I’m starting to get annoyed by trilogies. Particularly in YA.
Traditionally, I’ve been a huge fan of trilogies – I like spending more time with characters that I’ve grown to love. I like the idea of closing one book and being able to move on to the next, but I also like the thought that the story is complete, and won’t be dragged out indefinitely. The lure of a satisfying ending is strong for me.
But lately, I’ve been reading a lot of second instalments that have put me off the third and final books. Their crime? Nothing happens.
No, really. Nothing.
The amount of YA trilogy second parts I’ve read recently that think adding a love rival constitutes enough plot to warrant a whole novel is actually staggering. In a way it annoys me even more than YA books that think love rivalry is a good enough plot for a first book – because I just put those down. These second instalments follow good books that got me interested and invested in the characters, only to be given padding and filler to take my money and time while I have to wait for the promise of an epic finale.
Vanish by Sophie Jordan is just the latest in a long line. The plot basically constitutes ‘should I run away from the Pride for Will, or should I stay and be with Cassian?’ Most of the action happens in the first chapter, after that it’s weeks of moping and some contrived ‘snog’ moments. Such a disappointment after an exciting and tense first book.
I don’t pretend to be an expert writer, but I know what I like when I read, and all these ‘trilogies’ that ought to just be one longer book are really starting to wind me up. But that’s not to say that there aren’t some fantastic trilogies out there, that get the ‘second book problem’ right.
How to do a Second Book
1. Change Viewpoints
The old viewpoint switcheroo is a good technique to keep things fresh in second (and third) instalments. If the only thing a character has left to do is mope over which boyfriend she should chose, surely it’s time to give another character a chance to shine?
Deadline by Mira Grant employed this technique by necessity, but also to great effect. Viewing such an interesting world from a different set of opinions and values gives everything a new twist.
The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan also used this technique. Initially, I was sceptical – Nick was such a great character, I was reluctant to leave him behind. But, his story was told. The narrative continued with other characters, so it’s only right that they tell it.
Other Examples: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
2. Up the Stakes
Book one sees the characters facing one monster? Book two should have about seven, right? Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, and the stakes don’t necessarily have to be monsters – but they definitely shouldn’t be ‘OMG, which boy should I choose?’
For all it’s song shaped flaws, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien does this wonderfully. Nice little journey across Middle Earth? How about we kill off Boromir then split the Fellowship in three and present them all with their own perils?? Okay, this did eventually lead to me skimming over the Frodo and Sam parts to get back to Aragorn and company, but in terms of filling a second instalment with peril and excitement, it’s a good way to go.
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness is another good one for this. The army they spent the last book fleeing has pretty much taken over everything, and the danger is much more immediate. Ness is the expert in building up the danger to the explosive final moments that had me itching for the final book.
Other Examples: Pretties by Scott Westerfeld (Uglies is totally a trilogy. Extras is exactly what it’s title suggests.)
3. Introduce New Characters
Much like the ‘change viewpoint’, adding a few new voices can keep things fresh and take the story in new interesting directions. Plus, giving us someone else to care about naturally raises the stakes.
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater could have easily been one of the bad second instalments, with much of the story revolving around Sam and Grace being in love, as in the first book. However, the inclusion of Isabelle and Cole – both as new narrators and Cole as a new character altogether – mixed things up enough for you to indulge in a bit more Sam/Grace fluff without feeling it was treading the same ground too much.
Throwing Will into the mix in The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, was at first disorienting, but opened up whole knew words (literally) within the Northern Lights universe.
Other Examples: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
4. And Finally…
If the only reason for a trilogy is because the publisher has dollar signs in their eyes, and you want to spend a little more time swooning over your male lead, then you probably shouldn’t write your story that way.
That’s what Fanfiction is for.