Monday, October 17, 2011

Writing a Trilogy, Part One

Howdy folks, and welcome to another Ramble about Writing! I promise this - it'll be a ramble, and it'll be about writing! And, as per the title, it'll be about writing a trilogy. Lets go!

What Are Some Fantasy Novel Trilogies?

When I first started writing, well, I was young. I was heavily influenced by the earliest Dragonlance novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, as well as the "Last Herald-Mage" novels by Mercedes Lackey. While my style and subject of sci-fi writing was much different than theirs, my ambitions were similar.

In 2005 I released my first novel. I proudly declared that it was a "Volume One." I had a clear plan of where Volumes Two and Three would go, and I even had plans for short stories! Oh, wait, no...I actually wrote those! I had notes on what would be coming, notes on what I'd already written, and grand schemes for how I would set about collecting new ideas to include without tainting the old.

I left the story off on a cliffhanger, put the first book out, and started on the second. As we speak, or at least on the same day that I'm putting this article out, I'm working on the third!

What Are Some Problems with Writing a Trilogy?

Now, you have to factor in some extenuating circumstances when you inevitably ask, "Wait, its 2011 and you don't have the third book out, yet?" A death in the family'll do that, although I shudder to ever use that as a rationalization for my delays. Oh, its not that I didn't hurt; rather, its that the hurt was just part of the problem.

My weakness, or one of them, is organization. My desk, which I'm ultra-proud to have by-the-by, is covered with, among other things; scattered post-it notes, legos, a microphone, plenty of Coca-Cola cans, a loose-object holder (mostly empty) and a lamp. Over half a decade ago, in 2005, I didn't have half of this level of organization.

I had a text file with novel-notes - I can't open it because I don't have a copy of the appropriate program.

I had a notebook - I lost it, got another; lost that, got a third.

I had crystal-clear ideas on what I wanted to do - With time and with other things in my life, it got fuzzy.

I needed to come up with some plot-hole fixes - The above three problems crippled this endeavor.

The bottom line here is that, maybe - just maybe - I wasn't ready. Oh, its not that my skills at actually writing weren't up to par. They've improved, certainly, since then! But they were never the issue. The real problem was that I wasn't as prepared to write as I thought. And, so, that's my number one thing to suggest if you're planning to write a Trilogy - be really fucking precise.

Oh, I haven't taken this advice in full, quite yet. I'm hoping to, I really am. But will I? Well, lets just say that I plan to re-read my own books to really get in touch with the old material. But if you want to be a better writer (at least, in the execution segment of the art) than me?

Some Pointers On Writing a Trilogy

First of all, organize your notes. I'm talking "If you have a file cabinet, use it" organization. Folders seem nice, but unless they're large binders (and even then), all it takes is one mis-placing and you're in trouble. When I got my second notebook I thought "gee, its nice and awesome and I love it. I'll never leave it out of my sight." Then, after using it so often it was an automatic in the back of my mind, I lost track of it. Folders? Yeah, I've done that with them, too. To boil it down: Dedicate not just a folder or book to your writing, but an entire area!

Next, well, really make sure you have the length of a Trilogy and that you have it broken up properly - and I mean really, really properly. Oh, I do! But my first book was 120,000 words. My second one hovered at 100,000. The third will be shorter, in large part because my prose has been refined over the years but also because of one simple problem - The immediate circumstances almost always look larger than further-off ones. I planned on three separate books worth of events, but when I look back on the story it seems the first contained a lot of less-effectively-described situations (a consequence of being younger and less proficient at the art of writing), while the second is much better written but with comparatively less things happening. The third is (I should hope) going to be even more pleasantly written, but I'm finding that my challenge is more in wrapping up plot threads neatly than in describing situations.

Finally, I suppose the best advice I have is to really know what you're getting into. Writing is not easy. In writing this article I realized I've spent about 15-20 minutes more than I thought I would. My hands hurt from typing (cheap shot jokes go here!). Coming up with witty/poignant/enlightening/dramatic dialogue requires practice, and describing characters consistently or introducing scenes with a sense of realism can be a nightmare. If you notice all of your places devolve into a single motif, you might need to actually go to a different real place. Working on an idea that you're really excited about is fun, but once that initial excitement dies you're going to need something to sustain your writing.

That's what preparation is for.

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