Monthly Archives: June 2014
Welcome to the second part of Composing the Trilogy. At this point, you should have used the first part to establish your characters, plot, rules, and initial universe. Now, you work on continuing the story you set up, as well as expanding the characters and unversed you’ve started.
Keeping the Flow
The main goal of the second entry of a trilogy is to show growth and development. There are many ways to do this- for example, the conflict of the previous story can be expanded upon. This is seen in Back to the Future, which moves from ensuring Marty’s creation in the past, to his success in the future and then maintaining the present. This opens up different goals and conflicts while staying true to the central themes and idea present in the first entry. However, new conflicts can also be introduced. Most superhero films have a rotating cast of villains and when done well, they can add to the hero’s development. The Sam Rami Spider-Man films do a fine job of, as Peter has personal connections to his first villain, Norman Osbourne/The Green Goblin. However, in the second, he ends up in a similar conflict with Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus. But in this case, Peter has a stronger connection with Otto, have befriended him beforehand, and is even able to redeem the villain at the end. Better still, Peter is able to use that redemption to solidify his own character growth and development. Finally, character is also a valuable way to show development, as in Godfather Part II which shows Michael Corleone’s abandonment of his young, moral self and his tragic move into crime and the Mafia.
Another use of the second entry is to raise the stakes, and make things bigger then they were in the first movie. Examples can be seen in The Two Towers, where the quest of returning the Ring becomes more perilous- Mordor is closer, evil is spreading across the land, and people are suffering. Star Wars also does this, as Empire Strikes Back shows the tribulations of the suffering rebellion and Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training. But this also opens up another possibility- adding more dark elements. This can help to make the story more memorable then the often lighter first act, as well as build excitement for the next entry. To again quote Empire, the film ends with the loss of Luke’s hand and the revelation of his parentage, Han Solo frozen in carbonite and in transit to Jabba the Hutt, and a reeling Rebel Alliance. The stakes are high for the sequel (which despite the teddy bears, managed to meet them).
In conclusion, the second entry must be about expansion, either through characters, the outside world, goals, or a combination of the three. Any less simply makes it an imitation of the first. But as Amazing Spider-Man 2 taught us, making everything bigger cannot override the story or the characters; writers must balance spectacle with storytelling, or they can never reach the final entry.
In recent months, I’ve been hard at work editing, re-arranging, and submitting materials for the next entry of Lightrider. But as I’ve been working on it, I realized how much work goes into writing what will eventually be a trilogy, and how daunting it can seem to first time writers who have an idea they just can’t do in one book. Therefore, today is the start of a multi-week entry entitled Composing the Trilogy, where I will discuss each part of a trilogy and how it works. And as such, let’s begin in the best place…
The first part of a trilogy is the most important. This is where the author sets up themes, characters, and a series of events that will go for two more entries. As such, there needs to be an amount of prep work done beforehand. The overall theme and story are vital. There is a reason famous trilogies deal with such large ideas as revolution or the effects of time- they have to fill a great deal of space whether in film or literature. Probably the best example is the Godfather trilogy, which deals with a single mafia family over several decades. In it, we are shown a rise to power, the cost of said power, corruption, betrayal, death, and loss of family. These are ideas that need proper care and time to be told well, and a trilogy is the perfect place to do it. Not only do the themes lend themselves to lenthgy storytelling, but they are enough to help fill not only the first entry in the tale, but future entries as well. One final tip should also be to try imagine as much of the story as possible- a clear final ending can lead to a much clearer vision.
Characters need to be sketched out, but in a way that they can grow and change as the story goes on. It can be good to have a character with a simple ‘design’ such as brave, or upbeat, and then put that character into different situations to see how well they react. Star Wars is a good example- Luke Skywalker begins as an impatient, green farmhand, but as the story progresses, we see acts of bravery and a willingness to learn, as well as the first hints of him accepting the greater power of the Force, which is a large part of his growth throughout the trilogy.
But the endings are also important. What happens in the first part must leave enough impact to continue throughout two more entries, so a certain amount of thread must be left hanging. There are many different ways to do this, but the most common are endings that solve a current problem but show another on the horizon, or the open-ended ending- the story would be acceptable as a stand-alone, but there is still enough material to continue forward if the need arises. Again, the original Star Wars follows the open-ended path, but films like Lord of the Rings generally leave endings where the viewer knows more is coming.
Having followed these plans, you should be able to compose at least the first part of your trilogy. However, this leaves two more pieces to compose, the first of which we’ll discuss next time.
One aspect of writing is being able to fit all the pieces together. Whatever type of story you have, each section needs to flow into the next, to feel organic and real. But writers need be wary of connecting the dots too well.
The reason this causes a problem harkens back to the old adage, which I’ve mentioned before, that mankind has been retelling the same basic stories for years. While this might not be entirely true, there are certainly examples of familiar stories. A slasher film, for example, can often hit the same plot points in different films. Or a romantic comedy about certain types of people, or even a dramatic sports story. Because of the familiarity we have with these archetypes, we can often predict what is going to happen next.
So why is this bad? Because it makes the stories boring. While writers need a story to fit together, they need to find new ways to bring the pieces together, or the audience will be bored. We’ve all been to a theatre where someone starts yelling out plot points which turn out to be true. It also tends to pop up more in sequels- I happen to be a horror fan and have watched the first four installments of Friday the 13th. The first one does an excellent job setting up the formula of summer camp, sexy teens and stabbing, and the second continues and adds to the story. However, the third and fourth are not truly connected to the first two, and simply repeat the story without adding anything to it. This makes them fell dull and perfunctory, and rob them of any sense of tension and suspense. Even successes can be guilty of this- the first Eragon novel contains several points familiar to Star Wars and Lord Of The Rings fans, while one of my favorites, the Sword of Shannara, often reads like a condensed version of LOTR.
So what can be done to avoid this? One of my strongest endorsements to writers has always been to study the genre they want to write in, and learn how it works. However, understanding how it works also means you understand how it can be tinkered with. Writers need to find twists and little tweaks that can make a tired story seem different. For example, Silence of the Lambs is a classic serial killer drama, but its most memorable character is Hannibal Lector, another killer that manages to gain the reader’s respect, fear, and even a degree of sympathy. That makes the story stand out, because we find ourselves intrigued by Lector as well as the murder. Many of the great Twilight Zone episodes also do this, such as the classic “The Monsters are Due on Maple St.” where strange power outages cause the neighbors of a middle America street to turn on each other in paranoia. However, instead of an overly shameful or preachy ending, we see the outages are a test by aliens, who are testing how easy it will be to divide mankind and take over. This leaves us not only shamed by our collective distrust and paranoia, but also aware of how dangerous it can be. And that leaves a lot more impact then connecting dots to form a cat.