So you want to write a trilogy. You’ve had a flash of inspiration for a story so vast, so packed full of adventure that it can’t possibly be contained in a single novel. Excellent. Then reality sets in…to tell your story you’re going to have to write not one but three books. Where do you even begin to plot? How are you going to wrangle enough subplots and character arcs and motifs to keep your readers engaged for such a sustained period of time?
Before you decide to consign your trilogy to the dusty graveyard of abandoned ideas in the back of your mind, I’ve got five tips to share that I’ve learned while plotting and writing my own contemporary fantasy trilogy.
1. Develop story arcs on both a book level and a series level:
I thought it was only fitting to start with advice Rachel gave me during The Writing Week Retreat. I wasn’t sure how best to tackle this when plotting my own trilogy – should I plan one act for each book or should each book have its own three-act structure? The answer? Both! You want to ensure your trilogy has an overarching three-act structure but each book should have its own ebbs and flows, with a satisfying ending for the reader.
2. Fall in love with your characters:
Whether your trilogy is plot-driven or character-driven, make sure you’re head over heels for your primary characters. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with them, after all! From compelling backstories to fun personality quirks that might never even make their way into the story itself, spending time getting to know your characters until they feel like old friends is a staple of any fiction project but it’s even more key when writing a series.
3. Give your characters room to grow over the trilogy:
Building on my second point, your readers also need to love your characters enough to follow them on a journey that will likely take place over a number of years. A great way to keep your characters engaging is to give them room to grow and evolve over the entire series, not just the first book.
This is a trap I definitely fell into when writing the first draft of my series – my two protagonists overcame all of their internal obstacles during the climax of book one, leaving them very few lessons to learn throughout the rest of the story. In reality, we never stop growing and learning so neither should our characters.
4. Find your plotting sweet spot:
The long-running debate between plotting and pantsing is never-ending but I think plantsing (the midpoint between the two) is the way to go when writing a trilogy. It’s imperative that you know where your story is going so you won’t run out of steam halfway through book two but I think it’s just as important to leave yourself space to explore new ideas as you write. Writing three books is no easy feat and plotting so intricately that there are no surprises to keep you entertained can make writing a trilogy feel like a slog.
5. Keep something back:
One of the joys of writing a trilogy is having the space to unfurl exciting twists and character developments that you’ve spent many a writing session dreaming up. There can be a real temptation to show your hand too early, pouring so much into book one that the final two books can be left a little dry in comparison. Keeping some cards close to your chest and spreading out those jaw-dropping moments throughout the three books will ensure your readers are entertained from the first page to the last.
I hope you found the above tips helpful and can apply some of what you’ve learned to your work in progress. You’ve got this! I want to give a huge thank you to Rachel for inviting me onto her blog and, if you want to keep up with my own trilogy writing journey, I blog over at www.carlybennettbooks.co.uk.