Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Have You Ever Written a Trilogy?

I’m asking because that’s what I’m thinking of doing and already I’m realising some of the questions, problems even, that it raises. It’s obvious that a trilogy needs to be planned differently from a single title, but writing it will also differ from writing a series. In a series, the same central characters appear in each novel but are presented with a set of different circumstances. Characters may develop over the series, their back stories become more familiar, but essentially each story is complete in itself and as a reader you experience its full force within that one book. I imagine that’s why most series have their home in crime fiction, with each book offering a new crime for the central character to solve. 

To my mind, a trilogy is different. It has much more of a defined shape – an introduction, a middle, and a finale. Each novel tells a different story as in series writing, but there’s another story, too, which slowly unwinds itself from novel to novel, allowing the central character to develop, gradually raising and resolving whatever problems he or she may have, uncovering whatever mysteries lie behind their lives. In that way, the structure resembles a tryptich in painting, which tells its story in three distinct movements.

That being so, the plotting has to be on two levels: each novel must have its own resolution, complete for that particular book, but it will also have unanswered questions, loose ends as it were, from the wider ranging story – until, of course, the final pages of novel number three. The writer will need to know exactly where they’re going in order to raise the right issues, drop the right clues, in the right places as each book proceeds. They will also need to pace their main character’s development very carefully, so that the reader has more to learn of them with each book, but not everything until the final pages. And there will have to be a plan for secondary characters too: where they appear, where they disappear, how they link with each book. 

Did I just say I wanted to write a trilogy?!


  1. I'm nearing the end of writing the second book in my trilogy. It helps to be writing historical fiction, because the historical events themselves provide the framework on which to hang your tale. In going into this project, I had a pretty clear idea of what years/events each of the three books would cover, but the devil is in the details. I think that if I had tried to plot out all three books on two different levels, as you suggest and which seems eminently wise, I never would have had the courage to start writing!

  2. Hi Pat

    I can see that writing about real historical figures would lend itself to a trilogy. My characters are purely fictional, though the social and political background of the Raj in the 1930s is real enough. I can do an overall scheme at this stage, but as you say, it's the detail that matters. Hope I do have the courage to start writing as this is my project for 2013!