Writing a Trilogy: The Lessons I Have Learned [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

It’s a new year, a new decade, and here I am starting on book three of my Stolen trilogy, the first series of books I’ve written. As I ease back into the world and the characters that give this series so much life, I realize how very different it has been for me to write each book. I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learned in this month’s Author Toolbox Blog Hop.

AuthorToolboxBlogHop Title Image

This hop is made up of a bunch of authors all sharing advice and experiences to help out other authors. I’m always thrilled to be part of this, and I hope you’ll take the time to go check out some of the other author blogs!

Cover for Stolen, Book 1 of the Stolen series
Stolen, Book 1 of the Stolen series

Book one (Stolen – now available) had its own challenges, as I explained way back in 2013 when I struggled with drafting it. It sometimes baffles me when I look back on that post at how much I’ve learned since then, and how much more refined my writing has become. Somehow it was easy for me then to talk about how books ought to end, how stories ought to progress, and how characters ought to evolve. It’s really different when the blank page is staring at you and you realize that you’re the only one who can create those things and finish the story. When the stakes are higher you suddenly understand why writing series is so difficult.

Cover for Broken, Book 2 of the Stolen series
Broken, Book 2 of the Stolen series

Book two (Broken – coming April 7th) had its own set of problems. I thought I had handled all the loose ends in book one quite well. I thought the sequel would just continue the story, but then details came up during writing like they do, and I couldn’t remember a character’s eye color or the color of their hair. Where was that scar again? What was that background? I have the utmost respect for people who have written ten and twenty books in a series because I think I might need to write a reference book just for myself to keep track of all the details. Needless to say, it was a learning experience–though the end product was so very worth it.

Now here I am, finally on book three (Chosen – coming soon), and I have once again a whole new challenge. All those parts and pieces I dripped in those early books now have their calling. All those last minute scenes I want to include need to be written. And this is the last call for character development. It’s honestly daunting but also thrilling at the same time. As a pantser, I too want to see how these characters get to where I want them to be. I’m looking forward to wrapping up this series and preparing for new projects, but I’m also worried about the finality of this tale coming to a close. Of course I can write spin-offs and extended universes, but this will be the end of the main story for these characters that I’ve molded and directed for eight years. I want to do the right thing for them.

This will certainly not be the last series I write, I’ve already started gathering inspiration for the next one, but I’ve learned a lot during this time and wanted to share some of my takeaways with other authors who are starting their first series. Hopefully my experiences help you!

Lessons Learned from Writing 2/3 Books in my Trilogy

  • Use a comprehensive writing system like Scrivener if you can, or make really organized folders.
    • I know, I talk about Scrivener a lot, but being able to keep all of my writing in a single file has been so helpful to keep things straight.
  • Take the time to make those character sheets.
    • You’ll miss them so much if you forget to make one for your background character in book 2. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…
  • Know generally where each book should start and end.
    • I know, it’s hard to do for us pantsers, but having a general cut-off point will help in pacing. Especially for the middle child if you’re writing a trilogy.
  • When in doubt, make a map.
    • I’ve made maps for the inside of buildings so I can make sure I can describe it properly. Just draw it out and take a picture of it to put it into your writing system so you can reference it later.
  • If possible, take breaks in between books.
    • I know for a fact this just isn’t possible for so many authors. Taking time off from a project or a world or series means it’ll take longer to get back into it again. However getting away from the world (if you can) will help enrich it. Remember to replenish that creative well!

Experimentation is of course the best teacher with these things. I’ll have to report back in a few years on whether it got easier with the next series. I would love to write very long series, but I can’t quite do it yet. I think I need to “level up” my author skills a bit more first.

I’ll probably come back and add onto this list at some point. I’m sure I’m missing some things, but I hope this helps. There’s a seemingly endless supply of advice on how to write books out there, but not so much is focused specifically on series. Hopefully this helps bridge that gap.

Have you considered writing a series? Why or why not? Any advice for those who have completed one?

Happy writing, everyone!

25 thoughts on “Writing a Trilogy: The Lessons I Have Learned [#AuthorToolboxBlogHop]

  1. Insightful post 🙂 All my story ideas are for trilogies (or more). I can’t seem to write standalone stories as I love the idea of sticking with the characters and giving them more adventures. I definitely need to start some kind of folder with character sheets, etc, before I finish book 1, as it sounds like a lifesaver!

  2. Scrivener is SO GREAT! I use it too and it was the best purchase I have ever made for my writing. I can see how it would be really useful for a series. I’m planning a possible sequel to my current WIP and I will definitely be coming back to this post to refresh myself on your tips! Thanks!

    • I’ve used Scrivener for years and even put together a Youtube series on how to use the Windows version if you’re interested! I also cover how to include several books within one project, which was mind-blowing to me way back when I started. I’m so glad this post was helpful!

  3. These are some awesome tips and I’m saving this post to look back on once I get to the point of writing my own series. I want to try one someday, but gotta get those babies in full-time school first. #writermom 🙂

  4. I struggle with getting enough words down for one book, let alone a trilogy! So I’m deeply impressed with your skills. These are great tips to keep in mind as I limp through my one book as well 🙂

  5. Congratulations on your series! I have never ever thought of a book as part of a series. I tell the story and finish it all in one swoop. Then I move on to the next story swirling through my brain. I’m sure I would have a blue-eyed mc in Book #1, but by Book #3 she’d have brown eyes! Too many details to track for me. Best wishes with #3!!
    JQ Rose

  6. Oh man! Knowing where your story or book starts and ends is crucial, Lena. Bravo on your series. I wish you all the luck with these novels. And good luck with your third book. Informative post. Thanks!

  7. I’m currently going back and forth between writing a second book in a mystery series or starting a new standalone. I actually have a plot I really like, but I could do either or with it. Part of my problem is that one day I think, yes, that first book I wrote is amazing and write the damn sequel already, but then the next day I’m like, cut your losses, start something new. Thanks for the insight!

    • You’re so welcome! Honestly that’s a problem I’ve had too with another standalone turned series. People asked for more and it took a while for me to figure out how the story could continue. Once a I got that though, I knew there was more to tell. Good luck with your books! ❤️

  8. Love the covers! Character sheets, style sheets and a reference book filled with tiny details about your world: these are an absolute must when writing series 🙂

  9. Pingback: Commission: “I’ll Be Your Stars” – Morbid Smile

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