be very important that you identify which book is the first and which is the second. If somebody starts with the second book and then go to the first, they may immediately have a bad reader's experience. Just add a sub-title on the cover identifying them as Book x in the Whatever series.

I have written two fantasy novels, and even though each comes to a satisfying conclusion, I made a point of dangling some threads to let the readers know that there may be more of the story yet to be told. I had planned at one point to make each of them into their own separate trilogies, but life and other projects kept getting in the way. I was glad that I didn't leave either on a major cliffhanger or leave a major plot point unresolved, because I'm sure that would have led to a lot of very negative reviews. Now that I am in the process of completing the first trilogy and planning to relaunch the first book, I'm even more grateful that I didn't alienate any past or future readers by leaving them hanging.
Thanks, sound advice
 

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Someone else already brought up Star Wars, but Episode 4 was the first thing that came to mind. Ep 4 works perfectly as a self-contained story. At the same time, George Lucas set up lots of intriguing plot lines. Ben Kenobi telling Luke that Darth Vader killed his father, for example. How could we not want to find out more?

The first GoT book works perfectly well as a standalone: the central character plays the game of thrones and loses. At the same time, it's clear that Jon and Daenerys are just starting off on their journeys to greatness.
 

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MorrowWriter said:
The first GoT book works perfectly well as a standalone: the central character plays the game of thrones and loses. At the same time, it's clear that Jon and Daenerys are just starting off on their journeys to greatness.
I'd respectfully disagree that it works at all as a standalone. There are 5-6 other POV characters who have major unfinished storylines while 1 has a complete story. That's not enough. If X were 80% of the book rather than sub-20%, maybe I'd be on board.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
jvin248 said:
.

You want a hook at the end of each book that creates the need to read the next book. If it's entirely a self-contained adventure then you are setting up for readers to not continue.

One long plot arc that covers all three.
Three smaller plot arcs that cover each book but feed back to the main plot arc.

On the covers you should include
"The Post-Apocalyptic Chronicles Book #1" then 2 then 3 so readers clearly know the sequence. This is common for SF/F.

I once made the mistake of releasing all of a trilogy on the same day, felt like I wasted the second and third books that way -- I have had better luck writing a series together but spreading them out by sequential months.

.
Thanks for the point about covers.

I'm not sure about the hook at the end of each book for a trilogy. I don't have that as such, but let's say a unanswered question that pops up in a number of instances where an important character carries a book which has a brown paper jacket cover with them at all times and guards it obsessively and won't reveal the title. I'm relying on that, together other character plot lines regards the changing World setting and with it clearly available as a trilogy,published on the same day. So questions of sub-plots will be answered.

I can't do anything about people not reading the 2nd or 3rd book other than I'll be pushing a box set set with marketing effort aimed at that which I'll publish on the same day as the individual books.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
J. Tanner said:
I'd respectfully disagree that it works at all as a standalone. There are 5-6 other POV characters who have major unfinished storylines while 1 has a complete story. That's not enough. If X were 80% of the book rather than sub-20%, maybe I'd be on board.
@Mirror writer
@tanner

Mine is similar with differing POV characters but they are not really identifiable as major unfinished storylines in the 1st book, but I hope I have made them interesting enough for the reader to want to know how their story would have progressed in the 2nd and 3rd books.

I expand to 5 or 6 POV characters in the second book where they develop clearly major storylines which make it obvious they will converge in the World building, though still with the MC and his partner as the main thrust of the plot.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
MorrowWriter said:
The first GoT book works perfectly well as a standalone: the central character plays the game of thrones and loses. At the same time, it's clear that Jon and Daenerys are just starting off on their journeys to greatness.
The more I think about it, my book is similar to GOT, though set in the near future. In the 2nd book, my MC and his female partner (not in a relationship) develop the storyline that his partner is destined to go down in history. From the posts so far, I think I am on the right track with the way I'm putting it together, more by luck than knowledge.
 

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Maybe I should have said that GoT 1 just about works as a standalone. ;D I'm not a fantasy genre fan, but the first book made me want to read the rest of the series.
 

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Decon said:
Mine is similar with differing POV characters but they are not really identifiable as major unfinished storylines in the 1st book, but I hope I have made them interesting enough for the reader to want to know how their story would have progressed in the 2nd and 3rd books.

I expand to 5 or 6 POV characters in the second book where they develop clearly major storylines which make it obvious they will converge in the World building, though still with the MC and his partner as the main thrust of the plot.
This sounds like a great structure of book 1 and 2 to me!
 

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I don't plan out my series. All my books are standalones and this helps with marketing (you can still market a 2nd or 3rd book this way. It won't sell as well as the 1st, but you're not forcing your readers to buy the 1st to understand the other books). As far as a hook, at first I was going to object to this because I never plan one, but I find that the more I write, the more I unconsciously plant hooks all over the place to keep the reader interested. This even applies to keeping interest in reading chapter by chapter.

IMO, first and foremost, I'd emphasize world building and character development. These are things that make readers want to return to your next book.

Then, even if you don't write a big hook at the end, keep loose ends. Don't close everything. Use the loose ends to move to the next tale. This is easy for me because I hate the words "the end". I never really end my stories. Not because it's hard, but because most real life stories never really fully end.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
alhawke said:
I don't plan out my series. All my books are standalones and this helps with marketing (you can still market a 2nd or 3rd book this way. It won't sell as well as the 1st, but you're not forcing your readers to buy the 1st to understand the other books). As far as a hook, at first I was going to object to this because I never plan one, but I find that the more I write, the more I unconsciously plant hooks all over the place to keep the reader interested. This even applies to keeping interest in reading chapter by chapter.

IMO, first and foremost, I'd emphasize world building and character development. These are things that make readers want to return to your next book.

Then, even if you don't write a big hook at the end, keep loose ends. Don't close everything. Use the loose ends to move to the next tale. This is easy for me because I hate the words "the end". I never really end my stories. Not because it's hard, but because most real life stories never really fully end.
I think this interesting as it shows the difference between a series and a trilogy which can be only about the numbers of books in terminology used to complete a story to define the difference, but I would add in "some cases" For example, Harry Potter is a series of more than three books but it has an overall story arc that concludes with the last in the series. That's why I say "some cases" as series are not always determined by the number of books to complete a story.

An example of an ongoing standalone series would be the Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch books which are true standalone series in that the connection is the same MC, only with a different cast of supporting characters and in a different word setting. The opposite to that would be a series of standalone stories in the same world, but with different MCs. If any those authors had stopped at three books, would they be true trilogies? or only in numbers.

I've always understood that trilogies are both about numbers and story crafting, in that it consists of three books that tell a complete story overall with a defined ending. In effect each book has three acts and each book is an act itself in a complete story. Lord of the Rings muddied that by simply splitting a single standalone book into three parts. That aside I take note about character arcs and world building and agree with you.

I have the world as it is before a disaster, and how it declines in the 1st book. In the 2nd book, I have the fragmentation of the political and governance outcome of that decline in the 1st book with the start of the fightback from anarchy. In the third book while remaining fragmented as a nation, a solution for it parts to come together to fight and defeat a common enemy.

As for the characters I have the MC with his own character arc who narrates the story and is witness to events that elevates his female partner friend to be a significant historical figure at the end in the last book. So in effect there are two MCs, told from the POV of one of them. As for antagonists, There are quite a number that they encounter, but with each book having main antagonists.

It is within that background that in each book there is a clealry defined plot. The only loose ends are to know how the world will change from events in the book in the way the chapters set this up, and a book that the female friend of the MC has with a brown papers jacket cover that she keeps the title secret until the last book.

Maybe my idea on the difference between trilogies v series are not strictly correct, but it is how I see it, which is why I was surprised to learn that literary agents only wanted the 1st book presenting and it had to be a standalone.
 

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I think you're right about "some cases" because there's a few ways to do a series. The Lord of the Rings, to me, is a series that's hard to get into with the second or third book. It's best read from start to finish. The Dune series could have ended after the first book. There you have a different fantastic world and characters and the series continues based on that alone (here's one example where a hook was unnecessary, for me anyway. I bought the second book based purely on world building). Then you have James Bond series that can completely stand on their own, even as short stories, which Ian Fleming wrote a few.

If you can create an overarching theme, like the ring in LOR, then you've got something there. I try to do that and I do it the hard way by figuring out how to tie in later books after I've written the first. As usual, as a pantser, this is admittedly the harder way to do it. But I'm a pantser because if I plan too much, I change everything later anyway.

Sounds like you've got the overarching theme going here:
Decon said:
I have the world as it is before a disaster, and how it declines in the 1st book. In the 2nd book, I have the fragmentation of the political and governance outcome of that decline in the 1st book with the start of the fightback from anarchy. In the third book while remaining fragmented as a nation, a solution for it parts to come together to fight and defeat a common enemy.
Regarding agents, I think they want to see if they can submit a 1st book in a series to publishers first. It's probably just a pure marketing thing.
 
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