Do you ever wonder how to write an epic trilogy? I’m guessing you do–after all, it’s easy to write your book right up until the moment you sit down to do just that.
Then you realise you don’t have just one book inside you, but you have a whole trilogy.
Obviously, it has to be amazing too, so that makes it harder. And suddenly, writing your book isn’t all that straightforward anymore.
Fortunately, Noelle Riches is here to share her wisdom with you 😉
If you’re a pantser, you’re probably happy to make it up as you go along, but I reckon Noelle has something for you anyway.
And if you’re a plotter, like me… Well, then the prospect of plotting an entire trilogy likely makes you ecstatic as well as nervous.
Make a tea, get some chocolate, and make yourself comfortable. Noelle is about to tell you how to write an epic trilogy!
How to Write an Epic Trilogy
Before we go any further, I’ll have to admit that the title might be a teeeeeensy bit misleading. If only I were conceited enough to presume to teach others how to write an Epic Trilogy! Sadly (fortunately?), I am not that writer, though it is fun to pretend.
I have written a trilogy, and I have gotten it published, though the road was rocky (and scenic), and I have certainly collected a few helpful nuggets along the way.
So if you’re a reader of trilogies, or a writer/ hopeful writer of a trilogy, or series, buckle up, because it is a pretty fun ride!
I want to say that both my process of writing a trilogy, as well as the road to getting published, was not the average story. I also assume that most people’s writing journeys are unique snowflakes, each with their own not–so–normal journey.
The first trilogy I ever wrote was a young adult middle grade–ish book called The Tree Tenders. It ended up being waaaaay too long (as many a first novel is known to be), with no second or third book in sight and a very foggy understanding of what middle graders actual like or their reading level.
Not a great start, I’ll admit. I discarded it!
And then less than a year later I wound up at the movie theatre to watch what was basically my entire book, down to NAMES OF CHARACTERS, unravelled before my horrified eyes.
What was the movie, you may ask? Well it was one word, a word found in the title of this post. ‘Nuff said.*
*Actually, no, not ‘nuff said. Because I should probably add that yes, it was super eerie to see the names of characters show up in a movie that was a book that began in my mind, and then obviously the mind of someone else. Collective unconscious anyone?
But also I should probably add that there were some key differences, to be fair, and because of timing, absolutely zero chance of them stealing from me, or me stealing from them. It was just, like, the wildest coincidence ever.
And the movie was, disappointingly, much better than my book. But still. That’s pretty crazy right?
So then I realized hey, maybe I do have okay ideas.
But by then I was on a romance rampage, and that was when the Queen’s Training began.
Yet again, I wrote the first book, somehow assumed I’d plotted the next two, came back to it over a year later and realized, huh, no I never did make any plans for the next two. Again.
This time, though, I persevered. I pushed through the messy job of writing and editing them in the haphazard way a 3-year-old might build a jenga tower:
With zero organization skills or knowledge of how it’s done, and only a hazy idea of what they might want it to look like in the end so that it didn’t get knocked down before it was finished.
Friends, I would not recommend this.
So here’s what I would recommend, in super organized bullet point, because I have learned my lesson. See???
- Plan the living hell out of the trilogy. That’s right, I’m talking all of it.
- Know your characters and how you want them to grow on multiple levels.
- Keep notes like an obsessive detective’s ‘crazy wall’. You know, the kind of detective who’s been at it for years and is one pin short of being carted off to the loony bin.
Let’s start with the first. I want to say it’s the most important, but really, it’s all important if you don’t want to go insane.
Honestly, I would highly recommend writing all three books before even looking at publishers/agents to query.
I know that’s a huge commitment, and insane in its own right, but the reason is twofold.
One, you’ll KNOW you have the books straight, there are no missing pieces, no getting to the last book and thinking Damn! I meant to add that in the first and now it’s too late and this doesn’t work and I’m doomed!
Seriously, my very circuitous path to getting published really saved my butt on many occasions.
And two, because it’s easier to get a publisher interested in committing their time and energy to your books when they know you’ve committed your time and energy to your books.
With a manuscript “finished”, I queried many an agent and publisher. When I heard back that it was accepted, it was the best day.
When I then learned months later that the publishers were going under… well, it wasn’t my best day.
Surprise, surprise, I was a bit bummed. But not discouraged!
The first book was as done as it was going to get on my own. I’d written the first draft of the second book, and I had thoroughly outlined the third.
I was more than ready. It was going to happen for me again. I was determined. I kept editing the second, querying the first.
And it did! I signed again with another publisher. The editor on my book was probably my best teacher and supporter ever. We’re still in contact and she still edits my books before I even think about querying. She’s gold.
Anyway, love fest aside, the first book got farther in the process, but again the publisher folded.
I was crushed, and then began questioning what on earth I was doing.
But I picked myself up from the ice cream puddle on the floor I created in reaction to this terrible tragedy and continued writing, editing, and querying for my effing life.
And maybe it was some wonky number three magic (you know, with the trilogy and all), but it worked! Publisher number 3 took the bait, and they had endgame, people.
I’ve gotten COMPLETELY off track, though. The point of the story was that during that process, I was able to thread the sub–plots through all three books like I wouldn’t have been able to had I had each one published before they were finished.
The characters gained complexity. Little tidbits I added into the third book to deepen the story only happened because I could still backtrack into the first and plant those seeds.
Now, I’m not saying you have to write them all at once. Although, I did get more bites that third round of querying, and I strongly believe it was because the publishers knew I was a finisher instead of an ‘I have this idea and hopefully I’ll get it all done—er’.
But if that’s not your bag and you are a one–at–a–time kinda writer, please, for the love of god and all that is holy, plan the living hell out of your trilogy. You’ll thank yourself for it.
Know your characters. Obviously, this goes for any book you write, but characters ARE the story.
You might be rocking the craziest, most interesting storyline, plot twists, red herrings, you name it, but if I don’t care about the characters involved getting hurt, falling in love, sacrificing their ultimate sacrifices, then I’ll probably put your book down.
The only important difference in the whole ‘know your characters’ plea when it comes to trilogies versus stand alones is that the character arcs are a bit trickier to manage.
In each book, you want the character going through some serious business that challenges them, weakens them, makes them stronger.
But then you have to do that in each of the three books as well as through the length of the three books.
Each character has to have its own character arc in each book, while also balancing a larger, more complex personal growth throughout the trilogy.
They have to learn their lessons, but still have more to learn. As humans, we do this all the time. As authors, we have to make that happen for our characters. We have to make sure plot and character growth are feeding each other seamlessly.
Which brings me back to the first point: if you plan your books and know what’s going down, it should be easier to manage and readers will be hooked.
Third. The crazy board. You know the one I’m talking about, with yarn and mugshots and pushpins, like a homecraft spiderweb on acid that has people backing out of the room because you may turn them into delicious human soup because you seem little a total nutter.
I’ll admit, I was not this person.
I did not make this crazy thing. But I really, really wish I had.
I would have lost some friends, sure, and maybe I’d be put on a watch list. But they’re the sacrifices we make, amiright?
And it would have saved a great deal of hair pulling and a whole ‘premature woman balding’ Google history I hope no one finds.
(It’s growing back, thank god.)
Instead, I chose (and continue to choose, despite knowing better, jeez) to write notes about things I want to remember when I go back and edit. Along with character profiles, plot notes, everything that belongs on that board. It’s super disorganized and I rarely look back at it, or I get deeply confused by it when I do.
So what I end up doing is get frustrated through my many gruelling edits, flipping back and forth, getting lost and found a million times throughout while I hopefully lock it all down and keep everything consistent.
A disorganized–looking but actually super clear crazy board would have helped. Oy.
And that, my friends, is writing a trilogy in a nutshell.
Easy, right? Well, no, but so fully worth it when it’s all said and done.
My main problem is saying goodbye to my characters now the trilogy is wrapped up. I’ve recently been turning my mind to writing spin-offs from the Queen of Oran trilogy.
What? I have a problem letting go. I’m in therapy, don’t judge me.
As a reader, I appreciate the effort authors put forth to feed me the lengthy storylines I crave. More so now, but really, I’ve always loved a good trilogy.
Because when you fall in love with characters, with a whole world, you just don’t want The End.
Did Noelle’s tips on how to write an epic trilogy help you? What are your own tips? Make another tea and chat with us! <3
Noelle Riches studied English Literature at the University of Guelph only to realize she much preferred the heart–racing stories she read between lectures.
She has taught English in Japan and made chocolate in Vancouver, but it wasn’t until she started a job in the health and wellness field in Toronto that she returned to her first passion—writing.
She now lives in a forest cottage minutes from downtown Guelph, Ontario, raising her son, practicing her chocolate house building skills, working the job she refuses to give up, enjoying her second chance at love, writing as much as she can, and attempting to avoid falling in love with yet another hobby. (spoiler alert, it’s not working, life is too fun.)