Writing on Wednesday: May the Fourth Be With You!


So today I have to write about Star Wars. I have to. But there’s a problem with that. I’ve already written at length about the hero cycle in previous posts. Star Wars didn’t invent the mono-myth but it used the crap out of it. But there’s another thing the Star Wars movies did really well. And that was the trilogy format.

Trilogies are everywhere, but did you know they follow a formula? For the most part. Here’s how it goes.

Book one can stand alone if it needs to. It begins the story, introduces the world, and contains a complete plot arc. There’s an ending and a resolution, and all seems to be happily ever after except for a few dangling threads that could be shaped into a new book or movie. An exception to this tends to be in YA where it’s almost a given that the book will be a trilogy, so the first book will resolve a story, but there’s more than threads left behind. There’s huge questions that demand huge answers. As more authors are contracted for the trilogy as a whole, you’ll see more of those Divergent style endings, where everything wraps up, then boom.

But back to a traditional structure.

By book/movie two, the writer is confident in the fact that there’s going to be a third. This means books three and four tend to be a lot more entangled in terms of plot lines and arcs. Book two has an arc, but it could never stand alone. It needs the first book and the third. Consequently, book two tends to end in a hopeless, dismal, terrible state of despair. It also tends to start there. And linger there in the middle. The second book is where everything that can possibly go wrong, does.

Book three continues that trend for about the first half the book, then swings in an upward trajectory that wraps everything up and completes the arc.

Star Wars did an interesting twist with the trilogy in Episodes 1-3. They wrote what I consider to be the anti-trilogy. The second movie doesn’t plunge you into darkness and sad stuff, it ends with a wedding. It’s the bright shining happy spot in the series (I realize fans may disagree, but plot wise, they tried very hard to saturate the second movie with happiness). The third movie in a typical arc would have been the second.

I wonder what the next trilogy will bring. My theory is it will follow the formula of 4-6, but at every plot point make a different choice that throw a lot more shades of gray into the story arc than we’ve previously seen with Star Wars.

What do you think is coming next?


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