Ah yes, the age old argument. What is the perfect number of books for a series? Or perhaps we don’t need a series at all, and we should just have all standalones forever (okay, no thanks, though). The truth is, there is no right or wrong to this, it’s all down to preference and circumstance, so instead of pretending I’m going to tell you that duologies are the best (they’re not, but they are my favorite), we’re going to chat about the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Standalones! In a world where the fantasy genre was literally only series for the longest time ever, it’s really refreshing to start seeing more standalones in the genre. Whether they’re urban or high, I love the ability to just dip in and out of a world without having to dedicate myself to a six-part series.
I won’t lie, there are a lot of “classic” fantasy series that I’m avoiding because really? Who wants to embark on twelve novels? No thanks, I’d much rather pick up a single book, knowing that’ll be all that’s required of me. Especially because standalones have all the same trappings of a huge series that we love, just with less of the actual length. We still get outstanding characters, complex plots, excellent writing. Take Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson for example. Yes, Rogerson definitely could have drowned us in this world, left us there for sequels upon sequels, and I’m sure a lot of us would have clamored with joy. Instead, however, she neatly wraps a fully fleshed story into 450 pages that leaves me feeling satisfied.
Granted, I would also definitely be over the moon if she announced we got to see Elisabeth & Nathaniel again. But, at the same time, their story is drawn to such a cohesive & conclusive end that continuing on would feel wrong.
Thus, an advantage of a standalone is definitely that there’s not a huge commitment. I don’t feel this omniscient dread of “oh gods there are so many books left after this” like I feel when opening up a new Shadowhunters book. And a disadvantage would definitely be the opposite. That’s it for the world. As much as I would die to see Silas’ life unfold anew, we’re never going to, and that’s a bit sad.
Okay, not going to lie, duologies are my favorite. They’re my favorite to write and read, though I very rarely do either. Growing up, trilogies were my favorite, but I just love the ability to drop a cliffhanger at the end of the first book and then wrap things up neatly in the second book. Middle books are always hard, and it’s more fun to avoid them altogether and just have two.
Plus, I love the smallness of a duology, much like why I love standalones. There’s still not a huge commitment, and I know, while reading the first one, that all I’ve got left is one more. It heightens the anticipation, and it makes me want to fly through them. With longer series, I kind of settle in right away in the first book, like alright we’re going to be here for a while, but with duologies, not only am I amped right from the beginning, I stay that while right until the end. It just feels like 24/7 chaos, and it’s wonderful.
I do find that duologies tend to still be on the longer side, though, like instead of three 350 page books, we’ll just have two 500 pages books. And I’m actually a fan of this, as well. There are a heck ton of trilogies out there that could have easily been duologies, but we’re so brainwashed to think that trilogies are the best way to write that we try to stretch out stories too much. Many middle books are so meh because they’re really kind of unnecessary? There are some (Linger by Maggie Stiefvater) that really work as a middle book and are definitely necessary to the overall story, but there are others (The Wicked King by Holly Black) that could have been restructured very easily into slightly longer books to make a duology that would have ended up making them even stronger individual books.
So, talking about advantages, a longer book that takes time to flesh out a story instead of just bang bang bang a trilogy is almost always going to be stronger than just fighting for more books. A disadvantage, however, is when those longer books (Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy) could have definitely done better as a trilogy, but instead, one and a half books were jam-packed into too little space.
Gosh, sometimes I think about the House of Furies trilogy by Madeleine Roux, and I just don’t understand how we’re so lucky it exists, but how rarely people talk about it. GUYS. GO READ THIS TRILOGY. PLEASE. I’M BEGGING YOU. I truly don’t understand how amazing it is. Like. These books are just out there for general consumption, and y’all are sleeping on them. This is why Shakespeare wrote tragedies.
Am I being overdramatic? Not in the slightest. This series is the perfect example of a trilogy well done. Each book builds on the last one in a way that makes them absolutely dependent on one another. From Louisa’s character development arc over the course of each book to the unraveling (and absolutely wild) story line, every single scene, chapter, and book in this series needs to be there. Talk about one of the strongest middle books ever, I think I cried during Court of Shadows. And the series ending? I really don’t want to do it, but HASHTAG BLESSED.
There are a lot of reasons to love trilogies. I mean, they’re the general favorite for a reason. They didn’t just crop up one day and go, “hi! it’s me! your long lost love!” They’ve been around for a while, and though many of the very first books were standalones, some of the great classics that we think about now were trilogies. Granted, Tolkien wanted LOTR to be a single monstrosity, and not just the trilogy, but with The Silmarillion added in, but we still refer to it commonly as The Trilogy. You know exactly what trilogy of Star Wars is your favorite, too. (There’s only one right answer to this, sorry, that was a trick question.)
Trilogies allow us to fully unfold into an expansive, wide universe. Unlike standalones and duologies, authors can take the time to really sit back and get into the nitty gritty. This happens even more in longer books, and though we’re not going to talk about quartets or insanely long series, the same reasons mostly apply. We like longer series for the opposite reason of why we like standalones. We like the commitment. We want to dive into a seven-part journey. We want to come away feeling like these characters are our close, personal friends because we’ve been with them for so long.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear, but the advantage of a trilogy is definitely its length. There’s nothing like cracking open that first book knowing that you have two more to follow. However, the same applies for a disadvantage–it’s infrequent that trilogies actually need to be trilogies, and often, those that belong as a duology stretch themselves even farther into a quartet or more. And even when they do belong as trilogies, it’s a lot, and middle books are hard.