Middle Books of Trilogies: Ponderings

I am a big fan of trilogies.  Books, movies.  There’s just something wonderful about having THREE of something.  You get more of the same characters, more story, but the guarantee that everything will be wrapped up in 3 books and you don’t have to worry about being left hanging if something happens to the author before the end of the series (a la Robert Jordan).

My favorite trilogies are of the Nora Roberts variety.  Great cast of characters, but each book focuses on a different couple, so there is a romantic resolution for them in each book.  This satisfies my sap quotient, but I still get to see more of the story as the trilogy progresses.

I also really enjoy trilogies that follow the SAME couple (or same people, but who are we kidding?  This is me.  If there’s not a romance of SOME kind I’m probably not reading it).  But there is ONE PROBLEM inherent in this kind of trilogy that drives me epically NUTS.  The middle book.

Now middle books of trilogies usually suck more than the first and third simply because there is ALWAYS a worsening of whatever situation is going on in the plot arc, a bigger bad, more stuff that doesn’t resolve on a big scale.  There’s that DISSONANCE of stuff NOT BEING FINISHED that sort of always leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth for middle books.

My issue with middle books of trilogies that follow the same people/couple is that in the middle book the hero and heroine are ALWAYS acting like TOTAL MORONS and fighting or are otherwise apart.  Because, you know, you can’t actually have them happily together once they’ve found each other in book one.  I GET that intellectually as an author.  I really freaking HATE IT as a reader.  Sometimes it’s well done and I can get behind how the author keeps them split up or at odds or something.  Julie Kagawa did a great job with this in her Iron Fey series.

***Spoiler following***

brain candy - 07/26/10
Image by justmalia via Flickr

Ash had a fundamentally GOOD REASON for acting like a total jerkwad.  If Mab knew he loved Meghan, she’d kill her.  Okay fine.  I can accept that as a reader.  I can also accept that in her pain, she turns to best friend Puck and sort of has a thing with him, even though we KNOW he’s not her true love.  I didn’t throw any of these books because she gave me really GOOD LOGIC for why they were apart.

But then you have books where authors seem to just make up stupid crap to keep them fighting or in a snit or whatever.  The kind of stuff that could be resolved if they’d just freaking HAVE AN HONEST CONVERSATION.  But no, they can’t do that, and instead they’re making stupid mistakes like hooking up with other people while they’re split or otherwise flying in the face of the REAL relationship they’re supposed to be having (because again, this is me, and I am a big fan of the One True Pairing).

I guess that’s what it boils down to.  I have a low tolerance for conflict that’s really just misunderstanding.  Give me a REAL problem, REAL stakes–like the world will end if they stay together or he’s afraid he’ll kill her or somebody ELSE is gonna kill one of them if they’re together.  Or hell, have them PHYSICALLY apart and have to go on different missions for a while.  Don’t just rely on having one of them saying something stupid and hurtful that then just escalates because they’re both immature morons and can’t communicate.  Because that just really sucks.

So says Kait.

13 thoughts on “Middle Books of Trilogies: Ponderings

  1. “Don’t just rely on having one of them saying something stupid and hurtful that then just escalates because they’re both immature morons and can’t communicate. Because that just really sucks.”

    Unfortunately, this is often what happens in real life. But at least in fiction, they CAN resolve whatever issue it is. In real life, most of the time, they never get back together. And we don’t want our fiction to be like real life. We want happy endings and kick butt action. I guess that’s why we write paranormal. :0)

    I don’t really mind the conflict from misunderstandings. As long as it’s resolved and there are copious make up smoochies. LOL

    1. Well from my perspective, men (and women) belch, fart, and do gross things, but we don’t TALK ABOUT IT in fiction because nobody wants to READ ABOUT IT. Book men are not like real men. They’re not SUPPOSED TO BE. Ergo the stupid, boring crap that happens in real relationships isn’t supposed to be the stuff of fiction either. There should be MEANING and REASON.

      1. Like I said, we don’t want fiction to be real life. It’s kind of like that time someone asked me how a Christian could write about vampires. How could someone not get that it’s fiction? We want fiction to be different. I just don’t mind some of the normal things if they’re written in an interesting way. And you mention that book men are not like real men. I agree 100%. In fact, they are supposed to look like Thor! :0) I’ve actually heard readers complain that the people in books are always attractive and that’s not true in real life. But we want it to be true, so that’s why we write it that way.

        Yeah, there are actually books I’ve read that said WAY too much about the fact that the heroine had to pee, etc. I don’t care about that. Now, in a book that’s supposed to be funny, that might work, but sometimes it’s too much info. And the eating thing. I like to talk about people eating and about the food…but I’m a foodie. That bores some people.

        I’m beginning to realize that I’m now starting to ramble….I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

  2. I actually tend to prefer series where they don’t get together at the end of book one, though I’ve not seen many authors pull it off convincingly. I can name a few series where I can see what the author tried to do, but I didn’t buy it, and it’s maddening.

    Conflict from misunderstandings I’m inclined to dislike, but only because it’s usually so poorly done, and the characters have to act like bratty teenagers (“Talk to the hand!”) to avoid having it worked out. When the misunderstanding stems from a difference in personality and communication style, that’s more believable for me. But it has to stem organically. So often, the author was obviously thinking “I need to separate these two [for story structure]” and not “These two are gonna to separate [due to their characters]”.

    1. YES, exactly! I’m actually totally okay if they aren’t TOGETHER at the end of book 1. Because then they’re obviously still working toward that. It’s the artificial separation that drives me NUTS.

      1. Yeah. Artificial separation just tells me the author’s more enthralled with the characters than I am. Which can happen anyway, but “Mary Sues” are lambasted for a reason.

        An explanation with what I mean about multi-book romances not often working for me: they often start with 1 pair building rapport, then the MC ending up with someone else altogether, often abruptly. I don’t care if an author starts a book series intending one pairing all along — sometimes the way the characters work out don’t mesh well, but even if they do still mesh, you need to build it, too.

        I’m not making any commentary on your writing, there, Kait. It’s just a pet peeve of mine. 🙂

        1. Definitely couldn’t be me as I never try to switch pairings in my work, as that’s a SERIOUS pet peeve of mine as well 🙂 All of my planned trilogies involve a separate couple for each book, since that’s my favorite.

  3. Okay, I confess–I’m struggling with this right now, because in book one, Connor decided Mairead was his One True Love For All Time. But he did something stupid that messed things up with her, so in book two, she’s pretty ticked with him in the beginning. Then there are some Magically Happenings that drive them apart while she’s still ticked, and then a Big Misunderstanding that she can’t really avoid (I mean, all signs do point to her belief being true), and a handsome New Guy who wants her… So even though Connor’s off pining for her, she’s put her love for him aside and moved on.

    Structurally, I’m doing these things for a reason. I want her to go through some really serious crap to grow her as a leader, and part of that means giving her a new love interest. But I admit, Kait–I feel just like you do when it comes to otherwise adult couples acting like children and not just talking their issues through. I just want to shake them by the shoulders and force them to sit down for half an hour. So I’m trying to make the stakes a lot higher here, but… Yeah. I’m still not convinced it’s working.

    But then, it’s in the telling, right?

    Like I needed more angst… 🙂

  4. “So says Kait.” Kait says great things, I’ve been planning this for my WIP (which is being structured as a trilogy) and am thinking it best if my Leads are physically parted during the middle book. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, especially when things are trying to kill both people.

    Nicely done Kait 🙂

  5. I think most middle books have the feeling of no middle or end. The characters are already established. By the end, plotlines will be hanging. The important thing is to make sure an arc is there. Treat the middle book as a stand-alone.

    If Jack and Mary survived all odds to be together in book 1, we should meet them as a happy couple whose lives are about to be changed.

    Great blog.

  6. Hear hear! There’re very few times when such a misunderstanding can be deftly told. The only one that comes to mind at the moment is the one in Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn.

  7. Good idea. There’s just something about a couple and the world ending if they just got together. It’s what made Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon one of my favorite shows (once I got past the costumes). It’s the world ending if they got together because Usagi’s emotions cause the Holy Silver Crystal to go crazy.

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