If writing a book is having a baby, writing a trilogy is having triplets. I can’t recommend it, but if you’re going to do it, best to do it the first time around, when you don’t know better. Future babies will seem like a breeze in comparison.
I didn’t know better when I began GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE. Written in a flurry of two months, the story unfolded quickly and beautifully. It wasn’t until I was hip deep in the Southern Sea, so to speak, that I realized the story was bigger than a single book.
So how do you decide a trilogy is in order? Unfortunately, they don’t offer brain scans or heart scans, as the case may be, to determine if you’re carrying a singleton, a trilogy, or heaven help you, something more.
Three questions can help:
- How many books will it take to tell this story?
- Do I have a well-developed arc for each individual book?
- How can I end each book in a way that is satisfactory, yet leaves the reader longing for more?
It’s important to have a cohesive plan for a trilogy. Just as a single book needs a story arc—a beginning, middle, and end with well-developed characters, conflicts, resolutions, and themes—a trilogy needs an overarching form to carry the reader though each book from beginning to end. Know your story arc and make sure each book fits into that arc. Daily Writing Tips offers a simple explanation of an 8-point story arc (http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-structure-a-story-the-eight-point-arc/). A good trilogy will contain books that combine to create a solid arc, each one containing its own well-developed arc.
All this talk of “well-developed” things might be making you squirmy. If you’re a pantser who cringes at the very mention of outlines, post-it notes, and character interviews, preferring to start writing and see where the story takes you, please know that much of this development can be held in your head. By the second book of the trilogy, which was written in dual point-of-view, I personally found a loose outline to be helpful, primarily to ensure balance between my point-of-view characters, to keep the chronology intact, and to remind myself of scenes I knew I would need to write in order for the story to unfold as desired. Sometimes, the outline was a place to tuck bits I’d written, but wasn’t ready to use in the manuscript. The outline, I should mention, was heavily edited throughout the entire process. Most of the developing happened in my head while shuttling kids to various activities and, um, during the offertory at church. Oops.
Continuity is key, so even if you aren’t the outlining type, you’ll want to watch out for inconsistencies. A rough map will help keep geography straight, whether you’re writing fantasy or contemporary fiction. A calendar could be handy, as well. Your characters will have annual occurrences and celebrations, and it would be awfully embarrassing to recognize them out of order in the second book. I didn’t make a character chart for the Chasmaria Chronicles, but I’d recommend making a simple chart with a few notes on each character’s physical appearance, personality quirks, and anything you might want to remember as you write the character into your story. Understand that each one of these characters ought to change over the series, not only because of your stellar plot, but because they are likely years older in the end than they were in the beginning. Another tip for keeping everything in order is to leave yourself comments in your manuscript of plot points you need to carry into future books or details you might need to compare with previously written material. You don’t have to have everything plotted and charted and outlined and pinned to your Pinterest board (a time trap I’ve avoided thus far), but taking notes on what you’re doing can prevent you from accidentally changing someone’s eye color or making a woman carry a baby for eleven months, only to give birth in a bog five hundred miles from the desert she stood in the middle of yesterday.
If a trilogy sounds like a lot of work, it is. It’s an act of faith, too, writing three books in the hope that someone will want to publish the series. You have to believe in your story, three times as much as if you were writing a single book. You will be immersed in a world of characters no one else has met. You will worry no one will ever meet them and that, if they do, they won’t love them as you do. The payoff, of course, is phenomenal. When those books come out, each one unique, beautiful, and fitting perfectly with the others…
Triple the work, triple the joy.
Somewhere in the final stages of publishing the final book in the trilogy, CHILD OF THRESH, a voice that sounds like Chasmaria whispered, “This is it. You brought us to the end. Thank you. Goodbye.”
“I left doors,” I whispered back, thinking of the places I’d created to sneak back into Chasmaria, to take Slate, Ezekiel, Laurel, Oath, or even Berth by the hand and tell a new story, an old story, a story that links me once more to this world in which I spent so much time and into which I poured so much heart.
They smiled, waved goodbye, returned to their business. I let them go, content to wait to tell their unwritten tales, and I swore to myself, whatever doors open in the future, I will NOT tackle another trilogy.
In the silence of their absence, I hear another voice, another girl. This one isn’t trying to find her way across a vast, wild country terrorized by evil wenches and overambitious men. She just needs to make it through high school. She has four years to figure out who she is and where she fits, to learn what friendship, family, and love are all about. Four years.
I swore I’d never write another trilogy. I guess quadrilogies are fair game.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lisa lives in a small Southern town with her husband and four children. Having found school incredibly dull, she teaches her children at home, where backyard forts, imaginary worlds, and an adorable Great Dane make things like Latin and long division bearable. You can follow Lisa on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.