Writing a Trilogy

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Writing a Trilogy

Postby meg113 » 04 Sep 2011, 08:34

So I've been outlining a story I hope to turn into a trilogy. The 3 books will have their own plots, but at the same time they all work to solve the main plot that extends all three books. My problem is I have an outline for the first and second book, but when it comes to figuring out what will happen in the last book, my mind comes to a blank. I know that book is basically just solving the problem that existed through the whole series but I wish I could come up with a unique plot that would tie into solving the major plot of the series (if that makes sense). The only things I can think of are my characters finding some object that will then destroy the antagonists goals. But this is somewhat of what happens in my first book. I just can't think of anything new....arggg....

So for anyone who has written or is in the process of developing a trilogy, how do you come up with a unique plot for each book? Does it just take time? Any tips would be greatly appreciated. :)
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby longknife » 04 Sep 2011, 08:50

I think the first thing to do is ask yourself what the MAIN problem is that faces your proponent. What is the goal he or she must reach?
Then, write the final chapter of the final book to deal with solving that problem or ending the quest.
Once you've done that, you can carry on with writing what leads up to it.
My trilogy is easier [with the exception of endless research] as it's historical and my quest is to tell the story of those involved.

Good luck.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby polymath » 04 Sep 2011, 09:04

A trilogy has an extended three-act structure. First book, an opening, as many stand-alone book introductions opening acts are wont to do. In the introduction, setup, outset, exhibition sense, an exposition act where the main dramatic complication is established.

Second book, a middle, where rising action escalates efforts to address the complication, opposition of antagonism forces escalates, doubt of outcome escalates, and all information neccessary to address the complication is learned.

A narrative's internal climax may occur somewhere in the middle of a trilogy's second book. Again, when efforts to address the complication peak, when opposition of antagonism forces peak, when outcome doubt peaks, when acquiring information for addressing the complication peaks. An external reader or emotional climax occurs near the end of a trilogy's third book about at the three-fourths mark for the final crisis, when the setup for the denouement act occurs. Part of the second book also incorporates a tragic crisis following the internal climax, and followed by part of the falling action act.

Third book, an ending. The remainder of the falling action act and the denouement act. A trilogy's ending book often reports a direct, in-person confrontation between the antagonism forces in opposition. The good guys and the bad guys avoid direct, all-out interaction until it becomes inevitable. For example, a tragic crisis might set up a battle scene for the denouement act, because the only way the good guys can overcome certain failure is to bring it on.

Finding an object of the bad guys' desire is actually a nemesis circumstance; there's only one object and only one side can possess it. Mutual goal, outcome exclusive to one party, that's reciprocal nemeses. Falling action would have the nemesis party farther ahead in finding it or possessing it than the protagonist's party. The final crisis might then be an imminent recovery by the nemesis, but the very process of the nemesis' impending success reveals a discovery for the protagonist who is then able to reach and possess the object first.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby Guardian » 04 Sep 2011, 10:56

I say the same what Polymath said with a slight add-on; each of the novels should have a "beginning, middle and an ending" structure, regardless they're not standalone. I'm also writing a trilogy and this part was one of the hardest, to keep this "sub-structure", while you're also doing the same in the trilogy's structure. The best is if you end each of the volumes with a twist right when the ending moment of the actual volume is already passed.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby polymath » 05 Sep 2011, 10:40

Guardian wrote:I say the same what Polymath said with a slight add-on; each of the novels should have a "beginning, middle and an ending" structure, regardless they're not standalone. I'm also writing a trilogy and this part was one of the hardest, to keep this "sub-structure", while you're also doing the same in the trilogy's structure. The best is if you end each of the volumes with a twist right when the ending moment of the actual volume is already passed.

I agree wholeheartedly that each installment ought best stand alone, and that they should maintain continuity over the trilogy's saga. I'm inclined to agree in part with a twist ending for the first two installments, so long as it's not too artless a cliffhanger twist.

I'm thinking of how Rowling pretty much artfully finalizes the complication of Voldemort in the first Potter saga installment. Voldemort's return and pending resurrection in the following installments artfully sets up the pendency of that escalating complication, not as a cliffhanger ending, but as an ongoing, emerging, escalating backdrop complication to each installment's foreground complication. Moving progessively into the foreground, until Potter and Voldemort's final complication, confrontation, and outcome in the final installment.

In my estimation, a novel's best when there are somewhere on the order of sixteen major and minor turns of discovery and reversal. Five major turns, at least, and ten or so minor turns punctuating them. For a trilogy, I feel the same overarching milestones should be hit concurrently with the installment ones.

An artless twist ending, or turn, is to me one that incites my curiosity about a dramatic complication without projecting what it's final outcome might be. I'm thinking about the Batman television saga's campy rhetorical questions posed at each installment's ending while leaving Batman suspended in a precarious situation.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby Sanderling » 05 Sep 2011, 11:56

And it might also be worth asking yourself - what if your story is not a trilogy, but a pair? Trilogies are in vogue right now, but that doesn't mean you have to write one. See what your story demands and adjust your book outlines to it, rather than trying to force the story to fit something it isn't.

If you're certain that the story is a trilogy, then I'd suggest going ahead and writing the first book (which you've already got outlined) while you let the others gel in the back of your mind. It could be that as you're writing the first one some plot items or character developments or something else that becomes apparent as you go along might spark an idea for what needs to take place in book three.

If you're worried about there being something in book three that needs to be set up in book one, and you're concerned about writing book one before you know how book three goes just in case, remember - there's always revisions to add in the stuff you missed or discovered later.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby GingerWrite » 05 Sep 2011, 21:22

I'm in the process of writing a trilogy and experienced the same problem (nice to know I'm not alone). What I ended up with was focusing on the characters. Every character has flaws. So in each book they tackle a significant problem with their character or situation that in the end with develop them and change their story. If you've ever read the Hunger Games series you can see this sort of thing.

Then there are the actions. In many of the trilogies I've read, the last book is a wrap up of loose ends as well as a climax to a long plot. And many times I've seen a strong connection from book one to book three, and a weaker connection to book two. So one thing I'd suggest is revisiting a problem that was supposedly solved in book one, but (gasp!) actually wasn't.

I hope it all works out with your trilogy! :)
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby washingtonwriter1968 » 05 Sep 2011, 23:41

I too am in the process of a trilogy, It helped me to simply write out a slotted space (three documents) the I skipped to the complete end of the trilogy and write out the Final complication and the point of no return and climax first. It made the last books plot crystalize in my mind. Hope this helps.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby dios4vida » 06 Sep 2011, 10:50

I just wanted to throw in a pantser's view on trilogies:

Write the first book first. Then worry about what happens in the next ones.

I never planned on any of my books becoming series. They were just stand-alones, until one little sentence popped up and said "ooooh, this could be so much more!" At that point I put the idea down but still didn't plan it out. It was only after I finished the first book that I even thought about what exactly would happen in the next book. So much happens that you don't necessarily plan - and even a tiny, casual mention of something can become hugely significant if you let it.

I'd say get writing the first one, make it the best you can, and then worry about the next ones. Who knows? You might decide it works best as a stand-alone after all, or you might find that what you had planned for the second and third aren't nearly as good as the Shiny New Idea that came to you on page 243 of your WIP.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby Nicole R » 06 Sep 2011, 11:02

Sanderling wrote:If you're certain that the story is a trilogy, then I'd suggest going ahead and writing the first book (which you've already got outlined) while you let the others gel in the back of your mind. It could be that as you're writing the first one some plot items or character developments or something else that becomes apparent as you go along might spark an idea for what needs to take place in book three.


This! I'm in the middle of a trilogy right now - about 2/3 through Book 2 - and this has been my experience. When I began Book 1, I knew the plot arcs for each book and wrote out my general idea for how I wanted to end the series. However, all of those ideas morphed and solidified while writing the first book and, now, parts of the second.

I agree with the commenters who've suggested getting a rough ending scene on paper. Then, don't worry about that yet - focus on writing Book 1 first. You'll discover the nuances of the ending as you go. Good luck!
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby Sanderling » 06 Sep 2011, 11:54

dios4vida wrote:I never planned on any of my books becoming series. They were just stand-alones, until one little sentence popped up and said "ooooh, this could be so much more!" At that point I put the idea down but still didn't plan it out. It was only after I finished the first book that I even thought about what exactly would happen in the next book. So much happens that you don't necessarily plan - and even a tiny, casual mention of something can become hugely significant if you let it.


Nicole R wrote:
Sanderling wrote:If you're certain that the story is a trilogy, then I'd suggest going ahead and writing the first book (which you've already got outlined) while you let the others gel in the back of your mind. It could be that as you're writing the first one some plot items or character developments or something else that becomes apparent as you go along might spark an idea for what needs to take place in book three.


This! I'm in the middle of a trilogy right now - about 2/3 through Book 2 - and this has been my experience. When I began Book 1, I knew the plot arcs for each book and wrote out my general idea for how I wanted to end the series. However, all of those ideas morphed and solidified while writing the first book and, now, parts of the second.


This was how it was for me, too. I started my WIP figuring on it being a standalone. Admittedly, I'm a pantser, so it's a little different from if you're trying to outline a series in advance... but I started with just the beginning and conclusion known, and very little in between. About a third of the way into the story a twist came up that I wasn't expecting, and I ended up spending the rest of the book just resolving that problem; I never did get back to the main plot arc. That's when I realized the story was a trilogy. I finally sat down and outlined books two and three after finishing book one and have a sense of where they're going to go... but until I actually start writing them, I won't actually know. It's entirely possible I could get a third of the way into book two and have another twist pop up that changes things again.

I can't speak for the plotters... but I would suspect that even the hard plotters aren't immune to this. I'd bet that many of them might be happily writing along, sticking firmly to their outline, when they suddenly get an idea for a slight change in plot or character that isn't in their outline but would make it so much better. Stories are fluid things, like rivers. We can try to contain them, but if they decide they want to go a different way, they will.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby washingtonwriter1968 » 06 Sep 2011, 12:32

This was how it was for me, too. I started my WIP figuring on it being a standalone. Admittedly, I'm a pantser, so it's a little different from if you're trying to outline a series in advance... but I started with just the beginning and conclusion known, and very little in between. About a third of the way into the story a twist came up that I wasn't expecting, and I ended up spending the rest of the book just resolving that problem; I never did get back to the main plot arc. That's when I realized the story was a trilogy. I finally sat down and outlined books two and three after finishing book one and have a sense of where they're going to go... but until I actually start writing them, I won't actually know. It's entirely possible I could get a third of the way into book two and have another twist pop up that changes things again.

I can't speak for the plotters... but I would suspect that even the hard plotters aren't immune to this. I'd bet that many of them might be happily writing along, sticking firmly to their outline, when they suddenly get an idea for a slight change in plot or character that isn't in their outline but would make it so much better. Stories are fluid things, like rivers. We can try to contain them, but if they decide they want to go a different way, they will.


This was exactly how My trilogy happened for me. I was not say going to write a trilogy at first. I was so new that the idea of writing three books was impossible to imagine at first. But I am a major subplot writer! I make lost of unexpected twists when I write. I was half way in when I realized that it was just to huge a idea to fit into one book. I envisioned it like a movie and realized that the one arc with all it's subplots will fill three movies worth. so I broke the major ideas up like this.
Book One: Love Triangle story-line
Book Two: Action Adventure Mystery-Antagonist steals Mom story-line
Book Three: Sci Fi alternate Universe- Saving Loved ones under attack in our world story-line
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby Fenris » 08 Sep 2011, 07:38

Are you a pantser? If so, this is a bit harder, because you'll end up juggling four plots in your head at once: the overarching plot of the trilogy, and the individual plots of each book. It's probably a good idea, pantsing nature be damned, to scribble down at least the basic idea or even simple quotes to lay down the infrastructure. For example, my WIP Harbinger is followed by the Greed trilogy (working title), and the simplest outline looks like this:

First book: forward-rising action. The MC uncovers an underground, multi-world organization whose aims are unclear.

Second book: backward-rising action. The MC begins to question things he's already learned, looking back and finding new answers in old information. I call this 'backward-rising action' because, though the story is still progressing, we're moving at a different angle along a path the MC was too naive to see before.

Third book: climax. The confrontation, the resolution, and the introduction of a new nemesis to kick off the next book/series (haven't determined how long that arc will take yet).

You can probably see I plan to keep going awhile, but that's not what's important here. Notice the way the overall structure of the trilogy somewhat mimics the structure of a single novel: action building up to a climax and resolution.

I suppose the easiest way to have individual plots while maintaining an overall one would be to 'hide' the one that will span the entire trilogy. Insert hints here and there, but have them be seemingly innocuous plot devices (such as Red Herrings) that don't seem to do anything at first or, if you can, create a plot device with two different purposes (a double Chekov's Gun, if you will)--for example, a device the characters must activate to achieve one goal, but whose activation furthers the overall antagonist's goals without their knowing. Once the third book rolls around, then everything can be revealed.

In other words, it's easiest to do this when the protagonists are playing into the antagonist's hands for the first two books. Note that it's not necessarily the best way (though it's certainly effective, it can seem a bit cliche if not done correctly).

It's a lot harder to come up with a single plot that will span three books, and if you don't fill the first two with obstacles you won't come even close to completing three books. LOTR had only one overarching plot, so threw scores of obstacles and setbacks before the characters to mix things up and keep it interesting. I can imagine it would be easier to 'distract' the characters (and readers) with simpler plotlines while the real one's going on in the background. If the MCs already know of the overarching plot and each book is working to solve it, I'd imagine the first two would be working to weaken the antagonist's power somehow.

I should probably stop now; I've rambled long enough. Hope this helped, and good luck!
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby meg113 » 10 Sep 2011, 05:45

What everyone had to say is immensely helpful to me. Thank you. I actually have written the first book but plan to completely rewrite it. I feel like there does need to be more action in the first book to help me plot out the series in general. I have a general idea of how I want the third book to end, resolving the problems and beating the bad guys. But maybe rewriting the first one and see where the ideas go will help.
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Re: Writing a Trilogy

Postby GingerWrite » 10 Sep 2011, 22:52

Ahhh rewriting. The bane and tonic of a writer's existence.
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