Writing a Trilogy – Dos and Don’ts

I recently read a book that was supposed to be the first book in a trilogy. But I don’t think the author knows what a trilogy should be. It turned out to be more of a short story that suddenly stopped. To find out what happened, you needed to buy the next book. No thanks.

box setA trilogy is a series of three movies or books that are closely related and involve the same characters or themes.

Writing a trilogy can be a lot of work but can also be very rewarding in that you get to stick with characters you know and hopefully build up a readership for your second and third books.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts of writing a trilogy.

DON’T – Write a full-length novel and divide it into three parts (as the author in the first paragraph seems to have done.)

DO – Write a story that can be sustained through three full-length novels. This can be one long story broken down into three acts, or it can be three separate stand-alone stories using the same characters. In romance novels, this is often done with three sisters/friends finding love with each sister/friend being the focus of one book. The other characters are prevalent in each book, and their stories are either building or being rounded out as the current love story takes place.

DON’T – Just write a trilogy because you think it will help you sell your novel or get people to buy subsequent books. (See the message above about having a story that can support being a trilogy.) Yes, a trilogy brings with it a set of eager readers who want to read books two and three but that only works if book 1 is good. Many fantasy authors may choose to write a fantasy novel because it is popular for this genre, but sometimes they need to stick with either a long stand-alone book or pare down the story rather than drag it out over three books.

DO – Make sure the first book can be a stand-alone novel, if needed. Take Star Wars: A New Hope, the first of the original Star Wars trilogy, as an example. It ended with a medal ceremony and could have easily been the end of the story.

DO – Plan ahead for when you write a trilogy. It makes things easier, and you can plant clues to the ending throughout the books. I wrote my trilogy without planning it until after the first book was written, which actually happens quite a bit. While it worked out in my case (and others), it would have been better to have been planned from the beginning. (less rewriting if nothing else.)

DO – Keep detailed notes and a timeline to make sure that your characters stay true to form throughout the trilogy. If someone is pregnant at the end of book 2, you need to be sure that the age of the baby works out in book 3. Or if your character received a wound that scarred in Book 1, you need to make sure the scar is there in book 3 (and in the same place). You can probably catch errors such as these in many books and movies and some observant reader will probably catch your mistakes too.

I am not trying to discourage anyone from writing a trilogy. I love reading them (and writing them). But you do need to plan ahead and as always, make sure you have overall story arc that can go the distance.

For additional tips, read my original post on writing a trilogy from three years ago.

 

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2 thoughts on “Writing a Trilogy – Dos and Don’ts

  1. Skye Hegyes says:

    Those are some very good tips for writing trilogies. For writing single books as well come to think of it.

  2. sjhigbee says:

    I couldn’t agree more… It’s infuriating as a reader if you settle in for a 3-book adventure to find the storyline is thinner than a cigarette paper and has been stretched out far longer than it can sustain JUST because the author read somewhere a trilogy helps to get a fan base.

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