Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Writing a Trilogy - More RWA workshop notes

What I'm reading: The Dark of the Day, by Barbara Parker

What I'm writing: Chapter 18, scene 2

The last of my workshop notes covers Susan Mallery's workshop on The Arc of the Trilogy. It seems that the hot thing right now is a rapid release of three connected books. I'm writing connected books, but they definitely don't fit the definition of a trilogy, so I thought I'd attend the workshop to see if this might be a direction I'd like to take. (Or, so I'd be ready if my agent called and said she found someone who wants three books!)

Of course, her opening statement that writing a trilogy isn't three times harder than writing a single book—it's at least ten times harder—did give me pause.

First, you have to have enough story for three complete books. Think of a 1200 page book. And you have to plot. That's scary enough for me. And since publishers don't wait a year between releases, that's a LOT of writing time. If you can crank out 10 pages a day, 5 days a week, that's 6 months just for the writing. I'm more of a 5 page a day person.

So, things to consider when you're starting out on the quest for the trilogy.

Do you have enough story? Although the books are connected, each has to be distinctively different. You'll need three separate story arcs, plus one overlying story arc that connects all three books. The midpoint of Book 2 would be the midpoint of the trilogy arc. AND – you need a THEME.

Susan Mallery urged anyone who wants to write a trilogy to have their single-sentence pitch ready from the get-go, in order to help keep all things in focus as you write.

She did have a few encouraging words for those 'pantsers' among us. If you don't have the whole arc plotted, you need to know:

What kind of a trilogy is it?
Where it's going.
What will be resolved.
What Book 1 is about.

Next: Characters

They can't be too much alike, or too different. If you're writing a romance, that means you've got 6 major players, plus more who will be secondary characters throughout the trilogy. It's important to keep track of all the details, including the walk ons, because they might be back! I've only started doing this for my current books. When I was writing When Danger Calls, I didn't really know I'd be back with the same group of guys, but now I try to keep character notes. I'm still doing them as I write, though—as I discover facts about each character, I write them down. But I don't do back story digging if I don't need to for that particular book. However, Mallery says a one word descriptor might be all you need.

Some other words of wisdom:

Vary locations. (see yesterday's post about that topic).
Put two favorite characters in the second book.
Combine secondary characters to avoid a cast of thousands
Keep track of back story. It's got to be the same for character A if he appears in all 3 books.
Keep track of time. Make sure you don't create a character in one book who's the wrong age in the next, especially if there's a leap of 'book time' between books.
Plant hints for reveals in future books. Keep a master list.

For me, the hardest part about writing books that pick up recurring characters is always how much to reveal and when. As a reader, I'm not a 'look at the end' person. I like to follow things through, step-by-step, minute-by-minute with the characters I'm reading about. Goes back to my love of whodunit type mysteries. So, if I'm reading and I meet characters and the author starts showing me they've already been introduced and resolved their own conflicts in an earlier book, my first reaction is to STOP reading that book and go find the first. I hate coming into the middle of a series. I read a best-selling thriller, and it was an excellent book, but there were so many references to what had happened to the main character before this book started that I have no desire to go back and read that book. So I agonize over this one as I write.

Mallery suggests that the author can recap the external issues, but not the romance. Let the readers find that in the previous books if they come in late.

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