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Three's A Charm

Published In RWR Magazine, December 2008

Sometimes one is not enough. You get to the end of that first book and the hero and heroine have found their one true love, and you can feel it but can’t quite put your finger on it.

There is something missing – some nag at the back of your head. Then suddenly you realize that Grace Montgomery might have found her perfect romance with her high school crush, Kennedy Archer, in Brenda Novak’s Dead Silence, but her brother, Cole, was still brooding over the confines of his situation, and Allie McCormick, a former a cold-case detective from Chicago, is now on the Stillwater, Mississippi police force.

You want more. You want to know what happens to Cole. For that matter, you want to know what happens to baby sister, Madeline. Thank goodness for Dead Giveaway and Dead Right, Books Two and Three in the Stillwater series. You can sleep well at night knowing Cole will live happily ever after and baby sis, Maddy, will not only find closure with the loss of the father she never really knew, but she will also find forever happiness with beach-boy-blonde, Hunter Solozano.

Thanks to an author who was as much in love with her characters and her story as were her readers, a trilogy is born.

Readers like to read trilogies because they become close to the characters involved. Writers like to write them because they are working with familiar faces in a familiar background – it’s a continuing flow to a world they are already very used to, one they have already spent many months getting to know.

Agents, editors and publishers like the trilogy because of the already established fan base that exists from Book One when Book Three is ready to submit, accept and print. The next book in a trilogy can be marketed off the success of the previous book with a waiting audience already primed to see what happens next. Says Ms. Novak, “In my experience, readers anxiously await the next book in the series ...[the writer] has already given the reader bits and pieces with which they’ve become familiar and comfortable ... so it’s easier to fall into the next book.”

For readers, it’s the visit with old friends, familiar faces and a setting where they feel comfortable.

“I don’t know if it’s because I became addicted to soap operas at an early age,” says Anne Marie Becker, long time reader and romance writer, “where you follow many people and many relationships over a long period of time, or if it’s the simple fact that when I am reading I'm becoming invested in the characters and I really want to see their relationship grow and progress while I get attached to another couple of characters.”

The trilogy does differ from a series. A series is a continuing story with familiar characters over four, five, six or more books: Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Suzanne Brockmann’s Trouble Shooter series, Roxanne St. Claire’s Bullet Catcher series. A series keeps going. A trilogy wraps up its story in three books, beginning to end, happily ever after for three couples with a mystery solved, a job well done or a family now saved.

However, trilogies are not new and not isolated to romance. Long before Viggo Mortenson picked up Narsil, the sword that was broken in the cinematic version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings, the book hit stores in three parts. This story, which took a decade of Tolkien’s life to write, was originally submitted as a single work title in the early fifties. When it was released, it came out as three books. The publisher feared the cost to the consumer if they released it as one major volume – especially considering the paper shortage going on following World War II. The novel was broken down into three parts and released as three separate, yet connecting, volumes in July 1954, November 1954 and October 1955 respectively.

Trilogies can come in various forms. Whereas Brenda Novak’s Stillwater series is three books highlighting the relationships between three different sets of characters, there is a single underlining mystery that weaves its way through all three volumes: what happened to the Reverend and why?

Allison Brennan’s books, however, take a different approach. Each book of her trilogies stands alone with common thread running through them to tie them together. Inasmuch as a character appears from one book to another, each of her books could be read on its own without losing the idea of where the story was leading. Brennan pulls one character from the previous trilogy to place in the current trilogy. Sheriff Nick Thomas was a secondary character in The Hunt (the second book of the first trilogy) and is the hero of Speak No Evil (first book of second trilogy). He is a minor character in both sequels, Fear No Evil and Killing Fear.

Says Ms. Brennan: “My stories are loosely connected, with recurring characters – such as Hans Vigo is a high-ranking FBI Agent out of Quantico who is in almost all of the books, either on or off the page – you can pick up any of my books and not feel lost.”

Roxanne St. Claire defines a trilogy as “a book with a common thread or a common setting or family or even a theme.” Her new trilogy set, First You Run, Then You Hide, and Now You Die, are part of her Bullet Cather series – it’s a trilogy within a series. This trilogy centers around a set of triplets separated at birth – each not knowing of the existence of the others – by a mother convicted of a murder she didn’t commit.

Three different trilogy authors. Three different types of books. And the possibilities don’t end there. A trilogy can be tied together by family, jobs, or a mystery that needs more time to develop, climax and conclude.

Whichever storyline the writer chooses to take in writing their trilogy, they need to put care into the development of a plot with alive, involved people which will span upward of twelve hundred pages (three books at four hundred pages each). Characters must be in-depth whether they are the primary or the secondary; hero or villain. A character who might be secondary now, might have been the main character in the previous book or vice versa. The reader is going to know their habits, their likes and dislikes. They are going to know who their friends are as well as their enemies. As in the case of Allison Brennan’s Nick Thomas, the hero of Speak No Evil, a fan of Brennan’s work would know that Nick was almost killed in the previous set of books. They are going to know why he had trouble going up the staircase in the first book of the second trilogy (spoiler ... bad knees after an infection which almost killed him). When writers are writing their trilogies, they must be as faithful to the character as they are to their reader.

They especially need to establish a villain or situation that will be interesting enough to sustain the length of the story.

Writing a trilogy does take more planning than a solo release. There is more background, more characters, more of everything.

Detailed record-keeping is not a bad idea. A notebook, a set of index cards, a computer program – some way to keep track of the overlying arch of the story as well as what color eyes hero #1 has as opposed to hero #3. Depending on how long it takes to write the book, it can be difficult to keep track of all the little details. Multiply this by three and it is necessary to know who did what with whom at what part of the story. This is true for pansters as well as for plotters. A pantser might not know what is going to happen until it does, but once a fact is established as canon in the story, it needs to be noted in a safe place so the writer can remember it throughout the story.

Jeannie Ruesch’s W-I-P Notebook is perfect for keeping track of this type of information, though for a trilogy, it might be best to use three different ones, all kept together in a two-inch binder from Staples© to keep track of all three books.

If the writer forgets how the hero takes his coffee in the morning – which was noted in Book One after he spent the night at the heroine’s house for the first time in Chapter Twelve, it is necessary for the his sister to make the coffee the exact same way when he visits her in Book Three/Chapter Six.

The hero’s bio page in the notebook, bio card in the index box, or bio computer file would have this information. The author can flip to and find this, and little sis will make big brother very happy.

Though there are several good writers computer programs on the market (Story Craft, New Novelist, Write Way to name a few) none are set up to write a trilogy. Authors can chose to either create three different files and work on one book after another or they can create one giant file, making note where the breaks would be – for instance, for Books One and Two, between Chapters 32 & 33 and then, for Books Two and Three, between Chapters 60 & 61 – but continuing in the same file.

Like all stories, trilogies must have depth, both in their story and their people. If the depth and emotions are lacking, the reader will notice right away, and this could effect how well the subsequent books are received.

Lucienne Diver, an agent with Knight Agency says this: “Like in a solo novel, what I am looking for is a fabulous voice, and original storyline, and page turning tension. I’m also looking for the stakes to be upped from book to book so that the second and third in a series don’t seem to be just new installments and outgrowth of what has become before it.”

When Nora Roberts wrote her Chesapeake Bay series, she didn’t know what would happen in Book Three when she started Book One. She knew that the brothers – Quinn, Ethan and Phillip – would find romantic relationship with their heroines, and she knew that these brothers’ father would be related to the small boy he brought home to live with him, but she didn’t know the heroine, Dr. Sybill Griffin, in the final book (another warning ... another spoiler ...!!) was going to be the boys aunt until she introduced herself on the page of Ms. Roberts’ book.

Brenda Novak likes to have an overarching idea – an idea of what connects the books – when she starts a new trilogy, such as with the siblings in the Stillwater trilogy or the best friends and violent crime survivors her current The Last Stand series. However, Ms. Novak doesn’t care to know too much of the plot. “If I did that,” she says “... I would force my characters in the direction they are ‘supposed’ to go instead of getting ‘inside’ the characters and letting them feel the story.”

Generally it is not expected for an author to have more than a vague idea of what will be in Book Three when they open the file for Book One/Chapter One. They might not even know at the onset if the book will be a trilogy. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of secondary characters becoming as alive as the primary or a mystery that cannot be told in one book. These stories grow out of themselves, the characters and plot driving the story forward, each book upping the stakes. When submitting a book as a trilogy, Maureen Walters of Curtis Brown, Ltd. recommends a completed first book and a detailed outline/synopsis of Book Two and Book Three at the time of submission. This will give editors and publishers an idea of what to expect.

“I don’t expect a writer to have more than a general idea of what will take place in three books when they start Book One,” says Ms. Diver. “By the time the last book in a series is complete, chances are that any detailed outline of Book Three would need to be completely revamped because of how much things tend to mutate in the writing.”

Sometimes one is not always enough. Not of the characters, nor their stories nor their lives. We love the places where they live, love that they find romance and love the mysteries that follow them. We want more and are willing to anxiously await at our favorite booksellers for the next installment to hit the shelves. And thanks to the dedication of some fabulous writers in today’s market, agents, editors and publishers are treated to stories that can sustain a reader’s addiction for months to come.




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