Tuesday Apr 27, 2021
Episode 59 - Is it a duology? You don't know!
Tuesday Apr 27, 2021
Tuesday Apr 27, 2021
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Episode Transcript (by TK @_torkz)
[Upbeat Ukulele Intro Music]
This is We Make Books, a podcast about writing publishing and everything in between. Rekka is a published Science Fiction and Fantasy author, and Kaelyn is a professional genre fiction editor. Together, they'll tackle the things you never knew you never knew about getting a book from concept to finished product, with explanations, examples, and a lot of laughter. Get your moleskin notebook ready. It's time for We Make Books.
Kaelyn: Did you get your second shot yet?
Rekka: We get it on Saturday.
K [mumbling]: Okay.
R: ‘Cause cool people get the vaccination.
K: You hear that kids? Be cool, get vaccinated.
R: Be Extremely cool. Be cool like me. [laughing] I don't know if that’s selling it but-
R: -that’s what i’m gonna go with.
K: I get mine May second. I got the moderna one so I had to wait four weeks and -
R: Mhm. Yeah, I get two weeks between mine [loudly] it depends on your publisher.
K: Speaking of things that come in part two-
R: Yep, speaking of duologies-
K: The covid duology, oh there we go.
R [overlapping]: Yes, well the vaccine duology, not the covid itself-
K [overlapping]: Yeah.
R: Because you don't wanna get covid and then long covid, that’s one duology. The duology I’m all about is the mRNA duology, let’s do that one.
K: We’ve got shots part two coming up here.
K: And you know, in many ways the vaccine is kind of similar to a duology. The first one’s the build up, the first one’s to get you a little bit of a taste there, get your immune system going like “hey, what is this? What's going on? What's happening?” and then the second one, that’s BAM, you know? like-
R: That’s when it all happens
K: - fully immune. Yeah and that’s [laughing] that’s why everyone’s getting sick from the second one.
R: Ugh yeah, I don’t think this metaphor’s gonna last us too much longer. But, we are talking today about duologies.
K: As promised.
R: Yes, we are following through on the promise, the commitment we made, to follow last episode’s trilogy discussion with a discussion of duologies, and why they are harder than the thing we made sound really hard.
K: Yeah, so. You know, last episode we talked about trilogies, and how trilogies can be really challenging, and one of the things we touched on was: if you’re really having a hard time with this, maybe you don’t have a trilogy. Maybe you have a duology. So, a duology, obviously, is a series of two books rather than a trilogy being three, although quadrilogies are becoming a thing now. Four books is getting super common. So, just to clarify some things here. If you’re going “I did not hear the word duology ever, until about a year ago, or so,” you’re right, you didn’t. [laughing] This wasn’t really a very common thing.
R: This wasn’t a thing, there was a book and a sequel but there wasn't a thing called a duology.
K: Yeah and by the way, let’s clarify this real quickly here, the difference between a book and a sequel, and a duology. A duology is a story split up into two books. A book and a sequel is, presumably, one complete story and then another complete story.
R: In the same world, usually featuring the same characters, spun off somehow.
K: Contractual finite book series are kind of a relatively recent thing. You know, for those of you who have been reading science fiction and fantasy for a long time - especially, you know, when it first started, you know, the trade paperbacks and the pulp and everything was really popular - will know that series, especially genre series - and not just science fiction and fantasy: mystery, murder, thrillers, spy novels, war novels -
K: - they tended to go on infinitely. Each book would be a standalone story, sometimes encompassing a bigger arc. Fantasy, this was very common, I mean, look at the Wheel of Time -
R: You could start a series, see success, and the publisher would just keep printing it because they felt like they were printing money.
K: Yeah, and a lot of times what they would do is: you’d get a book published, and you’d establish a, typically a main character or a world, or - maybe something like an overarching story plot -
R : or a concept at least.
K: Yeah, in fantasy that was a lot more common in this sort of epic quest that was just gonna keep going and going. Lord of the Rings is actually kind of unique, in that it was a specific trilogy published at that time. That wasn’t very common.
K: You know, these epic fantasies tended to just, they just kept writing and writing, and that's why so many of them have such complicated character family histories, a lot of world building, a lot of different races and imagined and created history in them. But anyway. Then you have some of these other series that, each book was its own individual story, and they just keep going.
K: That is not a trilogy or even a duology, even if it ended up being only two books. Trilogies and duologies have an overarching story that it’s gonna take three, two, four, however many books to tell. But with a duology - there’s a reason there aren’t a lot of these: they’re really hard to write. A lot of times when you have a duology on your hands, you’re deciding either: do I have a standalone, single book, or do I have a duology, OR, do I have this whole trilogy, or do I have a duology.
R: How much of this ends up being up to the author, and how much of it ends up being a way to market the story? Like, trilogy in general, I would imagine that an author comes in thinking: okay, I have this story and then I can see where it’s going from there and I can wrap it up in three, versus I have this story, is it too big for a book?
K: You kind of hit on something interesting there and something we talked about in the trilogies episodes, is: I have this story, is it three books? Remember what we said in the trilogies episodes, a lot of them - a lot of contracts are: “we’re buying the first book of your trilogy, and then the next two are contingent on sales.”
K: So the first book, typically, is somewhat a self contained story. It’s enticing you to the second and third books, but if that’s it, it's a satisfactory ending.
K: That does not happen with a duology. Duology -
R: You will not have a satisfying ending, got it. [giggles]
K: You are not gonna have a satisfying ending in the middle of a duology. There is an appeal in marketing for duologyies. Some people don’t want to commit years to waiting for the next book to come out. They just want two books to be done and come out and, by the way, that tends to happen with duologies. Because it’s one big story, you probably get it out faster. Duologies, when someone sits down to write them, you tend to write the entire thing, or at least do really good draft work on the entire story, because at some point you gotta decide where to stop the first book.
R: Can’t you just, like, divide the page number in half?
K: What I would do usually is drop it on the floor, pick up one page, and that was the end of the first book. [pause] Sometimes it was the fifth page into the book, it was really awkward. [laughing] but you know-
R [overlapping]: I was gonna say like, if I just picked up a stack of papers of a printed manuscript and dropped it on the floor, I think the cover page would be the first one I pick up.
K: Well, you have to throw it down the stairs so that it gets a nice -
R: Oh, you have to be specific about your method -
K: Yeah, yeah I’m sorry, you’re right.
R: - we’re supposed to be providing usable advice.
K: Stand at the top of the stairs, face backwards with the stair behind you. You take the unbound pages, throw them over your head, walk halfway down the stairs and pick up a page from the middle stair. And then that’s the end of the first book.
R: What if nothing settles on the middle stair?
K: You gotta get all the pages and do it again.
R: But you have to put them back in order first-
K [laughing]: Yeah, exactly.
R: - because otherwise it’s not authentic. Okay but joking aside, I think you were about to give us very good advice on how you do choose that moment.
K: Okay so, this goes to why duologies are so difficult to write because stories, traditionally, have a beginning, middle, and end. Anything that you’re telling somebody, be it what you ordered for lunch, or your epic road trip doing the Cannonball Run, is going to have a beginning, middle, and end. Granted, in one of them you end up in Los Angeles, exhausted and smelling funny, and in the other, maybe you have a disappointing sandwich from Subway.
K: But there is - so, in a duology, you’re not breaking this up into three pieces, you're taking something that is three segments and doing it in two. This is why they’re hard to write, because where does the “middle” of the story go? There’s some different schools of thought on this. One of the less popular, if you will, is that the first book of a duology is actually setting up the main story of the second. I don’t buy this. [chuckles] I don’t go along with that because -
R: Yeah, ‘cause that’s what you were sort of saying the trilogy does.
K: Exactly, yes. But also because it’s only two books, you've gotta get going here a little bit. You can’t make the reader think that they just read however many hundred pages of world building. The middle of a duology, in my estimation, should be at the of the first book. This is where everything should really pick up, and the plot and the stakes should be clear. If you finish the first book in a duology and do not have clear, compelling stakes, motivation, and reasoning behind the characters and what they were doing, that’s probably not a good place to end the duology. And if you’re going “well I don't get to that until this point,” maybe you don’t have a duology. Maybe you have a single book and it’s really long and you’ve gotta trim some stuff down.
R [laughing]: I thought you were gonna say “maybe you have a trilogy” and I was like wait a minute!
K [laughing]: No, no.
R: I feel like I’m stuck in an infinite loop!
K: No, but at that point, you may have a single book. And this is hard to - it’s hard to make that distinction of: “Is this a standalone single book or is this a duology?” So, what might make something a duology, why might you want to write a duology rather than a single book?
R: This is sort of what you're describing to me is that I’ve got like a 225,000 word story -
R: - and there are, as you described, as a failpoint in choosing where to split them, that there’s a lot of world building.
R: So what you seem to be describing to me is a book where the author really takes their time developing a world and developing concepts and digging deep into whatever the story elements are.
K: Yes, nailed it.
R: So where I break that is, I assume, where a smaller plot point that maybe had some big stakes is resolved but the overall story is not resolved.
K: I’ll give you the opposite of that, what about a point at which it’s escalated?
R: Well, of course by solving a thing, you’ve fucked up and made it worse.
K: Of course, of course.
R: Of course, so that’s - that’s the solve point, is that you didn't solve anything by completing the action you thought was going to solve things.
K: Yeah, so duologies have this weird balancing act where you can't backload the end of the first book and you can't front load the beginning of the second. The way these kind of work, and you have to remember that coming at this from the perspective of a reader, there are absolutely very successful books that the next in a series picks up and it’s just chaos and you get thrown right back into it. But frequently you've gotta build the story up again, you’ve gotta ease the reader back into what was going on, remind them of what was happening here, and then, typically reassess and recenter your story and characters. Because at the end of the first book, something should have happened that’s gonna require that they do that.
K: So, duologies are really great for when authors wanna take their time and give a lot of attention and detail to characters, to worldbuilding, to story arcs, to history. It’s taking a long story and breaking it up into two. And so if you’re wondering: well how come there's like 700 page books in the world, why -
R [chuckling]: Right.
K: Yeah, “why isn’t everything just one really long book?” There’s a few answers for that. One is that some publishers are going: “No one is going to just pick up your 700 page book and read this. We need to break this up into two books.” But the other is that in some cases, those giant 700 page books, they’re really just one story. And even though I keep saying a duology is one story, you’re telling it in two parts. So they each have to have their own story elements to them.
R: So there’s an intermission, the curtain drops, you feel like that could have been a mini play but it’s not over yet, you know, let’s come back to see where that cliffhanger leads us.
K: An intermission’s actually a really good way to describe it. You know, think of most plays that you’ve seen or even old movies like Gone With the Wind where there was an intermission. The intermissions are not typically dead smack in the middle of the story.
R: No, when you come back the story has changed -
R: - something has shifted. I think an example of this that everyone is probably fairly familiar with, at least from Spotify, is Act I vs. Act II of Hamilton.
R: Very very different experiences. Act I is energy, it’s building up, it’s all this hope, and then Act II is all this grief, and all this loss, and all this settling, and rediscovering hope. It’s very -
K [overlapping]: I was gonna say the Phantom of the Opera.
K: Act I is very mysterious and almost enchanting and like wow, you know, look at this.
K: Act II of Phantom of the Opera, you come back and you’re like, oh this Phantom is dangerous.
K: The tone of everything has shifted to this sort of fanciful “oh yes haha the opera ghost, oh this is such a funny, silly little inconvenience” to “this guy’s gonna kill all of us.”
K: So there’s renewed sense of urgency, the stakes are much more clear -
K: - and there’s -
R: There’s an immediate action that needs to happen in order to save someone’s life.
K [overlapping]: Yes. Exactly, yes, that’s what I was trying to articulate there.
K: So that is another good component of a duology is, by the second part of the story, something should have shifted.
R: And you gotta act right away, there’s no time to open up your world and introduce characters and all that kind of stuff, you have to get going.
K: The best duologies I’ve read have such a distinct difference between the first and second book, with what I think of the characters and how they’re behaving. If you Google “duology” right now, the first thing that’s gonna come up is The Six of Crows.
K: Part of the reason for that is because the Netflix series Shadow and Bone is being released two days after we’re recording this, and they’re incorporating elements from the duology into the trilogy. So, search engine algorithms being what they are... but I read the books; I thoroughly enjoyed them. The first one is very much a heist book. The second one is as well, but the stakes of it have been escalated to the point that it’s “oh, it’s not just that we’re stealing this thing that we want, we are now having to get stuff to save, not only ourselves, but a lot of other people from suffering a terrible fate.”
R: Yeah. You said it was hard though, but then you said it was just “picking a good spot in your book to split it,” so why is that specifically hard?
K: I think, where that becomes hard, is if you don’t know what you have on your hands. If you have -
R [overlapping]: So it’s more in the determination of whether you should split it, or -
R: - extend it or just publish as is.
K: Well, so there’s two components of this. First is identifying: do I have a duology vs a standalone book or a trilogy.
K: If you have a standalone book, and you’re like “well this is just gonna be long and that’s just how it’s gonna go,” then you write the book and that’s what it is. If you’re looking at this and going “I have a duology,” there’s something in there that is indicating to you that this is a duology rather than a standalone book. A lot of times that is that breaking point, so, sometimes finding the part where the first story should stop and the second should start isn’t that hard, but then actually digging down into it and making sure that you’re telling a compelling, engaging story in both parts, can be very difficult. Because you may say “oh this is the perfect part, the door has burst open, everybody’s gasped and we’re cutting it off there.” Is that the best place to end your story? Or do you go to the Pirates of the Caribbean route and reveal that it’s Captain Barbossa coming down the stairs at the end.
K: And intrigue the heck out of everybody else.
R: I feel like we could do a whole episode on reveals, so maybe we’ll -
K [laughing]: Yeah, maybe we will.
R: - just put a pin in that one ‘cause I wanna talk about that but let’s do that in another episode. Okay, so is that a matter of how much satisfaction you are willing to give your reader at the end of book one, versus just lopping it off where it is the most convenient between what is essentially the midpoint of an arc that can feel like a partial arc or a semi completed arc.
K: So I think with duologies, there’s a lot more leeway to, I don't wanna say mess with, but to play with -
R: [giggles] Be honest, we are messing with our readers. We are always messing with our readers.
K: [giggles] - to play with reader expectation because people who are reading a duology presumably understand that what they’re reading is part one of a story that’s gonna be told in two parts.
R: Do we know when we have a duology though? Is it made very clear when the first book is released? ‘Cause I don't feel like it is.
K: I think that’s a matter of advertising and publishing. Most duologies that I’ve come across, and by the way, this is very common now in publishing because they plan much farther ahead than they used to. The series are finite, you’re contracted for this much, so typically, before a trilogy or duology is actually released, the series already has a name, the books might say, you know, definitely in their description and Amazon and Barnes and Noble, if not on the book itself, book one of however many in the series or book one of the such and such duology, book two of the such and such trilogy.
R: I would say that there are as many new books on my shelf that do not indicate how big the series is going to be as there are that do.
K: Mmkay. But in Amazon -
R: In fact - well maybe in Amazon but you can only create series on Amazon when you have more than one book in it. You know what I mean?
K [overlapping]: Yes, yes.
R: So -
K: But in the description a lot of times it will say that, the cover copy could say that. Publishers sort of expect at this point that anybody who really enjoys a book or even things that they’re thinking of reading, they’re gonna go research it, and, if nothing else, the publisher will likely have something on their website or some description about how long the series is going to be.
R: You give the reader a lot of credit for researching a book.
K: When you go to pick up a book, and it’s clear that it’s a series, you don’t go and see how many books it’s gonna -
R: [overlapping] You think it’s clear that it’s a series, that’s the part I’m debating. I cannot tell you how many books I’ve picked up only to find out - I’ve got one right around here somewhere - I picked up this book -
K: [speech garbled through laughter]
R: Endgame by Anne Aguirre.
R: “A Sirantha Jax novel” is all it said on the cover. To me, that did not indicate that this was the last book in a six book series. I read the last book first.
R: And I read it anyway even though I figured out within a few chapters that it was the last book in a series. But I have done this my entire life. You’d think that, after a few, I would learn. So what is it that does not indicate anywhere on here, that this is a long running series, this is book six in a series? I picked it up because of the cover art. That is always what I do.
R: And there was nothing on this to indicate it was book six out of six. That - it was called Endgame and I did not understand that it was endgame of the series.
K [laughing, overlapping]: Yeah, I’m starting - I’m starting to think that -
R: So you may be doubting me, but I’m just saying, I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, I would like to think.
R: But on a bookstore shelf, this was the only one there, the bookstore didn’t put out the other books next to it, you know? So why was I supposed to know that this was from a series? There’s literally nothing on here that says “by the way, you picked up a book that’s part of a series, you might wanna go check out book one.”
K: Well, I will say that’s bad marketing and bad work on the publisher’s part.
R: But I wasn’t exposed to the marketing, other than the cover. I was not exposed to the marketing, this was before I started writing and publishing. So -
K: But the cover is marketing.
R: No, I understand that. The cover is product design and marketing, just like the box for a microwave would be. So yes, this was supposed to be marked as book six. If I had seen “book six,” I might have looked for book one. But Ace Science Fiction, an imprint of Penguin, did not deign to make any sort of indication on the outside, presumably because they thought it was pretty clear because of course you’ve heard of Anne Aguirre and of course you have heard of the Sirantha Jax novels by then. But I hadn’t, so I picked up book six in a series and I read it without any backstory, and I really did feel rather dumped into a world that other people knew about.
K: How was it?
R: Um. It was fine.
K: So, here’s what -
R [overlapping]: Some things were not my mode but that’s okay.
R: It’s still in my shelf so it can’t be that bad.
K [laughing]: Okay, fair. Yeah, listen, the - how do you know that something is a duology, a trilogy, a what have you?
R: And is your publisher making the conscious choice to not indicate that?
K [overlapping]: That’s very possible-
R: - do they think they are indicating that, you might wanna run it by your grandma or -
R: - somebody who hasn’t -
R: picked up a book off a shelf apparently without ever failing to pick up the third book in a series.
K: You did tend to to do that quite a lot.
R: I did it a lot as a kid, I think - I picked up The Babysitter’s Club at book number twenty-four and I guarantee you that bookstore had all of them.
K: Wasn’t that all like, standalone stories, kind of, though?
R: Well they were procedural in that every book started with the main character’s POV introducing all of the babysitters in the club, and giving them some tidbit to characterize them that was also a little bit of backstory from one of the other episodes, and - I mean they really were episodes, they were not so much sequels as episodes - and then you’d go into the meat of the story, and everything would return to normal, there might be small developments and like, there was continuity through the books but the characters got older, they added new babysitters to the club, some left, you know, stuff happened and then it didn’t unhappen at the end of the book. But even though, yes, any book would have been an entry point in the series, I guarantee you I just picked up a book from the middle of the long, very uniform looking line of Babysitter’s Club books, and this one was about a cat, so -
K: Aw, kitty. [giggles]
R: - I got that one. ‘cause Tigger ran away and was missing -
K: Aw :(
R: - so that was the first book I read out of that series! And then I read them a lot, this was my first experience with sequels, so it’s no wonder that I have no problem imagining that you would stick with a world forever and ever and ever and never write anything else. But I also read the rest out of order.
R: Like I had no respect for the concept of “oh! I should go back to the beginning and read forward,” that - I read number ten and then I’d read number eighteen, then I’d read number two; I just didn’t care. So it’s interesting to me, like, yes that was me at age twelve -
K: Well, also -
R: - that was very different from an adult reader, but as an adult reader obviously I have continued this. The Chanur saga, I think I read book two before I read book one, I didn’t care. Plus, if the book’s written well enough, you get introduced to it and you don’t lose anything for not reading the first one first in a series, an intentional series, but here we come back to the idea of duology; if you pick up book two in a duology, you have missed some shit.
K: Yeah, and I completely disagree with you, and this may just be -
R: [laughing] Of course you do.
K: No, this may be just a compulsive thing on my end: I can’t not read a series from the beginning.
R: No, see, I am completely all about my organizational tics, but for whatever reason, growing up, reading books in order was not a big deal to me. And I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was not aware that if I asked the bookseller to get me book one because I was picking up book two and I wanted to start from the beginning, that I would have it pretty soon. Like, in my head, that would be -
R: - weeks and weeks and weeks of waiting. Plus, in my head, it probably cost more. Like I thought I would have to pay for shipping, I thought I would have to pay for a book that would, like he’d charge me twice as much just because I wanted it.
K: And see that’s just -
R: And also I would have to speak to a human and ask for something which I was very much not all in for, so.
K: And this just goes to show how funny and different we were as kids, because I remember there were book series that, I would go to the library and I would - this is, I’m about to demonstrate something about myself that I have kept secret - I’ve read all of the Wizard of Oz books.
R: Oh, cool! I always meant to.
K: And - they’re interesting. [chuckles] and my library didn’t have book seven, out of, like I think there’s like ten or twelve of them in the series, and I had to get it from my county’s huge central library, and my mom was like “well, just get book eight!” and I was like I can’t, I can’t do that, I will wait two weeks for that book to get here -
K: But something like - okay, well, getting back on track [chuckles] here, something like The Babysitter’s Club, as you said, each book - the reason the POV character is introducing everyone is there’s a lot of books in this series. The Boxcar Children was like that; the first one is about a group of relatively young children running away from some abusive family member and deciding to live in an abandoned boxcar in the forest, and then eventually their wealthy grandfather finds them, and then every other book is about them solving mysteries [laughing].
R: Oh! Okay.
K: The first book is like a weird survivalist book and then every other one is just them [through laughter] travelling with their grandfather and solving mysteries.
R: At least the continuity is intact.
K: But with duologies, we’re gonna assume that this is a known duology - and I couldn't find any example of this, I swear I did look - a duology that started out intentionally a duology but then became a trilogy after book one was published. I couldn’t find any examples of it, I’m sure it’s happened but, in theory, especially in publishing and especially with contracts being what they are now, you’re going to have - especially for a duology - a contractual set of the books that are going to be in it, the two books. You may even have some specifics in there about book one: this stuff has to happen, book two: this stuff has to happen. Publishers are a lot more hands on with these kinda things now, because before it was just like “cool, you got another one? cool, you got another one? Alright, let’s get the next tale of the otherworldly alien investigator who came to Earth to find the stolen gem of her people but solves mysteries along the way.”
K: So, with a duology, and with where the middle of this is, and what you can play with with reader expectations. I would say you absolutely have a little more leeway. “What if they don’t know it’s a duology?” Well, that's on the reader. I don’t - there’s no good answer -
R: Or is it on the publisher and their marketing department? [laughing]
K: Or that. The thing is that you could stick right on the cover: Book One of the, you know, We Make Books Duology. Maybe someone doesn’t read it, there’s no way to make everyone understand what this series is going to look like. I never buy a book before I know, you know - is it a trilogy that I’m getting myself into here, is it a duology, is this just gonna keep going on and on forever? I understand not everyone’s like that, most people are far less - what’s the word I’m looking for here - less fussy than I am. [laughter] Some people are just pure chaos like Rekka, who walk into bookstores, pull something off the shelf, and just go “look’s good!” [laughter]
R: I’m here for a good time!
R: Look, I’ve found a lot of books I liked that way.
K: Yeah! No, that’s great.
K: But I remember going to Barnes and Noble back when I was in high school and college and we used to hang out there, and they would always have the table of the $5 books -
K: If they didn’t have books one and two and this was just book three, I wasn’t gonna pick it up and read it because I needed to know how it got there [laughing]. I think with duologies, you definitely have a little bit more room to play with that because the understanding is that this is more like a first and second act. And the reader should understand that: “you’re being presented half of a story, the second half is coming.” And there’s a difference between having halves of a story versus having to present a whole coherent story like you have to when you get into trilogy mode. Because if you’re breaking up a story into three parts, the first part is going to be really dry if you’re just telling one long, giant story.
R: Yeah ‘cause that’s set up still, that’s just pure set up.
K: Yeah. Find a 700 page book. Go to page - what would it be? - 233 and, in that area, decide if you think that’s about a good place to end a first book that seems like a good story has been told. Now conversely, I would say that picking up a 700 page book and going in the middle could go either way. Depending how the story’s structured, maybe that is an interesting middle-halfway-stopping point. There’s a good chance that it’s not because standalone stories tend to be backloaded.
K: Most of the action, adventure, and intrigue, happens in the last third of the book.
R: I would even say -
K: Last quarter?
R: Last quarter of the book, yeah.
K: How do you know if you have a duology vs a trilogy vs a standalone book?
R: Someone tells you.
K: [laughing] You know what? Honestly, that might be the answer.
K: That really might be the answer.
R: Please, someone tell me!
K: An agent, a publisher, a good friend who reads your stuff might say: “This isn’t a standalone story, this is two books.” You know, with a trilogy it’s a little easier. Are you having trouble filling the middle book? Are you having trouble figuring out what’s gonna happen in book two, and are you just coming up with stuff because you need to create -
R: A third book, yeah.
K: - about 300 pages of content so that you can get to the third book? That’s a good indication that maybe you don’t have a trilogy, maybe you have a duology. For a standalone book, it gets a little harder. One is length. There aren’t a lot of 700 page books published anymore and, depending on the genre you’re writing in, there might be none of them. Fantasy tends to have a little bit more tolerance for that kind of length -
R: We wouldn’t have the phrase “doorstopper” in our current lingo if they weren’t really happening anymore. I think they are still happening. Like you have Jenn Lyons.
R: Jenn Lyons writes some big books and there’s like, five of them [giggles] in a single series.
K: But you brought up a very interesting point: why we have those doorstopper books. Because, for a publisher - first of all, a duology however many years ago, even a decade ago, that was not a very common thing.
K: But if you had a long story, and especially if the publisher was uncertain about it, it was cheaper and less of a risk for them to just do a giant run of one big book, rather than two smaller or three smaller ones.
R: Okay. Because you lose readers as you go further down the series.
K: Well you lose readers, but there’s also overhead.
K: It’s cheaper to publish one giant book than it is to publish two smaller ones.
R: Right because you need cover artists, you pay the printer for each one of those sets, you print a minimum quantity for each of those, yeah. No, I’m not arguing that with you, I’m just saying like -
R: - one of the considerations is also to be: how will you be able to earn that back if you lose 20% of the readers each sequel down the line.
K: Yeah, exactly. There’s a lot of factors in why publishers might say, “nope, this is just gonna be one giant book.”
R: No, there’s one factor: it’s money.
K: There’s a lot of factors that go into the money factor. [laughing]
R: The accountant is taking many things into consideration.
K: Yeah [laughing]. Touché, Rekka.
K: But, if you’re writing this story and there is a lot of stuff happening in the first half of the book that is then still not resolved when you’re getting towards the end, you might have a duology on your hands. Now granted, you may be like: “Oh well it’s only 180,000 words.” Well, yeah, maybe you gotta write a little more and flesh this out a bit. The times that I see books where I tell myself this should have been a duology - or authors that I’ve spoken to - are when I'm having trouble keeping track of everything that’s going on because you’re packing too much into this. The best case for a duology is when the reader is feeling like they’re being bombarded with information without proper time to absorb it and apply it to the story.
R: So are you squeezing everything into one side or the other of the fold which is the tear that becomes the intermission in your duology.
K: Yes, exactly.
R: That’s the official term for it.
K: Yeah, and look, there’s - thankfully in publishing, there’s no standards, there’s no ‘we always do it this way’, ‘if you have this then it’s this,’ no one is going to go: “Sorry Random House, you’re not allowed to publish a 700 page book.” They can publish whatever they want, so if they -
R: I mean there is a point at which the book is structurally unsound because it’s more spine than cover.
K: [laughing] Yes, alright, fair, fair.
K: You have leeway, and publishers have leeway for this, and really, there is no correct answer except: what serves the story best? How is this best told? How are you best engaging the reader? In some cases - I’ll use The Six of Crows as an example. I don't think that book works if you take the two halves of that, smoosh it together, do a little creative bridging in the middle, and just present it as one giant book. It doesn’t work. The tone shift between the two is so important that there’s intermission and that you come back and you’re like: “Oh boy, what’s gonna happen now?”
R: Okay, so is that - do you think that’s a critical part of it? Do you have to do that, or you think it just happens naturally because you’re taking a break from one story and coming back with the second piece?
K: I think it tends to happen naturally but, at the same time, this is kind of going into what we were talking about last episode with book two of a trilogy which is: you can’t tell the same story all over again. So presumably at the end of book one, enough has happened to the characters and the story arc where things have changed. So, by virtue of that alone, book two is going to be different.
K: I’ll make the argument, in a trilogy the same thing’s gonna happen. The tones of the books as the progress should be getting more urgent or darker or more mysterious, hopeful, whatever you’re building towards -
R [overlapping]: Sort of like an adventurous story to a, like the fate of the world -
R: - literally the fate of the souls of the world are at stake.
K: The stakes should be being escalated, the characters should be very clear in their motivations. The plot should be very clear cut at that point and there should be a clear point to which the characters, the objects, the McGuffins, the story is moving towards at that point. The end of book one, the reader should have a very good idea of what the objectives are of book two. Now if they work out that way or not, that’s up to the reader, you know, maybe throw a twist or a loop in there or something, and the plan never goes according to plan because plans shouldn’t go according to plans in books -
R: Right. Right.
K: But the reader should have an idea of what they’re in store for in book two. Even if it’s not how that ends up going, the characters should be telling them: “Okay, we've gotta do this.”
R: Mhm. Aaaaaand cut.
R: “We’ve gotta do this, and we’ll see ya in a year.”
K: Well, you know, duologies tend to come out a little closer together because, as I mentioned, the overall story is frequently written at the same time. And then maybe - okay you’ve done a lot of work on the first book to get it published and now it’s time to do that, but a lot of times it’s written already, it exists -
R: Whereas they really throw writers out and to the wolves for their trilogy like, yeah, we’ve signed you up for a trilogy, how’s that coming? “Uhhh, I don’t really know how it’s gonna end? But it’s great?”
K: You also get all of these contradicting things of: don’t tell them you’ve written all three books already; no, tell them so they know that they’re done; okay, but we just really want book one to have a nice conclusive ending, so I’m gonna need you to rewrite the end of that and then retool the beginning of the first two and figure how that’s gonna fit into the third.
R: And you better hope that the first two sell well, or you don't get to see the third.
K: Writing’s hard.
R: Yeah, so that’s a big part of it though, I never considered that when you sign a duology, you might have already talked to the publisher about where the pair of books is going to go.
K: Yeah, nobody writes a duology with the understanding of: “You need to have a nice neat ending for book one. [laughing] We’ll see how that -” I shouldn't say no one, I’m sure it’s happened. But I would argue in that case that that’s not really a true duology; that’s more of a couple standalone books.
R: So a short sequel run -
R: - of a single world.
K: Yeah, exactly.
R: So, going back to your definitions then.
[happy go lucky ukelele music]
Rekka: [sing-song] Definitions!
Rekka: And listeners, Kaelyn doesn’t know what I did with that, so don’t tell her. So I think we need to reset our definition because you were defining it earlier in the episode and, to a degree, it felt like you were defining it as a single story divided in two pieces, and then later you said it was not a duology if it’s not a single story, but then, kind of maybe it is? I’m a little confused, so start over.
Kaelyn: SO definitions of duologies and trilogies. The actual definition of them is: “however many stories - two, three, four - of related work in a group.” So this might be the same story, the same world, the same characters. What they typically do is they say: “If you’ve written three books, they’re all about an alien investigator but they’re all individual stories” - Alien Investigator Trilogy. Duology, same thing. Technically any three books or any two books or four books, or whatever you wanna call it, is a “that.” Now, at a certain point - and I don’t know where this point is - I think you stop applying the duo- tri- quad- etc. to it and it just becomes a series. Now, from my side, what really defines a duology or a trilogy is the intent of the overarching story plot. That you didn’t just write three books because you had three stories in you so it ended up being a trilogy. You didn’t just come up with two stories and now it’s a duology.
K: There’s some - I won’t say argument about this, but I think it’s something that we see more in publishing now, that if you're contracted for a trilogy, the presumption is going to be that the trilogy is three books explaining a single story. It’s a single story arc. It may take a long time to get there, but -
K: - if they’re signing you up for three books that’s in the same world but not in the same story arc, that’s a three book contract, that’s not a trilogy contract.
R: Okay, fair.
K: So that’s the distinction I would make. That said, by broad definition, duologies - trilogies, we’re just obsessed with the number three?
R: It’s a nice balanced number, you know?
K: Yeah. Three and seven. But I think this goes back to the ease of the beginning, middle and end. And that’s where I think trilogies and duologies really shine through is this intentional story of : It’s gonna take me this long to do it versus just writing books and however many you end up with, adding that number label to it. I would say, something like a duology contract vs a two book contract, and I don’t know that I’ve ever really heard of two book contracts unless [laughing] it’s a duology.
R: But I have seen a lot of contract announcements, book sale announcements lately that said: “So-and-So’s Title plus an unnamed future book.”
K: Yes, but those would likely be standalone books.
R: Right, but it’s still a two book contract.
K: Okay, fair.
R: As opposed to just saying future works -
K: Yes. [laughing]
R: You know what I mean?
K: Yeah. And so by the way, what we’re talking about here - and I know we’ve touched on this in previous episodes, specifically the contract ones - a lot of times if you sign on with, sometimes an agent, usually a publishing house and they really like what you have and think you have the potential to grow a fanbase, they’re gonna try to lock you down. So they’re gonna say: “Cool, you’re gonna write a trilogy and three books to be named later.” It’s like signing athletes to multi-year contracts, a lot of times you have to take a chance on somebody after college or, sometimes in the NBA, right out of high school. You don’t know how they’re gonna perform, they’re gonna need training, they’re gonna need help. So you have to put the time and investment into them and you wanna make sure that if they turn out to be really good they’re not just gonna go “Hey thanks but I’m gonna go to New York because they’re gonna pay me twice as much as you did.”
R: Right, right, now that you’ve proven yourself. Now it’s good if you get a multi book contract from a single publisher and maybe your debut launch isn’t as strong as you hoped, and it takes two books to kinda gain some traction. That’s good for the author but -
R: Like we said, if the other team would have paid you twice as much, now you’re stuck selling your book for debut prices. Which, okay yes, we’ve all heard about the debut windfalls, but debut authors don’t typically make a whole lot of money.
K: [overlapping] Yeah, there’s a reason you hear about them, it’s because they’re a big deal.
R: Yeah, it’s ‘cause they’re outliers -
R: - much like all things we make a big fuss over, ‘cause we love a rags to riches story.
K: Yeah, so that’s why my clunky - and this is personal, sort of clunky definition of this - but I would say that that is certainly the trend of where you’re seeing these definitions in publishing is: if you’re signed on for a trilogy, the understanding is that it’s going to be a three book story arc, if it’s a duology, it’s gonna be two.
K: When Rekka and I are finished here, I’m going to go sit down, pour myself a glass of wine, and finally try to finish the fourth book of The Ember and the Ashes quadrilogy. That’s one that I really thought was a trilogy, and I don’t know what happened there, I don’t know if it changed and they were like -
K: - “ah we’ve got more story to tell here” -
R: They got you, too. [giggles]
K: Yeah, they did get me on that one and I had to wait for quite a while for that book to come out and I just, I need to sit down and get into it, you know? [laughing]
R: Alright, well let’s wrap it up. What the heck are we talking about when we say it’s harder? Did we give concrete advice on how to tell? And you can say, like, yes, I feel like I did.
K: I feel like I did and I think I didn’t because sometimes, as you mentioned, someone else is gonna have to tell you. I think it’s easier to tell if you’re working on a trilogy that, maybe it’s a duology. Because I think when you’re hitting a wall with the trilogy, trying to come up with ways to fill the middle, that’s a good indication that you actually have a duology.
R: And now that’s gonna be harder to write because you said so.
K: [laughing] Yes.
R: Congratulations, you just leveled up.
R: You had a hard time filling a middle book, now you’re gonna somehow make it worse by trying to fit everything across the divide of an intermission between two books.
K: [laughing] Yeah and, to go back to what I said -
R: So you’re welcome.
K: To go back to what I said about the standalone, I think a good indication there that you may have a duology on your hands, is if you feel like you’re sprinting through information, and you’re feeling like you’re having to take things out to stay within whatever you consider to be a reasonable word count. If you feel like there’s more story there - and writers, I know you always feel like there’s more story there - if you feel like you can’t tell the story and that it’s going to be confusing, or that it’s going to lack context or information or character development or anything, that’s a good indication that you might have a duology. Because what that’s indicating is that you have a lot to show the reader, and duologies give you great room to do that.
R: So here's a thought I just had.
K: Uh oh.
R: You mentioned word count.
R: So if you’re drafting, you don't know how many words you’re gonna end up with necessarily. Is this a decision you make during revisions?
K: Listen, there’s no definitive “this is a duology” time.
K: No one’s gonna bring you into a room, put the Sorting Hat on you and go: “Duology!” [laughing]
R: So it’s not going to suddenly smack you in the head.
K: Some people absolutely set out to write duologies. They say: “I have a story that I am gonna tell in two parts.” Some people draft the whole story and go: “This is too long for a single story, or this is too short for a trilogy, maybe I have a duology.” I feel like with duologies, unless you set out to intentionally write one, you're going to have to figure it out organically somewhere along the writing process.
R: Here’s another thought.
K: You’re just full of these today.
R: Yeah, sorry about that. I will stop, next time I won't have a single one, I promise. We’ve been mentioning word count a lot as the moment where you realize you might have too much or too little, but could it also be story elements?
R: In that, I could wrap up some of these plot elements in one book, but not the whole thing, and that there’s an equal, if not mathematically equal, number of plot elements that could wrap up if I kept going in a second book. I mean, basically, it’s all magic, right?
K: Yeah, absolutely. There’s no definitive answers here unfortunately, like so much of this. I hope if you’ve been listening to this podcast this whole time and you have come here for somebody telling you: this is how it always is, you figured out a while ago that you’re in the wrong spot.
R: Or that you still have to trust our word. Just grab a big glass of wine and go read a book. It may or may not be the last in the series, we don’t know. Nobody knows!
K: We don’t know, nobody - what is even time by now? [laughing]
R: Alright, so duologies are hard, trilogies are also hard, standalone books are hard. Have I covered it?
K: Everything’s hard.
R: [overlapping] Got it. Okay, cool. We did it.
K: But they’re all hard for different reasons. [laughing]
R: Oh, now I get it. Okay.
K: Yeah. Yeah.
R: Now I get it, alright. So the point is: you write the story. Hopefully, either you know how many books you’re supposed to end up with and you can calculate out from there how you’re gonna write the story. Or you write the story and you break it up into the number of books it demands that it should be.
R: Or that your publisher demands that it should be. [chuckling]
K: My advice to people always is: write the story. Just write it. Then take a step back and see what you have.
R: [overlapping] Then do the math.
K: There’s no formula for this, there’s no ‘this must happen at this time.’ If I had astounding amount of money to just throw away at whatever, I swear I think I would hire people to select books from different genres and map out common elements of them and put them into some sort of excel spreadsheet where I could make a nice pivot table, and see where these common element points occur, and I guarantee you almost none of them would line up.
R: Okay, I know there’re people who would disagree, but we’ll have to have a debate episode sometime.
K: [laughing] Excellent, excellent.
R: So, wrapping it up, write a damn story. It’s gonna be hard enough to get it published anyway, don’t worry about it.
K: It’s gonna be hard enough just to write the thing!
K: So just write it and then work from there!
R: [overlapping] Okay-
K: Tell the story you want to tell.
R: - so with that sage advice, I probably shouldn’t tell you that you can find us on twitter and Instagram @WMBCast and on Patreon.com/wmbcast, which you are definitely not gonna want to support after listening to this one.
R: But it would be helpful if you could leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, and remember to subscribe using whatever podcast app you like. And we will see you in two weeks with another poorly formed episode discussion. Thanks everyone.
K [laughing]: Thanks everyone.
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