Things I Learned While Writing a Trilogy

Trilogy_full covers
Over the holidays, I finished the first draft of FADED, the third book in The Flicker Effect trilogy. HOORAY! Feedback from my first two readers has been positive, and it’s going to my hard-core editor in February. Here’s the not-yet-finalized blurb:

Biz didn’t think life could get worse after she tried—and failed—to stop a horrific event, but when she accidentally flickers into a car on her eighteenth birthday after doing shots of vodka—she’s forced to face the consequences of her actions in a way she never imagined. When an anonymous email threatens to reveal her secret, Biz must decide if flickering is all it’s cracked up to be, or if she needs to stop flickering. Forever.

I never quite know what to do with myself when I’m in between drafts—so far I’ve been reading a lot, playing soccer and dodgeball, and I purchased all the materials to make a magnetic chalkboard—so I thought I’d share with you a few things I discovered as I fumbled my way through this series.

It’s very very important to keep a character bible.

Mid-way through the first draft of FRACTURE I realized Biz didn’t have a last name. At least I didn’t remember giving her a last name. But since I never kept track of that HUGE detail, I had to skim through ALL OF FLICKER to make sure. Nope, I never called her anything beyond Biz and her BFF Amelia refers to Biz’s dad as Mr. Biz.

I started a loose guide at that point, but with FADED I ran into the same problem. I don’t spend a lot of time naming secondary characters—I often write the first name that pops into my head—so when a new character from chapter three resurfaces ten chapters later, there’s very little to help me recall that person’s name.

It’s difficult to promote books 2 and 3 without giving away THE BIG THING from books 1 and 2.

I was working on the back cover copy (see above) over the weekend and once again was faced with this challenge: how do I refer to the BIG HUGE LIFE-CHANGING EVENT that was the climax of the previous book without giving away the ending to those who haven’t read it? You want to hook readers so they’ll want to read it, but for someone who’s never read any of my books, I don’t want them to skim through the descriptions of each one and be disappointed.

Ending a trilogy is much bigger than ending a stand-alone book.

Concluding a book has always been a challenge for me. I don’t want the ending to be trite or clichéd, or worse, leave readers feeling unsatisfied (well, except for the end of FRACTURE), and I often struggle with finding the perfect way to end a story.

Well, multiply that times a hundred for ending a series. Based on my outline, I was still several chapters from The End when I realized, “Hey, I’m already in the end.” Story lines that started in FLICKER were wrapping up without me realizing it (this is the stuff we writers say that annoys non-writers) so I had to back-track and make sure ALL the loose ends were tucked neatly away. The character arcs from books one and two had to close as well. As my husband teases me: ALL THE THINGS. There was a lot more than I expected, but I’m happy with how it came together.

You’ll both dread and look forward to saying goodbye to your characters.

FADED will be published in June and I’ll have to say goodbye to Biz, Cameron, Amelia, and my new favorite character Quinn. They’ve been with me since 2010 and while it makes me sad to let them go, I’m excited to get to know the characters in my next book. I still need to do character development projects to learn what makes them tick (I know Cally loves to ski, but what’s her favorite subject in school, or her least-favorite food?) and I’m a little nervous I won’t love them the same.

Then again, they say there’s always a special place in your heart for your first love.

About Melanie Hooyenga

Writer. Designer. Jock. Reader. Wife. Puppy-Mama.
SCBWI member since 2015.

9 Comments

  1. Whew! Reading this reminds me just how exhausting and exciting it is to write one book let alone a trilogy! Congrats, Melanie! Biz was a lucky character to come from such a talented writer.

    • Your article is coming to me at great time, considering that I’m just getting ready to release book 2 in my transcendental sci-fi series, and am confronted with similar problems.

      What did you end up settling on vis-a-vis spoilers? Did you try to make it possible to start with book 2 if necessary?

      I can definitely see the 3rd book being a challenge, although I may just not stop there. And maybe you won’t either 😉

      • I definitely make sure each book can stand alone. Book 2 ends with a cliffhanger but each is its own story.

        As for spoilers, I dropped hints that something big happened and left it at that.

        Good luck finishing your series!

  2. Hi Melanie,

    I’m wrapping up my Super Villain Academy series, the 3rd book – Super Bad – releases in June, as well. I had so many of the same experiences you describe here. I’m so excited for the complete series to be out there in the world though. I find it so satisfying to know readers will finally have all the answers. Best of luck to Faded! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. I also learned all the same lessons. Another lesson I learned is that as I was writing the third book, I discovered some things that I wished I had done just a little bit different in the first book. You have to live up to the situations you create in your first book all through the whole story, and sometimes that puts you in the position of having to work around, or change, some plot moments in the third book. For example, I introduced a new character in the third book and I needed some backstory to link him to the main character… although it worked out fine, it would have been nice to be able to foreshadow that in the first book. In another case, something I wanted to do in the third book simply didn’t work with the geography I’d created in the first book, so I had to change that completely. But that’s also a fun part: it’s like a puzzle, working all that out.

    • Oh yes, definitely! There are a couple details in book one that I literally kicked myself for not thinking ahead. It really screwed up what I wanted to do in book two. I was able to work around it, but my initial readers dinged me on it.

  4. Pingback: Author Interview: Melanie Hooyenga – Niche Of A Booknerd

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