Today I wanted to discuss something that’s been playing on my mind ever since I read Six of Crows in December 2016, RIP my heart. Duologies.
As a two-part series, the duology is unique in its role as mediator between stand-alones and trilogies. It has the ability to split a story up into two cohesive, dynamic parts, without slowing the pace or diverging from the overall plot.
If done well, duologies are potentially the best types of series there is. They offer readers more content than a stand-alone and more time for character development, but there’s also no fear of the dreaded sequel slump and the plot doesn’t have time to go off on holiday to Syracuse. (It’s warm there this time of year.)
Two example of duologies done brilliantly are Six of Crows and This Savage Song.
The plot from Six of Crows continues smoothly into Crooked Kingdom and the character development is honestly some of the best I’ve ever read. Plus, both books have their own separate plot arcs that fit with the wider plot, meaning nothing feels jarring or out of place.
This Savage Song, meanwhile, sets up an incredibly dark world with nuanced characters fighting for control of a city, and this fight comes to a resounding culmination in Our Dark Duet. The Archived/The Unbound is another of V. E. Schwab’s duologies that’s been incredibly well received, and has enjoyed a gentle resurgence in sales over the past few years thanks to readers wanting to pick up her early work.
These are just two examples of popular duologies from the last few years, but there are plenty more. Of course, duologies are by no means a new thing; the word duology itself actually dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when it was created from ‘duo’ (Latin: ‘two’) and ‘trilogy’. The graph below shows how the word’s popularity has changed over time.
We can see there’s been an almost exponential rise in the word’s use between 1990 and 2010, which is paralleled by the increasing popularity of the fiction format. More and more authors, particularly in the YA genre, are publishing duologies rather than trilogies, quartets or stand-alones.
It’s making me wonder ‘why?’ Maybe because they offer a niche that trilogies and stand-alones don’t.
Duologies provide a two-part structure that holds detail and subtlety while still maintaining and plot integrity. They can give the depth of character development found in a trilogy, without the pitfalls of pacing loss and world fragmentation; they hold more content than a stand-alone simply down to the fact that have more time to expand on details that are sometimes missing from an individual book.
Duologies offer one story in two parts, two stories in one world, or the same story from two perspectives. (There are other variations on this, of course, but these are the main variations I’ve come across.) Their potential is in some ways more limitless than a trilogy because their fixed structure seems to inspire authors to explore the parameters of how much is truly possible within two books. This has resulted in some of the most genre-bending, character-fuelled, sagacious books I’ve read, and they’ve all been brilliant.
Other readers seem to like them a lot too; if you look on Goodreads’s list of popular duologies, there are some hugely successful and well-loved books on there. Perhaps the structure of two books, instead of one or three, just works better for some authors to tell their stories in the most fluid and captivating manner.
Publishing companies may also be playing a role in the popularity of duologies. It’s possible a small indie may be more likely to take a gamble on acquiring the rights to a books when there’s a clear outline for two novels, rather than for three, or six (or thirteen if you’re Robert Jordan). Equally, if a well-established publishing house thinks a pitch for a two-part story sounds good, they’re going to be more than happy to reap the profits from the sales of two books rather than one. As someone who (sadly) doesn’t work in publishing, I have no concrete evidence for this, but if duologies are becoming more popular it would make sense that publishing companies want to capitalise on that trend.
Interestingly, however, when I asked my Twitter followers which type of series they were more likely to start, the majority chose the trilogy.
The small sample size of this poll means this isn’t especially representative of the book community as a whole, but it does suggest that there’s a general trend for readers preferring trilogies when beginning a new series. I find myself agreeing, in part, because with a trilogy we get more time with our beloved characters and more drama can happen. But the duologies I’ve read have all been fantastic, so I could see myself leaning more towards that type of series in the future.
Trilogies are a tried-and-tested format that publishers, authors, and readers know work, and stand-alones will always be popular among genres such as non-fiction and memoirs. But however you look at it, duologies are on the rise and will continue to offer us something truly unique.
Do you prefer duologies, trilogies, or stand-alones? Are duologies becoming more popular in the book community? Let me know what you think in the comments!