Welcome back to Composing the Trilogy. Today, we discuss the final piece of the puzzle- the last entry.
Coming to the End
The purpose of the final entry is to wrap up the story and solve the conflicts that plague the characters. That alone can make it difficult to write, since you have had two previous entries to build up the ending. It’s certainly not impossible, but it can be a daunting task. This is also where your previous planning can come into play. The more you know how things are ending, the better a picture you have of a complete, complex, and satisfying ending. Ending on a ‘blind note’ can have serious consequences, such as the case of Godfather Part III. This final entry was not originally planned, but written and filmed to fulfill studio desire and pay the debt of director Francis Ford Coppola’s previous film bomb One From the Heart. As such, it is widely regarded as the weakest of the three films, as even Coppola admitted the previous two films had said all he wanted to say.
So assuming you have planned out a full trilogy from the beginning, you are prepared to avoid this problem. However, you still need to bring a proper close to your story. Some stories, usually fantasy, end with a final, climatic battle between the established rival forces. Star Wars does this well, as we see Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker clash for the final time. But it also brings in other elements that can be used for a finale, the end of growth and redemption. Luke completes his training, resists the temptation of the dark side, and become a full Jedi. Vader, who has hinted at being torn between his son and evil master, redeems his character by saving his son and killing his master. To add more to the finale, Vader dies soon after, adding more poignancy to his redemption, and officially making Luke the last living Jedi. As for further battle example, look no further then Return of the King, which treats audiences the last battles of a war that will either end our characters or make them heroes, as well as determine the kingship of Aragorn.
At the same time, things can be added to the final entry to give it more heft. However, these additions must be made carefully, or they may distract from the film. Many jokes have been made about the teddy-bear Ewoks of Return of the Jedi, largely about their readiness for toys. And Return of the King suffers from a multitude of false endings that turn excitement in a desire for the film to be over. Besides, readers are more likely to want to see resolution of characters and themes, not a multude of new things. So when making additions, keep it simple and short.
And now we’ve reached the end. How do you end it? That part is up to you. It can be as simple as Sam coming home, or as joyous as a galaxy wide celebration. It can be as poignant as a peaceful death, or as empty as a man dying alone, having nothing left to care about. But above the ending must be true to what’s come before, and it must be something that you know is right. Because if you don’t know that at the end, then you’ve wasted three books.
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.