Saturday, January 13, 2007

How Do Authors Decide To Write A Trilogy?

Magic Lessons by Justine Larbalestier has an interesting premise. Her characters have magical abilities, but using those abilities shortens their lives. A lot. The young people in the book only have so much magic and when it's gone, so are they.* The logical thing to do would be to put a hold on the magic, but those who do end up going mad.

Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Reason, the protagonist in Magic Lessons, comes from a long line of magical folks, some evil, some maybe not. She may be able to come up with a way to get around the die or go mad problem.

But not in this book.

Magic Lessons is the second part of Larbalestier's Magic or Madness trilogy, and it was a little hard to get into for someone who hadn't read the first book. I understand people loving serials, but I'm struggling with whether or not readers should know which "series" books are really serials. And if they are serials, should readers just not bother with books two or three if they haven't read book one? How does that benefit anyone?

Magic Lessons also seemed to drag a bit. It seemed to take a long time for things to happen, and characters often asked obvious questions, which also slowed things down. This second book just seemed to be a continuation of the one storyline about these young characters struggling to stay alive and sane. Unlike, say, The Underland Chronicles, there wasn't an adventure specific to this book. At least, not that I noticed.

I like the basic magic or madness premise, but I wonder--did this story need to be told over three books? Would one tightly written novel have done the job? At what point did Larbalestier decide to extend the story over three books and why?

Magic or Madness, the first book in this trilogy, is on the ballot for the "preliminary ballot" (?) for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

*According to Robert M. Sapolsky in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, around 1900 a German physiologist believed that the human body was made up of a lot of finite things (breaths and heartbeats, for instance) and when you used them up, you were used up, too. I read that the morning after I finished Magic Lessons. I love it when that kind of thing happens.


Blogger kbaccellia said...

I agree with you that this book dragged in places. Book one was easier to follow and better written. Still, after reading both books I'll get book three, if only to see how the author wraps up the cliff hanging ending.

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding how authors decide to write a trilogy (or longer series/serial) - sometimes it's not their idea at all, but their publisher's. I know of one fantasy-for-grown-ups author who wrote a first novel and got it accepted and was offered a 2-book contract - so she wrote a sequel. The first book had enough closure to stand on its own, but there was also room for a second book set in the same world (though told from the point of view of another character who wasn't the main protagonist in book one). On completing the second book (which again can stand alone but is nevertheless part of a longer series), she was offered a contract for 3 more books and at that point, the series became a 5 book one. Each book can be read on its own, but each one belongs in the order in which they were written and published, otherwise you'll get confused trying to follow the longer story arc.

Other authors, most famously JKR, plan a 7 book series from the outset and then look for a publisher willing to make that kind of commitment - and it's a two-edged sword, especially if the author is new. Even if the author is well known, it's still something of a two-edged sword, because there's no doubt that some authors do just tread water, and write the same story again and again with only small variations...

1:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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1:50 AM  

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