I've devised a trilogy on an Earth-similar world experiencing Earth-similar problems. I am nearing the end of the first draft of the first novel. I am not certain how much of a bang needs to happen in this first installment.

My instincts (and experience reading) say that the first and second novels in a trilogy finish with some excitement and closure (perhaps narrow escape from a deadly threat) but the real climax and resolution is in the third book. I am leaning towards a narrow-escape ending in this manuscript (first book of a trilogy). But I feel like this ending will be forced, and unnatural.

Is this sort of ending necessary for book #1? Are there other sorts of endings that are as effective to encourage people to invest time in the second installment? Please share other effective options....


2 Answers 2


My opinion: Your book needs to end with closure on the Trilogy Setup.

I think books follow the Act structure often used in film. Act I sets up the problem, introduces the characters, and ends with a clear statement of the Problem. Act IIa complicates the Problem, and ends with a turning point; Act IIb moves them toward resolution, and ends with the Key to resolution. Act III applies the Key, has the Final Conflict, and ends with the success or failure of the Heroes.

A Trilogy is the same, and the nesting of this principle: Each book has its own Act I, IIa, IIb, III. But the first book is an overarching Act I, the second book an overarching Act II, and the third book an overarching Act III.

The first book's problem is solved, but turns out to be the introduction of a larger problem.

The first book has to be satisfying, but the larger problem is what is going to sell the second book. It winds up with a satisfying conclusion to ITS 'smaller' problem but also delivers the turning point on the BIG problem. Wanting to see how that turns out is what sells the third book.

But each book, including the first, must have a satisfying resolution to its smaller piece of the puzzle, and yes, it is better if the time invested pays off in a BOOM.

Just like a single book, your characters for a trilogy should have an arc that spans the trilogy. Characters playing roles important to the outcome need to be introduced in Act I (the first book), or at least referenced.

Now if you have different characters in each book and there is no overarching story line or trilogy-wide character or relationship development, that is not really a trilogy (in my mind). The books are all just tied together by a setting; and it wouldn't make a difference if there were three or a dozen (like, we could write a dozen unrelated stories set in Middle Earth, it is a fun setting).

  • I love the structure you provide. I have seen it before, but had forgotten it. The two answers hang together fairly well, and I will map out a few possibilities. I think I need to tighten up what problem the first book is tackling - i think i threw all three books' worth of problems into it.
    – SFWriter
    Sep 17, 2017 at 22:35

The answer to this is very subjective. Some books lend themselves to being made into a series (whether that is three or more) and some don't.

Consider books like 'Mortal Engines' -- everyone, just about, is dead at the end of the first book. The author said that is because after ten years he wanted it finished and so he killed off everyone. However, the series continued because the publisher realised that the 'world' had further stories.

People will read sequels, whether they be trilogies or whatever, if they have an emotional investment in the characters, the setting or the plot. If they want to know what is going to happen in the long term to the characters, they will buy the next book.

If you think you have a trilogy in you, you must make the first book work by itself. People must want to read it as a stand alone text. I know that some films are produced as trilogies and you are expected to put up with a second-rate first or second film so that you can appreciate the third one, but that doesn't work with books. It just takes too long to read a book and getting to the end and finding you need to read the next book is really irritating. Make the first one a page turner and then worry about the rest.

Although you reference sci-fi, you might want to consider detective series where the characters develop, but the plots do not directly link from one novel to another.

  • Ya know, I think I was thinking about tension wrong. It didn't occur to me to kill a bunch of people. As stupid as that sounds. I am going to think about how to sacrifice a few characters now. I also resonate with idea that book needs to stand alone to avoid irritating anyone.
    – SFWriter
    Sep 17, 2017 at 21:03

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