A trilogy is a set of three works of art that are connected, and that can be seen either as a single work or as three individual works.
Per Wikipedia, page last modified 23 October 2010 at 11:14.
I note this because I’ve gotten some questions lately about my choice to make the Inheritance Trilogy three individual stories as opposed to the usual epic fantasy trilogy structure of a single story stretched over three books.
First, a clarification: the Inheritance Trilogy is a single story. It’s just not the single story of any human character.
Spoilers love you very much, plus long post is long:
I’ve mentioned before in interviews that I chose to pattern this trilogy after the structure of old-school epics — and by old school I don’t mean Tolkien, but Homer, and whoever first told/jotted down the sagas of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and so on. Most of those old epics consisted of multiple complete/separate stories, each focusing on a different episode in the hero or god’s life, and usually showing how the hero’s actions impact random people and places in various ways. But even in these old epics, there was usually a particular endpoint that the story was aiming for. Anybody who read the early tales about Achilles knew somebody was going to go for the heel eventually. (Homer Does Chekhov: if there’s a vulnerable body part on the mantle in act 1, it’s inevitably going to be stabbed in act 3.) Gilgamesh and Enkidu were always headed toward a sad end, regardless of how many monster butts they kicked or goddesses they annoyed, because they were both mortal and would someday die. Even in the sagas of the immortal gods, there’s usually some endgame predicted, even if it hasn’t yet come about — Ragnarok, for example. Cheery stuff like that.
Modern epic fantasies kind of shortcut all this — and lighten things up — by selecting a particular endpoint somewhere before the gloom of inevitable death (but after lots of exciting brushes with death), and sending the protagonist(s) toward it at a steady clip. It’s not always the same protag(s), granted, and the selected ending isn’t always a happy one… but modern times being what they are, books that do have the same protag(s) and happy endings tend to do better commercially. (The happy ending thing may be a particularly American addition to the modern English-language fantasy zeitgeist; us ‘Murcans does love our happy endings. The Brits seem a little more willing to go for the Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies endgame — but even there, it’s rare.)
There is a single set of protagonists in the Inheritance Trilogy: the gods. The mortals are protagonists too, note; it’s just that their protagoning (no, that’s not a real word) is limited to the local, immediate events that involve them specifically. The gods’ protag’ing is a little more, hmm, big-picture. But like the mortals, they have a rather obvious endpoint: the (possible) reunification of the Three, and by metaphysical extension the stabilization of reality. This reunification/stabilization could take many forms, though. We’ve already seen that individual members of the Three can be killed and replaced without causing the end of existence. We’ve also been told that there were other states of existence before the present one — Enefa’s early experiments with life, for example, which she apparently wiped out and started over from scratch more than once. From the gods’ perspective, it’s not a huge deal to reboot the cosmos. It is a big deal to reboot themselves, as with Nahadoth’s and Itempas’ respective dips into madness and back. And it’s a whopping huge deal if something transforms the whole concept of three gods — e.g., if one of the Three dies, or if the Maelstrom births a new god. Speaking of the Maelstrom, there’s really no knowing when or if It might develop a taste for a bit of the old Ragnarok, Itself. Unknowable entities do stuff like that, y’know.
It’s tough to make these kinds of events engaging by focusing on the gods’ perspectives, though — that perspective is just too remote from the everyday human experience. Which is of course why I’ve avoided that perspective thus far, even though the trilogy is ultimately focused on their actions. Orson Scott Card, in his excellent Characters & Viewpoint, notes that viewpoint characters are not always protagonists; the former are the eyes the reader sees through, but it is the latter whose actions drive the story. In the case of the Inheritance Trilogy, I decided that I wanted four specific story arcs: the three micro, or per-book, arcs; and the overarching story that covers the whole trilogy. The viewpoint character of each book is the protagonist of its microarc. But it is the gods who are the protagonists of the whole trilogy.
Aside from a brief dip into Nahadoth’s thoughts in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms — page 201 in the US trade paperback, if you missed it — and the last chapter of that book, every event we’ve seen has been filtered through the perspective not of the gods, but of the mortals most affected by the gods’ shenanigans. This changes in book 3, though; as many of you now know, The Kingdom of Gods will have Sieh as a viewpoint character and protagonist. Being a god himself, his story will be important on both a micro and macro level. (…Which is why book 3 was so damned hard to write. But that’s another story for another time.)
All this said, I could have made the Inheritance Trilogy a more traditional modern epic, if I’d wanted. All it would’ve taken was scaling down. That is, I could have focused solely on Yeine and the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but stretched those out over three books. This of course would’ve required the addition of subplots, more characters, and so on. Yeine would’ve had to face a series of stepped challenges along the way to the Arameri succession ceremony — one subclimax in books 1 and 2, followed by an uberclimax at the end of the third.
So in book 1 of this hypothetical trilogy, the challenge would’ve been to save Darr. Yeine could’ve struggled to raise enough capital to hire her own mercenaries, or maybe she would’ve only had time to scrape together the usual Five Man Band to parachute into Menchey and kill Minister Gemd. Then in book 2,
The Empire I mean Scimina Strikes Back, Yeine would’ve suffered some massive setback. Let’s say Scimina unleashes the Walking Death on High North and forbids the Enefadeh to cure it. Yeine would’ve sought help from the scriveners’ college, then maybe bribed or blackmailed Viraine into giving her the cure — thus leading to Horrifying Revelations about her mother, Viraine, her soul, and so on. I probably would’ve ended the second book on a melancholy note, since that seems to work well in these kinds of trilogies. Maybe kill off T’vril, maybe leave Darr an uninhabitable wasteland with only a handful of Darre surviving in secret somewhere; something like that. It’s important to establish the stakes around the midpoint of that kind of trilogy, so readers will know that the protagonist faces real jeopardy.
Then in book 3, Yeine would have to face
The Dark Lord Bright Itempas, which pretty much would’ve brought us back to the existing plot of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: Yeine would agree to the Enefadeh’s plan to use Enefa’s soul and the Stone of Earth to set them free, but things would go Horribly Wrong before the plan’s implementation. I’d have added a subplot about Yeine obtaining some demons’ blood in hopes of threatening Itempas — since we’ve seen as of The Broken Kingdoms that there are still demons in the world. But that would’ve been a red herring, in much the same way that the battle at the gates of Mordor in The Return of the King was a red herring for the real climax — Frodo and Sam reaching Mount Doom — of that trilogy. (I think Gandalf himself describes the battle as a diversion.) The real climax in this case would be not killing Itempas, which would be kind of a pyrrhic victory, but freeing Nahadoth, since he can at least balance Itempas. Naha’s freedom means there’s the potential for some sort of stability/stalemate to be achieved, though there’s the significant danger of their battle trashing the mortal realm in the process. But without Enefa, tenuous stability is as good as it gets.
So events would proceed to the succession ceremony in much the same way as they did in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but — big difference here — Yeine would not be the one to use the Stone.
See, this trilogy would not, could not, be centered on the gods. There’s no way to achieve the gods’ endgame — the reconciliation of the Three — on a human timescale, and certainly not within the two-week timescale of the first book. (If I expanded 100K into three books, I would lengthen this timeline, but not by much. Couple of years, tops.) Even if Yeine becomes a new Enefa in this scenario, Nahadoth would still loathe Itempas, and Itempas would still be a complete wackjob. At best I could end this with Itempas sentenced to humanity on the off-chance that he might heal, but the series would end before this could be confirmed — and given Itempas’ stubborn resistance to change, readers would be left with the distinct possibility that Itempas would never get better. If Yeine becomes a goddess at the end of the trilogy rather than at its beginning, there’s no way for the gods to achieve closure.
And under these circumstances, killing Yeine would be equally lacking in closure. For the heroine and viewpoint character to die at the big climax would mean a singularly unsatisfying ending. So as an alternative, someone else would have to set Nahadoth free, and die in the process. That person would have to be one of Enefa’s children and have possession of Enefa’s soul, and the character would have to hold major importance in the eyes of the readers, for best dramatic effect. No sense in offing Dekarta, the twins, or some redshirt. I would’ve had to kill Sieh.
Here’s how I envision it: Viraine goes to stab Yeine, and Nahadoth or Sieh — having figured out that Kurue betrayed them — stops him before this can happen. As in the existing version, Viraine becomes Itempas, Sieh and Zhakkarn jump Kurue, the twins attack each other, and the succession ceremony rapidly descends into chaos. Nahadoth and Itempas start fighting, though it’s pointless because Nahadoth is still a slave. Yeine is left with demons’ blood (per the subplot), the Stone, and a bunch of pissed-off relatives who dare not let her anywhere near the Stone.
So Sieh intercepts the ball. (Yeah, sorry, sports analogies aren’t my thing usually, but it fits here.) He drinks the demons’ blood to kill himself. Yeine then transfers Enefa’s soul into Sieh’s body, with appropriate drama and agony. This kills Yeine too, since she can’t survive without both souls. Sieh — now bearing the soul of Enefa — takes up the Stone and wills the Enefadeh free. He gives the Stone to Yeine, which brings her back to life. Then he keels over himself, since godlings can’t handle gods’ power much better than mortals can. The soul, I imagine, would return to Yeine, since there’s nowhere else for it to go.
But Nahadoth is free now, so Gods War II, Apocalyptic Boogaloo, ensues. But because Yeine is now undead, able to wield the Stone of Earth permanently (actually, she’ll die without it), she tells the boys to stop fighting, and they listen. They decide on a truce, since that’s really the only option that works out well for mortalkind — the human race really doesn’t want Nahadoth to take over as the new sole god of existence. The Arameri now become, not the servants of the gods, but the referees; in the future Arameri rulers will be charged with keeping Nahadoth and Itempas from each others’ throats. Then Yeine puts Relad and Scimina in prison for life, Nahadoth sentences Kurue to eternal mortality for her treachery (but at least she’s free to Walk the Earth), Dekarta regrets destroying Kinneth’s legacy and helps Yeine establish herself before he dies of old age, and then Yeine reigns over the world as Lady Arameri forever. Maybe Naha visits every once in awhile, though probably not, as Sieh’s death will have driven home that she’s not really Enefa. So Yeine marries a nice (wealthy, politically connected, Amn) boy and rules as she thinks her mother would have, not very happily ever after, though at least there’ll be peace. For awhile. Oh, and I imagine she’ll name her firstborn son Sieh. Or Enefa, since she’d have to pass on the soul as well as the Stone to whoever becomes her heir. The end, roll credits.
This isn’t a bad story, IMO. (Well, OK, I’m being a little facetious and silly here; the actual thing would’ve been more Serious.) But it definitely wasn’t the story I was interested in telling, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it ends with everybody miserable. Yeine will have become her worst nightmare, an all-powerful Arameri tyrant. She could never trust anyone else to wield the Stone, so she’d never be able to go back to her life in Darr. The gods will all still be pissed at each other; the mortal realm will still be stuck with a totalitarian regime; the world survives, but nobody wins. For another thing, it ends with the status quo upheld: Enefa’s still dead, the universe is still incomplete, and the Arameri are still in power even if Yeine’s the one wielding it. To keep the ending happy, I would’ve had to stop the narrative before the uglier endpoints that would inevitably come later: Yeine’s First Genocide; the inevitable next spat between Nahadoth and Itempas, which will kill off millions of people before the Arameri manage to cool the boys down; the eternal limbo of Enefa’s soul, which would never leave the mortal realm so long as the Stone exists.
And worse, the pieces of the story that I really wanted to explore — the theme of mothers and the legacies left to their children, for example — would’ve taken a distant second place to the usual epic-fantasy focus on MacGuffins, magic systems, and battles. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with these things; I want to emphasize that. I appreciate a good Dark Lord Smackdown as much as the next girl. But I wanted to do something different in this trilogy. Several different things, actually, and I think I managed to achieve some of them successfully. But there was really no way to do that, IMO, other than to play around with the traditional epic fantasy trilogy structure. So this is why my Inheritance Trilogy is the way it is.
* Aside from Paolini’s, that is.