Why Write a Trilogy When You Can Write One Novel?

I saw a question in a fiction writing group on Facebook asking why authors decide to write a trilogy from the beginning, rather than just writing a single book. Why not start off with a book, and try fit it all in? I have some answers.

First of all, the story may be too large to fit in a single book. It may be a single story, but split into three. Why not just put it in one book? I don’t think many people want to buy a 1,500 page novel. That’s why. They’re more likely to try out the 500 page first book, like it, then buy the other two.

That leads us to the second reason. People like to read series or trilogies. Not everyone, but there are many people who love to read them. I’m one of them. And it also makes economic sense for the author. Incredibly long books may be hard to sell, but shorter ones tend to be more attractive. And that means if people buy and like the first book, they will likely buy the other two. That’s tripling the income!

And finally, a series may involve related, completely self-contained stories that simply cannot be written as a single book. This is what my first trilogy is like. They’re separate stories, but they all lead into each other with a final conclusion. I also have a fantasy series of four books planned that has three parallel stories that lead into a final book. In a single book, it would be a complete mess.

Those are my reasons for writing trilogies or series. Standalone books have their own advantages, too. There are many I’ve read, and they work perfectly fine. They end at the end of the book. There is no continuation.

What do you think? As a writer and a reader, do you prefer standalone books or trilogies and series? Let me know in the comments below.

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17 thoughts on “Why Write a Trilogy When You Can Write One Novel?”

    1. It is. It’s hard to decide how long a series will be, too. I think it’s best to stick with shorter series, like trilogies. But I do have a five book series and a four book series planned.

  1. It really depends on the story. Some make so much more sense as trilogies like an obvious example LOTR and more recent Hunger Games. Each story stands alone in its own microcosm, but is imperative in the macrocosm of the overarching narrative.

    As for writing, I would love it if my novel could’ve been one or three stories. I’m in the sad limbo of having to split it in two. It doesn’t break off in the right place at the right word count for a trilogy, but is far too long for a standalone (as I have nothing else of substance published at the moment).

    1. That’s a tough position. I haven’t read many two-part stories. I know they’re out there, though. And actually, for my debut novel, it’ll be part one of a two part story. They’re self-contained, though. It’s more of a sequel than a part two.

      1. The first part has a definite story arc within, but it ends on a cliffhanger that leads into the next part. I’ll worry about it when I go back to editing it. I’m one WIP and one short story edit and resubmit of that away.

  2. I’ve read quite a number of trilogies and sequels that just got me in and I couldn’t get enough of them. And my teenage son’s just finished a trilogy which he devoured. It’s really a matter of personal choice and whether or not you have the time. At the moment I have limited time so stand alones are perfect, a good one off thriller to tuck into!

  3. Imagine Game of Thrones as one book? a 10,000 page book! As a fan of G. Martin and T. Brooks I tend to lean toward series. It provides more time for character and plot development. It allows stories to take on larger realm, so to speak.

  4. I’d say there isn’t only one kind of “trilogy.”

    I see mostly two types.
    One example would be Lord of the Rings that is really only one book and was written as such. It’s only the publisher that divided it in three books for practical (and financial) reasons.

    Then you have the book that is a self-contained story and turns out to be popular, so a sequel is written and then another one.

    Concerning the first kind, I really don’t care whether it’s physically divided in three books or not, beyond the practical aspect of the thing.

    The second kind, I’m less fond of. Yes, the sequels can be good too, but more often than not, they’re not.

    Also, there’s the case of books like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones (caveat: I haven’t read either), which are as I understand them planned ahead, but written and published one after the other. That can work, but the main issue with that is that one cannot revise earlier point of the story if necessary as it has already been published, which can lead to better and not as good parts.

    All in all, I do prefer stories that are entirely written before being published, that allows for better structures, more consistent styles, tones and pace and better books overall. And I don’t care whether it’s published into one big volume or several smaller ones.

    Also, why always a trilogy? It makes sense when the story is structured in three acts, much less if it’s just because “trilogy” is a catchy term these days (I sometimes feel that it’s the latter reason a bit too often).

    My two cents.

    1. One trilogy I’ve read two-thirds of is about 3,000 pages in total. I don’t think I’d want to carry around that book.

      I also think it’s better if the entire story is written before the first one is published. However, I’ve seen several that are long series that are being written as they are published. However, they’re not necessarily a single story. Some can be read on their own without the others.

      Trilogy sounds catchy. But I prefer to use the word “series,” since many tend to be more than three books.

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