Monday, October 15, 2012

Writing a Trilogy, Part Two: Book Two

Okay, so last week we started our exploration of writing a trilogy. I'm back today to talk about the second part of the trilogy: Book Two.

I think Book Two is the hardest. Let's just get that out in the open up front. The author has the challenge of living up to Book One, and the characters aren't new. The world isn't new. The problems aren't new.

We got to see all of those things in the first book, so Book Two usually suffers from Little Sister Syndrome. In fact, in my exploration of trilogies, I read many (MANY) a second book that I felt was exactly like the first. I felt like I'd read the same book twice.

So that's a huge challenge we need to overcome in Book Two. I think there are some "easy" ways to do this. You can write a companion novel. A spin-off. Narrate from a different character's POV. Things like that. But no matter what, Book Two is part of the trilogy, and needs to contribute to the overall story/plot arc of the series.

So what do we need to do in Book Two?

To me, Book Two is the Now We Know What's Wrong With Our World, and This is What We're Going to do to Fix It book.

Applying this to the character, it's the I Know What's Wrong With Myself, and I'm Going to Try to Change novel.

This follows nicely with Book One, which was the This is What's Wrong With My World/Character.

That's the next step in the trilogy. Now that the MC knows, what are they going to do to fix/change things? That's the essence of Book Two.

Of course, Book Two needs it's own plot too. It's own set of problems. It's own main conflict. And this is often where authors fall into the trap of writing another Book One.

So don't do that. Instead, think of these things as you're devising the plot for Book Two. Think of Book Two as the second part of the trilogy. Think of it's role in advancing the series enough to get to Book Three--which is The War. If you don't advance us far enough, Book Three will suffer. If you try to rewrite Book One, Book Two suffers.

So here's how to make Book Two do exactly what it needs to do:
1. Focus on the end. You're driving this crazy train, and you have a specific destination: Book Three. If you know where you need to be for The War to begin, you know what needs to be accomplished in Book Two. And knowing that is more than half the battle.

2. Stretch the main character. They overcame some things to solve the main conflict in Book One. But they still have Things That Need Fixing, and we can continue to stretch and grow them in the plot of Book Two. During this stretching, make sure that more things get fixed.

3. Get to the heart of the overall main conflict. Think of Book Two as the middle act in the three-act trilogy. Act Two--according to Blake Snyder and his beats--takes up half the book. Act One (Book One) is just the beginning. Act Three (Book Three) is just how it ends. But Book Two is the entire middle.

Which might be another reason it's so hard to write.

But in Act Two (Book Two), there are several things to address that will help you find the heart of the series and move toward Book Three.

The Series Midpoint: This is a defining moment for the series. It's when consequences are suddenly made clear for the series. And it happens in Book Two--usually about halfway through. It's where the main character knows exactly what they're up against, and even how far the antagonist will go to achieve their diabolical ends.

I like to think of Harry Potter. Book 4 this time--which is the midpoint of the HP series. Book 4 is full of awesomeness. The Tri-Wizard Cup. But during all this, we realize how far Voldemort will go to achieve his desires. He will kill and kidnap. He will send in spies. He will do whatever it takes.

And Harry realizes it too, right there in the graveyard after watching Cedric die, and being transported from the maze with the portkey.

This leads us to two more important things that are important to the series that happen in Book Two.

The All is Lost Moment, and the Dark Night of the Soul.

The main character should experience a profound All is Lost moment for the series. To me, this is when Harry's blood no longer is a protection to him. It's exactly when Voldemort presses his finger to Harry's scar.

The Dark Night of the Soul is the darkness before the dawn. We can usually disguise the Dark Night of the Soul as the climax of Book Two. It's all wrapped up like this:

All is Lost moment for the series
Climax of Book Two
Dark Night of the Soul period for the series

This is where the main character--though they may have just overcome the main conflict in this story--realizes that they have a heckuva long way to go to beat the bad guys. It's where they have no solutions to orchestrate that defeat, and they're clinging to their safe and trusted places for refuge until the sun rises.

This is usually how Book Two ends. There's a glimmer of hope on the horizon, but we can't see it yet--and neither can they. 

So there you go! Long-winded, but a bit of a map for how to navigate the landmines of Book Two in a trilogy. 

What do you think? Read some Book Two's that are just a repeat of Book One? Read some great ones? What's essential material for Book Two?


Unknown said...

I think it helps to change location and add new characters. A new fresh and dangerous setting plus added conflict potential between characters. These two things go along way to help avoid the book2 is another book1 syndrome.

Laura Pauling said...

I agree with Elle. I love old characters but new characters or location makes a book 2 or 3 interesting too.

Heather Sunseri said...

Love your analysis of book 2 or the midpoint of a series. Because I'm getting ready to plot #2 in a series, I'll definitely be bookmarking this to think about periodically.

Trilogies I've loved recently... Well, my all-time favorite, I think, is Divergent, and we haven't even seen #3 yet. Loved Insurgent.

I actually thought #2 of Jennifer L. Armentrout's Lux series took me so much deeper into the story. Really liked it. I felt her overall story was more developed with #2. And that, to me, is essential.

Thanks, Elana!

Jemi Fraser said...

I've read some book 2s that were repeats of book 1 & I'll never read book 3 - which might be a shame. I like new characters or new character development. It's hard to pull off ... which is why I'm not ready to try it yet. :)

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Great advice and observations. I'm currently plotting out book II in my series and keep hitting a wall entering Act II. After reading this, I think it's because I haven't decided where we need to be for the beginning of book III. I really love that observation. Very helpful. Thanks!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great suggestions on book 2. I think yours and Elle's ideas are good about what makes a book 2 good and not just a rehash of book 1. Yours is brilliant BTW.

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Thanks for this post; I'm definitely bookmarking it. One book that I think did a great job being the cream of the Oreo is Catching Fire. It seems like it shouldn't have worked--Katniss even went into the arena again--but it so did. I think it worked partially because it sort of served as a foil to pre-Hunger Games Katniss: instead of looking out to save her own life, she's willing to die to save Peeta's. Instead of playing lone wolf throughout the thing, she teams up with other tributes. With a little prodding from Haymitch, Katniss does pretty much the opposite of what she did the first time. So there was always new material, new directions being played out.

Jessica Nelson said...

This is great advice! I'm going to pass it on to a friend. Thanks Elana!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've read some second books that were just more of the same. Not sure how I managed to make my second book so different from the first. I'm now more worried that the third one will be too similar to the second.

Charity Bradford said...

Excellent points here Elana! And perfect timing as I dig back into book 2 re-writes. I think I'm on the right track according to your post, but I'm bookmarking it to refer to as needed. ;)

Steph Sessa said...

Wow, such a great post! I'm not at a book 2 part yet, though hope to be at some point. I wanted to make sure it was it's own book, so I made sure the ending of book 1 could introduce a new problem for book 2. Still trying to figure out how to make the character arcs though so this really helped!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I like the "next" books to be totally different than the first books except be the same. HA figure that out.

I guess it's like going to a family reunion in a different location than the year before. The peeps and the dynamics are the same but things are different.

Bish Denham said...

This is probably why I may never write a trilogy. :)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

I agree, second books do often seem to suffer from "sagging middle syndrome" like we get when writing some stand alones...only it's more lethal since you don't have the exciting start and ending to prop it up.

The pace also seems to suffer sometimes to the author is trying to stretch out the story.

Differences can work, but sometimes it's the patterns that hold in Harry Potter....Every book a different school year, a different Dark Arts teacher...with more backstory and more at stake each book also.

Julie Dao said...

I love fresh characters and conflict in a second book! I feel that they enrich the conflict and the storyline that is already put in place. Great tips, Elana... I hope I can get to working on my trilogy sometime soon after revisions are done!

ilima said...

Great info. I'll definitely be coming back to this page when writing a book 2.

Donna K. Weaver said...

This is great. Yeah. Some second books are a waste of paper. Others are kind of bummers, but that can be the nature of the trilogy format, sandwiched in the middle.

Kathryn Purdie said...

Ooh, these how-to-write-a-series posts are AWESOME! I'm definitely going to bookmark these. I recently read a book one of a series that I flat-out LOVED. And then I hated book two. For me the biggest problem was that the main character knew it all now. She no longer had an internal conflict, and she was so skilled in fighting, that I never worried if she would make it or not with her external conflict. So the tension and the yearning was totally lost. I made a mental note when I read it: characters must still have BIG struggles and still not be perfect!

Jessie Humphries said...

This is an answer to my prayers! You betta believe I bookmarked this sucka!

Liesel K. Hill said...

Great post, Elana! So many great points! Thanks so much for them! :D

Angela Brown said...

I really enjoyed reading this post and getting your thoughts on this. It makes me think back to the Star Wars triliogy (the original three, not the additons recently.) The problem was revealed and the underdog made a statement, briefly coming out on top until the sequel where things looked their darkest. But out of the darkness, the MC and their great cas of characters came out on top to win again and bring things to a new place to start.

With a sequel in mind to follow NEVERLOVE, I'm certainly hoping to employ some of the things Ellie suggestedto give it a fresh spin while continuing things forward.

Mart Ramirez said...

These are some great tips, Elana. Thank you!

Julie Daines said...

That's pretty amazing! I just don't think I have it me to do a trilogy! But this is some good advice I'll add to my stash for later in case I ever change my mind.

Caitlin said...

Great advice. Trilogies are huge and it's nice to see some advice floating around.

My favorite Book 2's usually don't just expand characters and settings, but the depth of both. In the early books of Harry Potter we learn a new secrets about Hogwarts, new characters make an appearance. The ladder books though deepen these secrets, even making you question other facts and events. Your perspective of the characters shift and change into simething new. The world and people are no longer a map but a globe. And we all know that you can't see the entire surface of a globe. But you want to.

Does that make sense? Haaaah

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Elana, I bookmarked this post, because this is exactly what I need right now. Or, more accurately, I am *hoping* that I'll need this information in the near future.

Desperately hoping.

June G said...

I'm just trying to take this all in. Thanks for your help, Elana. I'm saving this post!

Cathy Keaton said...

I'm more inclined to think that every book in a trilogy should be about the main character changing, or overcoming some obstacle, not just waiting until the second book. Otherwise, I feel like I have no interest in reading Book 2 because in Book 1, the MC was so uninteresting and unchanging. I'm less inclined to root for a character who didn't learn anything by the end of the 1st book.

Just my two cents. I like this post series of yours!

Carol Kilgore said...

Thank you again! I'll be back next week :)

ELAdams said...

Great post! I'm currently putting off writing the second book in my trilogy precisely because I'm afraid it'll simply be a repeat of Book 1, but your fantastic tips have definitely helped me think about what makes it different! I'll be sure to keep this in mind! :)

Cherie Reich said...

I completely agree that Book Two is probably the hardest to write in a trilogy. Such great things to consider!

Daisy Carter said...

Forget the wisdom of Justin Bieber - bring on the wisdom of Elana! Love, love, love SAVE THE CAT, but I hadn't realized I could apply its principles to a series. That really puts things into perspective for me.

A great example of the second act of a trilogy is Back to the Future Part Two. It's just the middle. The story of Part Two is resolved, but its main purpose is to get us to Part Three. Heavy, huh?

Rachel K. Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel K. Johnson said...

I think the best thing to do to make sure each book has its own story is to make multiple story plans or arcs--one for the series as a whole and one for each book.

Give the characters a unique set of objectives, set of trials, everything. Everything that happens, of course, must tie into the overall series story, but in a way each book must have a story that uniquely belongs to it. Harry Potter is an excellent example of this.

The "Save the Cat" method is great. The one that works best for me is Dan Wells' 7-Point Method (if you're interested you can view it on my blog at, but I think whatever outlining process you use, the main point is to treat each book as both a part of a series and also a whole story by itself.

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