With science fiction increasingly dominated by multi-volume works I find myself more and more having to review volume X of Y. Sometimes, though this is far from as common as I would like, I actually get to review each volume in a sequence. I’m reviewing one such right now, and in the middle of writing up my review of the final part of one trilogy I found myself writing:
There is a three-act structure that we see repeated again and again in trilogies with but minor variations: in act one you build up the protagonist, make us cheer them on, until they seem on the brink of achieving some great goal. In act two, you knock them down again, so that our investment in their success turns into identification with their troubles and a sense of tension (because this structure is necessarily downbeat, because it is an entr’acte between two more positive acts, the middle volume of trilogies is often slower and less engaging than those that bracket it). In act three, you start the protagonist’s ascent once more, made to seem more tenuous because we now know what forces are arrayed against them, but also their eventual achievements are that much more worthy because they have come by overcoming troubles.
This does seem to fit so many of the trilogies I’ve read. It also fits longer single volume works (I’m thinking, for instance, of Spirit by Gwyneth Jones). Is this really a common pattern?