The Making of a Trilogy

by | Apr 25, 2014

Last Updated:
May 27, 2017

Planning a trilogy is not the same as writing a novel.

Especially when, like so many new authors, I wrote the first book without much of a concept on what would happen next – or even if there would be a next. I was happy to have written a book at that point!

A great visualization of the Curse in dragon form - he sort of made it through all three books...

A great visualization of the Curse in dragon form – he sort of made it through all three books…

There are so many problems with that mindset though. Not that I’m bashing my naivete. I’ve learned so much in the three years since I self published Born of Water. I’m a ‘leaper,’ not a ‘looker,’ tending to DO things before procrastination (or the voice of reason) can convince me not to. But writing the first book in a trilogy without a concept of the whole story arc is not something I would recommend.

One of the things that brought me to writing fantasy was my love of reading. I adore a good story, especially a long one like a trilogy that contains clues to events that might not happen until late into the story – even several books late. I love figuring out what might happen or, even better, that moment when you realize you should have seen something coming!

So I was disappointed when I wrote Born of Water that I hadn’t looked further ahead than book 1.To invest the level of strategizing I like to read into a series means you have to have a clue where the story is headed! Heck, an actual title for the series would have been a good start. Yah, I really hadn’t thought beyond book 1.

Which made me do a lot of planning before I wrote Rule of Fire, book 2! That work paid off when I wrote the final book, Spirit of Life. And I think things worked out. I’m currently re-editing Born of Water to upload it to CreateSpace and I do see some things I could have expounded upon, but the books link up nicely, even if some of the foreshadowing in book 1 was luck more than effort.

Beite, Darag's sister, I didn't realize how big a role she would play after book 1!

Beite, Darag’s sister, I didn’t realize how big a role she would play after book 1!

But, I’m not making that same mistake again. The world and story were still fuzzy for me when I wrote Born of Water. I missed the opportunity to develop story threads that tie the series together. Sure, I got to do that with books 2 and 3 while mining book 1 for ideas I could use in the later book. But when it comes right down to it, writing a trilogy is not the same as writing a stand-alone novel. There is a lot more plotting and world building involved. You have to know where the story is going and who the characters will become to foreshadow pivotal plot points that are brewing under the surface of book 1 to erupt in book 2. I can’t imagine doing this as a pantser… not for the type of story I have in mind.

The plot for a novel is often described as having three or five (or seven) ‘acts.’ Action builds, bubbles, falls to a simmer, and then explodes with a little wrap up for everyone to catch their breath (if you follow the ‘formula’). But the arc for a series… that is a different beast. Short plot lines must build, erupt, and entangle new problems. There must be an underlying theme carried through, a grand tension needing to be resolved while the shorter plots keep a reader’s attention.

Now, I understand that. Writing the first book without that in mind isn’t impossible, but it isn’t ideal.

Needless to say, my new WIP is pretty well scripted. It is a trilogy of sorts as well, though the first book is actually a collection of short stories. The world is near future, so I can say it is pretty well developed! But even though I know the ‘big’ events and can foreshadow, I’m often surprised what comes up while writing. Personality quirks give me new insight into characters. I’ve learned that the level of interconnected events that I am aiming for is something best brought out in editing.

Which means I have to write the whole darn thing (at least rough draft) before I get too far!

Eegads. There is one advantage to that, if I can make it work. Setting up the releases should be fairly easy as I’ll be in edits! Next week, I’ll talk about some of the specific things I might have changed in book 1 if I’d mapped out the trilogy earlier.

What is your method for writing a series or trilogy? Have you ever written one ‘on the fly’?


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Written by: Autumn

Autumn is a best selling indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical! She is currently settled in the wilds of Maine with her small dragonish dog and husband, searching for a portal to another world.

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  1. Scott Kaelen

    My epic fantasy series began with an idea that I’ve since pushed back until after I’ve released a few novels in the series, because that initial idea was too ambitious for a then fledgling writer. So I took a step back to consider my characters, and the world they lived in. I then began crafting a cast of individuals, races and beasts, and started chiselling world lore, locales, etc. All the while I was planning another ambitious, highly detailed and intricately interweaving plot that would span at least two novels, if not a trilogy.
    During the writing of the first 60-70k words of that first novel (plus drafted-out chapters of the second novel), it dawned on me that I had picked up a hell of a lot of back story for a number of characters, as well as plenty of history for the world, especially one particular continent.
    So I took yet another step back and began to flesh out some of those back stories. The first one became a short story of less than 3000 words, and I released it as such with exclusive content including the full first chapter (<5000 words) of the next back story.
    The second back story takes place in an entirely different part of the continent, and several hundred years after the short story, with (as yet) unrelated characters. This one is much easier to write, as it is set in one locale, with only three main characters, and will be a short novel by the time it is complete. I'm currently almost 20k words into it, and the cover is already finished and waiting for the manuscript to catch up!
    This series is absolutely my literary magnum opus, and I'm enjoying it more and more with each month. I can't wait to see how it will end up a few years down the line.

    • Weifarer

      That sounds like an amazing and ambitious project, Scott!

      And you’ve definitely taking the smart road, i.e. the path I didn’t take, realizing that you needed to work on the characters and history before you published. That is a mature decision and realization for a fledgling writer. I’d love to hear how long you’ve been writing and your experiences that led to that choice if you’d like to do a guest post or interview?

      • Scott Kaelen

        I’d be more than happy to do that, absolutely! 🙂
        I decided in late 2011 to start writing. Before that I hadn’t written anything other than a short story waaaay back during school (which was probably utter tripe!) Now, with just over two years since deciding to become a writer, I still don’t have a novel out but I do have several short stories released, and a couple with exclusive content *just* long enough to also be paperbacks, plus a collection of short stories and poetry. All of that is across multiple genres, but my emphasis now is almost solely back on the epic fantasy. The distractions were necessary during the learning process of becoming a writer.
        By all means PM me at my FB author profile and we can discuss interviews, etc. 🙂 Oh! By the way, I have a giveaway event happening in a few days for my shorts and poems collection. The epic fantasy short story is included in that, too, and I’d love you to come along and join the event and grab a free Kindle copy of my book, and maybe invite some friends along, too. 🙂
        Here’s my profile –
        And here’s my event –

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