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justlukeyou
09-28-2014, 02:51 AM
Hi,

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to set out to write a trilogy? Does the first book need to be able to stand out on its own as a single book or should it always be clear that you are planning to release a trilogy in which the full story is played out over trilogy and without the trilogy being completed the first book will suck.

Jinsune
09-28-2014, 02:59 AM
Yeah, the first book needs to be able to stand on its own feet, otherwise that would be awkward in my opinion, having a book that ends in a cliffhanger, and there's no guarantee that another book will be published. This geos along with what I'm going to say next. Don't write the other two books just yet. Try to sell the first one, then talk about plans on a possible series once you have a agent and publisher. Some publishers want to know how well a book sells before they want to talk about expanding it into a series.

If you're self-publishing, ignore this.

I do think that having an idea of how the entire series will play out can help in case you are able to get a multi-book deal.

Osulagh
09-28-2014, 04:04 AM
It doesn't need to be, but there's a ton of reasons why the first book should be a standalone. And, IMO, the other books should be able to hold their own as well (perhaps to a lesser degree).

If the first book will suck, why should an reader read it? What's the point of it? The reader and the publisher are not buying the trilogy from the get-go, they're buying a first book with the idea of a commitment.

Suggestions? Write the trilogy in three parts. Not episodically, but three section that have their own define start and end, in their own ways. This can sound hard, but if you look at the plot of the grand story, you might be able to set up three large challenges that arise and fall within a the series.

Oh, and if you're self-publishing, IMO don't ignore the stand-alone idea. The readers are still making a commitment.
If you're planning on trade publishing and only trade publishing, write the first, outline the others, and query the first book. When asked to write more, do so. In the meantime, start on another first of a series, and another, and another, and query/submit those as well.

BradCarsten
09-28-2014, 04:04 AM
Make the first book stand alone, or at least give your readers a satisfying ending, but you don't have to resolve everything. You can leave a few questions unanswered, or end in a way that hints at something more.

Primus
09-28-2014, 05:06 AM
I agree with what everyone has said so far: make the first book standalone. My book, though it's meant to be a trilogy (and will be), the first can just end on its own. You want to treat each single book in the trilogy like they are there own separate story, but still connected in the end, and when the reader has read what came before, they're richer for it. So you can imply to the reader that your story is grander and will stretch beyond one. Nothin wrong with that.

blacbird
09-28-2014, 06:16 AM
My recommendation?

Set out to write a good story.

The End.

caw

Michael Steven
09-28-2014, 07:30 AM
I agree with what the others said, but I have a different idea of what a trilogy actually is. Most look at it as three books with the same characters. Or, in other words, a three book series.

That's fine, well understood and more easily marketable. However, to me a trilogy is one story (manuscript) divided into three separate parts. The Lord of the Rings is like that (although it was divided up into more than three). The Fellowship of the Ring was essentially stand alone, but the remaining parts were not. They ended with cliff hangers, and there was no retelling parts in later books. They continued where they left off.

In my opinion that is how a trilogy (or quadrology or quintology) should read. It's one manuscript divided into parts.

I did this with my manuscript. I have enough for four or even five books (~100K each) but I divided it into three parts. The first one is stand alone, although like the Fellowship of the Ring it ends with much left hanging. The second book ends at a cliff hanger and the third picks up where the second leaves off.

Now, that's just the way I did it, and if an agent doesn't pick up on it that might be how I keep it. Although, since I'm working on the next (just as large) manuscript, and have plans for a third, I may just self-publish the whole first manuscript as one book.

Time will tell, but I just wanted to offer another way to look at what trilogy means to me (and maybe even other people).

rwm4768
09-28-2014, 08:20 AM
The first book should be able to stand alone. That is, the reader can come out of it feeling like they've read a complete story. That doesn't mean, however, that you have to have everything resolved neatly. It's perfectly acceptable to leave some loose ends for subsequent books.

Personally, I've never understood why everything has to be trilogies. I suppose it's to do with the whole three-act structure. But most of the time, I set out to write a series. It's however many books it needs to be. I don't see any need to force the story into three books if it fits better in one or two or four or seven.

Phrenic
09-28-2014, 08:21 AM
I too am plotting a fantasy trilogy. Each book will have a big mystery needing solved, but an over arcing plot that spans all books. Each book wraps up its plot, but will leave a bigger threat and challenge for the next. The third bringing the over arcing plot to conclusion.

I think Michael Steven's advice is dead on, and is the strategy I'm using.

thepicpic
09-28-2014, 10:52 AM
The first book has to be able to stand alone, yes. Like others have said, there's no guarantee any sequels will get published. There's no guarantee the first will be published, as I'm finding out.

*wanders off, mumbling curses at books, genres and ducks*

Jo Zebedee
09-28-2014, 12:14 PM
I started with a trilogy. It's being published as a trilogy. Yay! But I had to break off and write a couple of standalones to get the writing skills needed for the depth of story needed for the trilogy. In other words, it's hard.....

The first needs to be able to be pitched as a book with series potential. So it needs to resolve the first book's story arc. It does not need to close the bigger questions you pose so long as you don't need them dangling and frustrating. easier said than done...

Also, I wrote a trilogy cos i was writing sci fi and that's what you do. But it doesn't have to be. So, um, don't be afraid to ask the question does it have to be a trilogy. It will do just as well in the market without the trilogy model.

Once!
09-28-2014, 01:09 PM
Not all trilogies are created equal.

It depends on how closely linked each book is. Sometimes we have a series where all the books are adding up to one big story. Lord of the Rings is arguably the best example of this. Depending on which edition you read it is one book, or three, or six. But all of them need to fit together because the over-arching story is the defeat of Sauron.

Then we have trilogies which exist in the same world and with the same characters, but for the second and third books they set off on a new adventure. There might even be a new baddy.

Either way, the rules seem to be the same. Book one has to stand alone, but there also need to be enough hooks into books two and three. We can take a few liberties with book two, as we might assume that people will have read book one. Unless we are going for an indefinite series, book three ought to be a neat(ish) end.

In terms of a character arc, this sort of thing is pretty standard:

Book one - callow youth gains skills. Becomes competent. Defeats many minor villains and one medium sized villain.

Book two - fair maid swoons over former callow youth's abilities as he becomes more than competent. On the way, he defeats many medium sized villain and one family-sized bad guy.

Book three - our hero achieves mastery and a black-belt in bad-assery. He defeats many family sized bad guys and finally blows up the death star.

The end. Add in dragons, spaceships and hokey religions to taste.

Dryad
09-29-2014, 04:25 AM
Nice sum-up, Will.

justlukeyou, if this is your first book, there are a lot of side points to take into consideration. Likely your writing skills and even style will change a great deal as you progress, which could be awkward for the end-result of the trilogy. Often the first book just isn't as good as it needs to be in order to get published, but it teaches you so much. (I'm making generalizations, not addressing your personal skill.) However, if the first book isn't good enough to sell on its own, then the second book, no matter how awesome, is a part-two and can't even be offered on its own, which puts you in a bind. However, if you write book one and try to sell it and then start on an entirely different book, then if book one sells you can proceed with your series and you have another one started, maybe even completed. Whereas, if you finish book one and try to sell it and then start on book two, then you might end up with a trilogy of books which you can't sell because you never got enough interest in book one (for whatever reason). I think this is the base point most everyone has been making and what a few of us has experienced first hand. I had the first draft of book two written before it occurred to me that I had had absolutely no takers on book one and would be unable to have anyone look at book two without book one garnering interest. For me it was a wake-up call that I turned into a new personal rule: always write book one as a standalone (at least till you've been published) so that it doesn't end up trapping other books and never start on book two until interest has been shown in book one.

As a reader, I personally despise series books that end mid-story with no sense of finality--I feel cheated. However, something like what Once! delineated works fine for me because each book ends with a sense of tiered completion. Whether or not that's enough of a sense of completion for a publisher to take the book on without the others having already been written would likely depend on other details. No matter what, though, if the first book sucks then the first book sucks and I don't see why anyone would want to buy or read it, and if they did, why they would continue on through the series in the hopes that it improves.

As far as it being clear that you are writing a trilogy even with a standalone, you can always comment in your initial query that the book works as a standalone but is intended as the first in a trilogy. Personally, I have figured that the series potential of the book would be clear if the agent/publisher read it in its entirety and could be discussed after solid interest was expressed regarding the first book. No matter what, though, your first book has to be good on its own from the very start or it won't be selected by an agent or publisher.

taeray
09-29-2014, 08:53 AM
I agree with what the others said, but I have a different idea of what a trilogy actually is. Most look at it as three books with the same characters. Or, in other words, a three book series.

That's fine, well understood and more easily marketable. However, to me a trilogy is one story (manuscript) divided into three separate parts. The Lord of the Rings is like that (although it was divided up into more than three.

In my opinion that is how a trilogy (or quadrology or quintology) should read. It's one manuscript divided into parts.

I did this with my manuscript. I have enough for four or even five books (~100K each) but I divided it into three parts. The first one is stand alone, although like the Fellowship of the Ring it ends with much left hanging. The second book ends at a cliff hanger and the third picks up where the second leaves off.



I inadvertently did the same thing as you. I was just writing for the fun of writing. I had no idea how much I'd written. Then an author friend and I got to talking about publishing and I looked and found I'd written almost 400k words. I had to cut it into three books and began paring them down and now I have a five book series.

I agree with your outlook on trilogies or series too. I think the first book needs to be able to stand alone, and have a strong beginning and clear climax. I do think a great trilogy also follows a clear, large scale story arc too though so it's okay in my opinion to leave a few questions unanswered or sub plots unresolved. I think many of my favorite series handle that fine line quite well. It's what keeps me on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next book to come out.

victoriakmartin
09-29-2014, 09:06 AM
I actually don't think Lord of the Rings is the best example to use, because it really isn't a trilogy; it's one really long book that is often published in three parts. Which is also why the plotting in three parts is sometimes not the greatest, hence why the movies had events from one part happen in another (for example, Boromir's death is at the beginning of Two Towers, not the end of Fellowship).

For books, my go-to trilogy would be the two trilogies that make up Kushiel's Legacy. But for someone starting out, I think just the first trilogy is applicable, since the series was already a success when Kushiel's Scion was released. Book 1 of the series, Kushiel's Dart, can stand alone, yet it also leaves the world open for expansion as one of the main antagonists escapes punishment. Because it can standalone, it really is the most solid book by itself, which is why I pick is as my favourite all-time book if I'm not allowed to chose the entire series (but really, it's the entire series).

Or if we look beyond writing, there's the original Star Wars series. The first movie tells an entire story from beginning to end. If it had been the only movie, it would have been a satisfying coming-of-age story but there's obviously still more to be told - the Death Star may be gone but the Empire is still alive and well. It was only after the series had proven its popularity that things got to end on a cliffhanger.

In both cases, the first book had a complete story that took care of the basic worldbuilding. This allowed the later books to delve deeper into the world and the characters, which is why the best book 2s and 3s of trilogies are better than the book 1 that came before them.

SentaHolland
09-29-2014, 10:07 AM
of course a trilogy is just a starting point. you can have many more volumes if your world expands...
3 being a magical number, it seems to be fixed in people's minds.
but there are many examples of multi volume universes.
I would say, go ahead where your journey takes you...

Tyler Silvaris
09-29-2014, 05:50 PM
My recommendation?

Set out to write a good story.

The End.

caw
While I'm not normally one for short answers to anything, this is a good point. Don't worry as much about whether the story will be mapped out as a trilogy, just write the story. If you get so focused on the three books angle, you may miss greater opportunities. Don't limit yourself, just write.


of course a trilogy is just a starting point. you can have many more volumes if your world expands...
3 being a magical number, it seems to be fixed in people's minds.
but there are many examples of multi volume universes.
I would say, go ahead where your journey takes you...
A lot of times, we are kinda led to expect trilogies. Maybe Hollywood has a to do with that, maybe not. The point is, we do tend to jump to that conclusion about everything.

In high school I was writing what I thought was going to be an epic trilogy. I had the major events that revolved around each book mapped out and a general idea of the development of my major characters.

What I quickly discovered is that the process of writing each book changes the author. We grow as writers and as people. Life is still going on around us. Two years after I started, I dove into writing the third book. The wake up call was epic. I was a very different person. I saw the characters and their world in a completely different way than I had when I started, and my outline hadn't planned for that. I tried to trudge on, but ultimately that third book was a literary war zone in my mind. It was too mature to fit the tone of the first book in my opinion.

For a number reasons (some to do with writing, some personal, some just bad luck), I have never finished that trilogy. The third book never made it to the half point of the story because my different writing style made it longer. I could have made a trilogy out of the third book alone, if I'd wanted to.

My brothers and I are coming to similar conclusions with our current WIP. What started as plans for a trilogy is looking more like an epic saga as we fine tune and develop the story and the world it is set in.

The lesson: Don't cage yourself in by thinking in terms of "three books". Tell each part of the story as you go, giving each the consideration it is due, and end that first book at a logical stopping point. Then move on to the next part of the story. Keep notes on the events you want to happen, but don't force them into a set book or books, because the story may develop differently than you thought.

TKpinkerton
09-29-2014, 09:03 PM
I agree that the first book needs to be able to hold its own and have a satisfying enough conclusion, but I think after that you can have more freedom with it if gets confirmed for a trilogy. The readers will know for sure by then that it will continue so you can have, say, a cliffhanger ending on the second book if you want, it doesn't have to have as much of a closed ending as the first one. Sometimes people try to shove all the world building and exposition for the entire trilogy in the first book instead of giving it it's own story, and it ends up being less of a novel and more of an info dump for the supposed sequels.

SamCoulson
09-29-2014, 10:47 PM
The problem of setting out with a trilogy with the intention of getting published conventionally is that you are most likely keeping your best plot-twists in your pocket for books 2-3--which leaves book 1 to be Meh.

All this talk of Lord of the Rings--I agree with someone above, it's one book divided into three. It's all ONE story. So I personally wouldn't consider it a trilogy. If you talk trilogies, you have to go to THE trilogy..

A New Hope is one big story. It's an episode, but Lucas didn't leave anything on the table when he made it. We have legends, we have mentors, we have evil, we have the Death Star! Now--if you're sitting plotting a trilogy at home, you may have your Death Star in your back pocket, waiting for it to be revealed in Book II (or maybe hinted at at the end of Book 1). But really, if you want that Trilogy to live, you need to give it your best Idea in Book 1.

And then, BUILD on that to make the next story. I mean, look again at Star Wars. Lucas wasn't incredibly inventive--he came up with a Second Death Star. Though he made it bigger, stronger, more extreme--instead of a trench run you have to fly through it. Instead of a dozen tie-fighters you have fleets of hundreds of ships... he upped the ante all the way through.

Hunger Games.. largely same thing.. More games, higher stakes... Games become wars...

My point is that, like anything, you have to go leave it all on the paper. If you want to be successful and break out as a new writer, you need to make sure you aren't burying the lead.

When I started my book I wasn't planning on a series. I used my best ideas at the time--and those ideas have begotten much bigger ideas--that are making the soul of the sequels.

victoriakmartin
09-30-2014, 01:34 AM
That's a very good point, SamCoulson (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=116389). I guess basically it comes down to this: book 1 has to establish a world that is big enough for a continuation, but have a story that is strong enough to stand alone. You don't get the latter by pulling your punches and hoping the beginning of the story is strong enough to pull people in without something truly epic and awesome in it.

Fullon_v4.0
09-30-2014, 02:50 AM
Hey there!

Unless you're self publishing, like the rest of the crew says try to make the first book stand out on its own. Even then, the first book should have the "feel" of a significant conflict being resolved.

It's a lot like the original Star Wars (ep 4). It ends with the Death Star blown up and Darth Vader spinning away in his ship and the heroes getting medals. Had they not added the others, it would have been a "complete" movie since all the conflicts were taken care of.

Oh, and another thought since I'm working on a series too; keep your ideas well paced, or you'll use up all your really good plot points too soon.

D S LILLICO
10-07-2014, 02:38 AM
It is a strange one. I always set out for my story to be a Sci-Fi trilogy due to the progress of the main character age-wise.

There are cliff-hangers but I have been obvious from the start - the first novel is XY - book one.

One thing I made sure of was that my publisher wanted all three from the very start.

Neverwhere
10-07-2014, 03:08 AM
Personally, I've never understood why everything has to be trilogies. I suppose it's to do with the whole three-act structure. But most of the time, I set out to write a series. It's however many books it needs to be. I don't see any need to force the story into three books if it fits better in one or two or four or seven.

This is how I feel about it too. I get the impression that writers put out trilogies for no other reason than convention or what they think is the right way to write fantasy. I've read lots of stories that frankly could have been culled down to a single book of central characters and been a better read for it. In those cases the need to make it a trilogy created a middle book so entirely boring I was tempted to dump the entire series.

As a reader I much rather one thick book, and then if I like those characters and that milieu I'd like to be able to pick up another story with them in it and continue reading that author. But I hate with a passion having my flow of a story interrupted by a clumsy end inviting me to read the next book.....when it's released. Aarghh! If the author is good I'll read their entire backlist anyway, you don't need to give me this headache to ensure I finish the story.