Writing a Trilogy? Here’s What to Do (And What Not To Do)
I’ve just published the final book in The SoulNecklace Stories.
This feels like a momentous occasion; it certainly has felt like a lot of work! This series has been nearly eight years in the making, with a fair number of fits and starts along the way.
So this blog post is like a message to my former self – as well as to anyone embarking on a trilogy. Here’s the things I wish I’d done, plus the (few) things I did do that worked well.
- Write them! Series are great! They are actually a heck of a lot easier than writing stand-alone novels, because you don’t have to reinvent another world or another set of characters. Writing A Memory of Fire, the last book in my SoulNecklace Stories, felt a little like slipping on a comfy pair of slippers. Once I’d settled on the plot, I could just go.
- Build your world-rules carefully. When writing fantasy, or indeed any fiction, you create a fictional world. This world has rules: things that are allowed, or not allowed. Readers are (generally) content to go with these rules, but they do become upset when they spot an inconsistency.
Typically, a writer will have rules that are based around location or appearance (you can’t have a black-haired character suddenly becoming blonde without a reason) but in fantasy the rules are way more extensive and can include magic, technology, religion, geography: in fact, any part of life. This makes writing fantasy fun, but full of pitfalls.
As a writer, it can be hard to remember all your rules, especially once you’re 300,000 words in!
- Draw maps and pictures. This helps to navigate around castles, houses, villages, countries, whatever. Once I figured this trick out I could get a feeling for distance (how long would it take to travel 40 leagues – and how long is a league anyway?)
- Plan a little bit, but not too much. I found it helpful to have an idea of the stories ultimate destination (and no, not going to give that spoiler away), but by not being too settled on what would happen too early, interesting characters emerged. Like the Kamaye, the Wayhouses, TeSin and Ma Evans. They all spontaneously arose from my subconscious. I’d not planned for them at all, but weaving their stories into the main narrative added a lot to the overall depth.
- Write faster! I really wish I’d just knuckled down and put the words on the page. Instead, I became distracted by other projects. This was partly fear – what if the conclusion was awful, what if no-one liked it. So, all in all, it took nearly 8 years to complete the series, but if I’d gotten over my fear issues I could have finished it a lot sooner.
- Don’t bother too much with the marketing until you’ve finished the series. I really wish I’d figured this out earlier. No point on worrying about Facebook ads or Goodreads giveaways until the series is completed. On a plus side, once a series is completed suddenly readers are very happy, because they can binge-read.
- Don’t overpromise. I found that I needed breaks from my imaginary worlds to retain the joy of the process, and this meant I had slow periods. Plus, because writing a series just takes so darn long, life gets in the way. This is part of the writing challenge, but it’s hard to explain to an impatient publisher or reader.
- Don’t be daunted by the amount of work. Writing a novel is a huge amount of work. Writing a trilogy … oh man! It’s way more! You have to be totally committed before starting, because this world and these characters will be part of your life for a couple of years. It’s a big deal, taking on a two-year project, and not being certain of the outcome. All the time, through your head, a little voice murmurs: What if it’s no good. What if no-one likes it? What if no-one buys it? What if, what if…
The most important lesson to anyone embarking on series: ditch the fear. Just do it anyway. You’ll be glad you did.
And, as a bonus, the third book might be so much fun to write that you might be tempted to write another book, or even just a novella, in the same universe.
But that’s another story…