My shelves are packed with trilogies, quartets and series. I’ve even got a few prequels. Especially when they’re about beloved characters. Give me at least three books and, if you get me hooked on the first, you’re guaranteed to have me reading the third.
I like to linger in a world, see the sights as well as poke about in the corners. What’s more, I’m still likely to remember what happened in book two by the time I’ve reached … say … book seven. Even if a number of years separate when I read them. I think that’s probably why I enjoy the longer series.
On the other hand, Trudi Canavan wrote a good prequel with Magician’s Apprentice. The war it’s about is mentioned in the first book of – as well as a number of times within – the Black Magician’s trilogy. David Eddings does the same with the Belgariad Series and the two prequels Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress. But then, he’d ten books to weave back-story hints into.
Thing is, what with my desire to have an actual ending at the end, I’m often left with choice number Four. There’s one big downside to that choice, unless your second threat leads to a blending of numbers, you can’t keep adding new threats.
Okay, you can, but after a while, unless done right, you can run the risk of … well … of looking like you’re trying to get too much mileage out of those characters and your readers are going to get tired of it. Monster-of-the-day might work well on TV, but it takes a little longer than thirty minutes to read a novel.
Continuity. This is the big one that everyone understands needs to be watched. Things like if Person A needed an elaborate spell to contact Person B in book one, then, unless something major happened at the end of the story, that’s what needs to be done in book two.
Yeah, you could have them ‘just be more powerful’ at the beginning. Person A might have trained majorly while we weren’t looking and is now so much better. It’s been done but, being someone who likes to see them improving, I’m not a fan of this route.
And, often, little errors are brushed aside. Say Person B sneezed every time he went near a horse, yet in book two they’re suddenly able to ride them without a sniffle and, often, with no explanation. I smell convenience and it reeks.
Character. All that moulding to make those words feel like the lives of ‘real’ people seems to waver, or gets dropped, in favour of plot or newer characters. I’m sure it’s not a deliberate choice, but just because I know who the older people are and what they’re like doesn’t mean I don’t want to see them evolve further.