Monday, October 8, 2012

Writing A Trilogy, Part One: Book One

Okay, so I've written and almost published a trilogy now. I never thought I'd do that. To me, Possession was a stand-alone, and I had no idea how to write a sequel. So I didn't. I wrote a companion novel instead. *wink*

But really, I wrote a trilogy. And it was hard. And as I was preparing to write the third book, I read a bunch of trilogies to kind of get an idea of the basic formula.

Because I believe everything has a formula. I found as I was reading that trilogies are no different. So for the next few weeks, I'm going to be talking about writing a trilogy, and maybe if you're writing one or thinking of writing one, this will be useful for you.

Book One: This is the first act. It's the first third of your overall trilogy, and should be thought of as such.

In Book One, all the important characters are introduced. The main character, obviously. But they're joined by secondary characters, as well as the villain(s), and they should all have page-time in the first novel, even if they're not all on-page.

The Six Things That Need Fixing are established. This is a Save the Cat term, so I'm not taking credit. In fact, all of this is me thinking through the Save the Cat beats on a more global scale. But the Six Things That Need Fixing are typically weaknesses in the main character that they need to work through and overcome to solve the main conflict in the story.

These Things are the things that in the end, if the MC doesn't overcome, they won't prevail over the villain. They're also the Things that if the MC does overcome, they'll save the day in the eleventh hour.

These Things can be powerful indeed. And you establish them for the entire trilogy in Book One.

The catalyst to the main, over-arching conflict happens, and quite often, this is masked as the main conflict of Book One. In fact, the main conflict of Book One is typically just the tip of the iceberg of the conflict for the entire trilogy.

Sure, the MC solves the conflict. All is saved for this story at the end. But usually they realize how much farther they still have to go at some point at the end of Book One. We get a little taste of what's truly at stake, and just how far the villain is willing to go to achieve their goal. Book Two will expose more of this, but we'll save that for next week.

The debate whether the hero is going to be real or a fake is also explored. Usually, in Book One, the hero has to decide whether they're going to throw themselves into the story and do what they can. This is a type of what the entire trilogy is about.

You'll need to test and try your MC in Book One, take them to the brink of what they can do. This is how you make them choose to be a real hero or a fake hero. You'll do the same in your trilogy. We drag it out in Book One a little bit, by giving them moments of desperation, and more Things That Need Fixing, and not allowing them to overcome all their weaknesses in one story.

These are the same things that you do in the first act of your book too, but you apply them on a global level to the series.

Basically, I think of Book One as: Introduction to What's Wrong With This World. And What My Main Character Could be Made Of.

Next week, we'll explore Book Two, it's role in the trilogy, and how to think about the book as a whole.

What would you add to this? Have you penned a trilogy? Planning to write one? 

36 comments:

S.P. Bowers said...

I'm currently trying to sell the first book in my trilogy. Like you I wrote it as a stand alone but discovered there was more to write about. The story actually covers parents, children and grandchildren so there is a decade or so in between each book. I don't know if that makes it a tough sell but we'll see.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks so much Elana for sharing your advice on trilogies. I'm nervous about whether I could produce a good book 2 in a series like you did. You did a fantastic job. And I'm even more nervous about book 3. So looking forward to your next posts on this topic.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Finished the third book in my trilogy, which didn't start out to be a trilogy! I tied together two situations, each from the previous books, to bring it all to a conclusion.
I still say Save the Cat is one of the best writing books out there.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Funny, I'm actually going backwards with this. I wrote a first book as part of a trilogy but now an agent has asked me for a revise & resubmit, making the book more of a stand-alone. So now it's like I'm combining three books into one while dropping a lot of things I had in mind, re-evaluating the important details and keeping an eye on word count. Not easy. But...kind of fun!:)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

"To me, Possession was a stand-alone, and I had no idea how to write a sequel."
-I often wonder how many authors feel this way when they first sell their book. Especially since some second books seem to change so dramatically from the first...or maybe that's the plan...I'll have to read your next installment to find out:)

Donna K. Weaver said...

I haven't penned a trilogy, but I have one planned. Like you, I've written companion novels, but I think my are truly standalone. But as I prepare to get the planning on my trilogy, I'm glad you're doing this.

JeffO said...

I have not penned any trilogies. Honestly, I don't know if I could, as it feels like it involves much more advance planning than I'm comfortable with.

Summer Ross said...

I'm seriously considering writing a trilogy. I have my first one next to done. This NANOWRIMO I'm working on book two and I'm outlining book two before Nov 1. This is helpful information. As I read through your blog I mentally checked in with my book and marked if it happened or didn't and needs to be fixed. I think this is a great topic to blog about.

Bish Denham said...

I've never tried a trilogy and I'm not sure I ever will. But I suppose that could change.

mshatch said...

I have penned books 1.5 in a trilogy but sadly it is sitting on my hard drive all dusty and sad. Maybe I'll revive it...

Julie Daines said...

Interesting thoughts. I'm definitely a stand-alone novel writer. Honestly, I can barely stretch my story out over 60K words. I'm sort of streamlined writer, I guess. Here's the problem, here's how it ends. I don't think I could do a trilogy. Maybe a sequel?

Angela Brown said...

I really need to read Save the Cat. I've already taken a nip here and there from different things people have posted.

For what you shared today, I'd have to admit I'm at a pretty interesting place for the novel I'm pushing out right now. When I started writing it, I wasn't sure what it would be. But as I wrote it an introduced various plot and character items, I realized I'd have to tidy things up with at least one more novel.

Now, I do have a couple of other things in mind to write, one being a YA fantasy that I've thought of as a trilogy. But I've mostly been in a "series" mindset where I can write various tales/stories that have a common thread instead of a sequential trilogy. I wonder if there are any main differences to explore? Hmm...

ilima said...

I think my book almost ready to go on submission could be a standalone, but I'm hoping to sell it as 2 or 3 books because I have a lot more to say in that world. I've found it hard to keep what I plan to happen in the next books from affecting the first one too much.

Alice said...

I haven't written a trilogy but I'd like to. I have ideas for sequels but not three books. I've heard you need an overarching plot for all three books as well as a plot arch for each individual book.

joceadams said...

I just finished writing book three of my trilogy - books one and two are already published.

It was harder than I ever imagined. Book one was easy - introductions of the characters and main conflict, some world building.

Book two was more difficult because there has to be a little catch-up from book one and lead-up to book three while telling the middle part of the story.

Book three just about killed me. It had to be as good as the first two. Having to tie up the story lines across the three books AND having to say goodbye to a cast of characters I've fallen in love with took a high emotional toll on me.

It was worth it in the end, though. I would highly recommend writing all three before trying to publish, though. If you need to change a detail in book one for something in book three to work, it makes it a heck of a lot easier.

Kelly Hashway said...

Touch of Death is the first book of a trilogy. I think you sum this up quite well. I especially like the "all is save for this story at the end." You do have to complete each story while still having a bigger ARC to span all three books. It's challenging but necessary.

Donna Nolan said...

The thought of writing a trilogy scares me. Seriously.

I loved Save the Cat and I love how you applied everything here. Awesome!

LG O'Connor said...

I can't tell you how happy I was to read your post today. As a first time novelist who is writing an urban fantasy trilogy or quadilogy (haven't decided yet on 3 or 4), this helped to validate some of the assumptions I've made.
Look forward to next week's post.

Nicole said...

My brain seems to be auto-set to think in trilogies. ;) I've drafted the first 2 (okay, more like 1.75) books in a trilogy and have the last one plotted.

As a reader, I love the overall plot arcs and pace you hint at in this post. Looking forward to more of your advice.

Jemi Fraser said...

Trilogies require a lot more planning than I'm capable of at the moment. I do have an idea for a series of books set in the same place, with some of the same characters, but they'd be stand alones, not a trilogy. Still working on figuring that out!

ali cross said...

Yes! I totally agree that the trilogy is really just the STC acts, lol! I just finished my third, and final, book in my trilogy and it's awesome and fun to pull all the threads back together!

Great post Elana!

Leslie S. Rose said...

I'm messing around with a trilogy and you just handed me the Rosetta Stone. Thanks.

Melissa Pearl said...

Great post - thanks for this.

I have written one trilogy and am now working on a second. I learned SO much through doing the first and I now know the importance of planning all three books before you start writing the first.

I plan the trilogy story arc and then go back and create smaller story arcs for each novel.

Thanks so much for sharing this stuff. It's awesome :)

Amber Argyle, author said...

Best outlining class ever. You've saved me hours and hours of wasted writing. I seriously have the beat sheet taped to the back of my desk.

Rachel K. Johnson said...

I started a trilogy, but after working with my editor it turned into a four-book series. As funny as it sounds, I had a hard time saying goodbye to my plan of a trilogy--guess it's the sound of it or something. I found that I had to make changes in the overall story arch and minor changes to each of the books before I could move forward.

Elle Strauss said...

When I decided to write a 3+ book series, I started writing on the wall--seriously. Each book had a column and I wrote in all my ideas. I like to be able to step back and see the big picture. The story arc for each book and the Grand story all at once.

Also depend heavily on the beat sheet. I used it for each book and for the Grand book :0

Adventures in YA Publishing said...

I really need to revisit Save the Cat! I totally forgot about the "six things that need fixing" -- and I love the way that you've tied this to the formula for a trilogy. Also, congrats, congrats, congrats on getting through the trilogy and all the success. That's wonderful!

Martina

Liesel K Hill said...

Great post and thanks so much for it! I'm currently writing (no joke) three different series! I know, I know, glutton for punishment. Because of that, I've been trying to find more posts on serialization, so I'll definitely keep checking back for your series. I'm sure they'll be helpful to me! :D

Christy said...

Yay, yay, yay! I am so happy that you are sharing what you learned whilst writing your trilogy. There is not enough info out there on this topic. Thanks so much!

Christy

June G said...

Thanks so much for a really valuable post. This one is a true keeper. I'm gonna bookmark it.

I kind of rue the prevalence of the trilogy in YA. Sometimes I just want to finish the story in one book and be done with it. There are so many great stories and reading trilogies is so time consuming.

I've had to skip finishing several because I just didn't have the time, even though I loved the story.

What started this trend? Twilight?

Merissa Mee said...

I adore trilogies, which is amusing since I generally hate sequels in movies.
But, by the time I reach the end of book one, i'm invested. I almost always want more.
I'm wanting to write my current WIP as the first of a trilogy, so your post is particularly helpful--and timely.
Thanks!

Rachel said...

I've written several trilogies. My problem is when I write a stand alone most of my critique partners tell me it ought to be a trilogy. Sometimes I agree. Sometimes not. Currently trying to find an agent for my one trilogy (all three are written but the last two need many revisions)

Christy said...

I would love for you to explain how to treat the first book in a trilogy where the books are companion books, like yours. Do you still focus on the six things that need fixing, and what if you switch main characters?

Heather Sunseri said...

I'm currently working through the edits of #1 in a trilogy. You make some great points to think through as I finish up. Thanks for this. And I love Save The Cat!!

Carol Kilgore said...

THANK YOU!

I'm stopped on book one right now because I tried to shove in too much plot and I'm having trouble thinning it out. Maybe part of me knew you were going to write this :)

Already it's a help.

Rochelle said...

Thank you so much for these posts! I knew what needed to happen in book two, but I couldn't really put words on it, which you've done nicely here. I'm editing the first book in my own trilogy right now, but I wanted a plan for the next to make sure that I do introduce everything important. Although the end of my first book isn't happy... a bit of a failure, really.

It's sort of a "just when you think things can't get worse, they do" ending... thrice. Government retaliation for a failed mission, a character death who represented hope for the future, and then a twist that shows the government is still winning and the MC doesn't know the half of it.

Work's been terrible today because I keep thinking of scenes to add and ideas for book two, so thank you!

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