Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Are Middle Books in Fantasy Trilogies Always Bridges?

Posted by: Jeffe Kennedy
That's me in the mirror at Pappadeaux in the Houston airport yesterday. I flew to Atlanta for the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Convention.

This is probably my favorite convention, because it's really just other writers. Other people who are absolutely my tribe, lovers of stories and romance. But it's not all floral chiffon and Harlequin covers. There are a significant number of people here who write various forms of speculative fiction - from paranormal romance to fantasy romance to science fiction romance. For many, the amount of romance in their books varies considerably. Still, because the some of the perspectives on science fiction and fantasy tend to veer away from anything "too girly," a lot of those writers have found their tribe amongst the romance writers.

For a really interesting article on women sci fi authors by a "hard" sci fi editor, go here. It's worth reading all the comments. I agree with what commenter Erin Lale says, the women authors have gone to romance.

However, this does not mean we traded in our geek cards for boxes of bon bons. So, last night I found myself sitting in the bar (shocking, I know), talking with Amber Lin and Sarah Frantz. Because I knew Sarah would understand, I told her what's been preying on my mind - that I'm afraid I'm writing The Two Towers. Amber patted my arm and said, "That's okay. Lots of people say The Empire Strikes Back is their favorite movie."

This kind of conversation is what happens when you truly find your tribe. They're the people who truly get you.

For those of you who didn't follow this shorthand, The Two Towers is the second book in the famed Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR to its friends). The second book is so widely regarded as a "bridge" - a book that really serves only to connect the first and third books - that I was able to Google "the two towers book review bridge" and up popped numerous hits. In this one, they say:

This build-up of momentum, from the smaller-scale events of The Fellowship of the Ring to the huge face-offs in The Return of the King, only becomes possible with The Two Towers to act as a bridge between the other two parts of the trilogy. But because The Two Towers is a bridge, it doesn't truly stand on its own. If you want to find out more about how Tolkien saw this book fitting into his The Lord of the Rings project, check out our learning guide for The Fellowship of the Ring, where you'll find a full discussion.
 Some people even hate The Two Towers, for this very reason.

Amber's example of The Empire Strikes Back is, of course, the second movie in the original Star Wars trilogy. (Which were actually numbers 4, 5 and 6 in the overall series of 9 projected films.) Arguably The Empire Strikes Back is not a stand-alone movie. It really doesn't make sense unless you've seen Star Wars and the ending is a far-from-satisfying series of cliffhangers that are only resolved in Return of the Jedi.

But, is this bad?

Right now I'm writing the second book in my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy and I'm acutely aware of continuing the arc started in book one and of setting up the final conflicts that will occur in book three. This is only my second trilogy and I just finished the whole editorial process on book two of Covenant of Thorns, where I had many of the same problems, so I'm still learning how to do this. Maybe the middle books in trilogies are inevitably like this?

What do you all think? Are there examples of really strong middle books in trilogies that you know of? I'd love to know!

Meanwhile, I'll console myself that Amber is right. LOTS of people liked The Empire Strikes Back the best.


  1. I just put the wraps on the second book in the Agency series, and while it's definitely a connection between the first and the third, the key point is that it has a distinct *story of its own* to tell. There are certainly series threads that continue to develop, but I mixed old crit partners with folks who never read the first to make sure it would deliver something that both could enjoy.

    You can do more than bridge, but it begins with having a rock solid story to tell all in its own.

    1. Yeah - I have a CP who hasn't read book 1. That will help. Thanks Jason!

  2. I think that book two's job in a trilogy is to bridge the gap, but at the same time you want it stand tall like a tower and dominate over the first one. To do that you need punch, action, and new developments to the story that take the reader on a journey the didn't see coming.
    I adore reading fantasy, sci-fi stuff. Especially in a series, the longer the better for me! And I have read many series that I finish book two and say, good but not as good as book one and then go on to read the third book and am blown away. Does it detract from the series for me? No, because I look at it as a long journey.
    I have also read series that the author comes back at you with book two and leaves me stunned. Amazing when this happens. The ingredient I have noticed is the author introduces the story as if it were the first with new conflict (not always with resolution) and builds the tension.

    Sorry Jeffe...this got really long! Yikes!

  3. I did love Empire Strikes Back, altho I hated leaving Han stuck in that carbonite LOL. I also love the second LOTR's movie - all that cool stuff in I'll be happy to cross your series' bridge when I come to it. (No, wait, did that sound right LOL?) Hope you're having fun at RWA!!!


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