Back when I first started writing The Four Stars, there were a lot of things I never could have imagined. First and foremost, I never imagined that it would take not only a second but a third book to finish the story out; secondly, I never thought I’d ever be completely rewriting the stories after a 90 degree learning curve from my time in college; and on top of all that, I never thought it would take me 3-ish years to get to chapter 2 of the rewrite of The Secret of Erris.
I have to admit, I haven’t done much writing in those 3 years. Part of that has been simple adult life. Between work and other life commitments, I just haven’t figured out how to prioritize and find the time to sit down and write. There are other things, too, though. In college, I got spoiled to having access to a community of writers who would encourage and inspire me every time we met. Writing groups still exist outside of college, but I have discovered that they are few and far between, and they only meet on days that I can’t attend the meetings. And then there’s the real kicker: I just don’t have the confidence in my ability that I once had. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” After going for a while without writing, I have, at the very least, lost my confidence, if not my skill.
My life has settled down a lot recently (I’m married now, and I live a lot closer to where I work), and so in attempting to get myself back into gear for the umpteenth time since I published the second edition of The Four Stars, I have started reading more articles on writing.
The most recent article I have read – “Writing a Trilogy: Essential Tips for crafting a Three-Part Series” by Dan Koboldt – really hit home for me.
As Koboldt explains in his article, the first book of a trilogy is the easy part. It may not seem that way at first. After all, you’re building a world and a group of characters from the ground up. But the first book has no commitments. You have no rules to break yet because none have been established. You have no events or facts to remember yet because none have been revealed. You have no characters to present accurately because they haven’t been born yet. There are no time commitments, no reader expectations, no pressures.
Then comes the second book. Your world has been established. Your readers and characters have met. The next part of the story is waiting to unfold.
Now when writing, you have a whole new set of challenges. First, you have to remember what happened in the last book. Heaven forbid you’re like me and wait 3+ years to get this party started.
Then, you have to write the characters accurately. For a new writer, this may sound easy, until you realize that characters inevitably take on a life of their own, so the character you thought you were writing at the beginning of Book 1 may very well not be the same character by the beginning of Book 2. And your readers expect consistency.
And then there’s the whole plot issue. Book 2 is both a story in and of itself and a continuation of the plot from Book 1. And somehow, you have to balance both, while simultaneously setting up the story for Book 3.
Then, to top it all off, there are expectations of excellence. I think that, for me, that’s where it really gets me. I got a lot of positive feedback from the rewrite of The Four Stars. Now I’ve got to deliver on The Secret of Erris. And there’s always that risk that I will fail. Koboldt calls it the “sophomore slump,” or the “struggle to replicate the same magic in a second volume.” Being the perfectionist that I am, the fear of failing to deliver is crippling.
Luckily for me (and others like me), there are writers out there willing to share their wisdom, and for the formula of the second book in a trilogy, Koboldt puts it this way:
When writing a trilogy, you need to continue the story from book one while escalating everything—conflict, tension and stakes—to pull readers along to the finale. Yet book two also needs to provide some satisfaction to readers. It requires a delicate balancing act, because you can’t get to the big ending until book three.
Since part one of a trilogy usually ends in a triumph, part two often features the antagonist’s devastating counterstroke. Look at The Empire Strikes Back, the second movie in the original Star Wars trilogy. The plucky rebels have won a major victory, but they still face a powerful enemy. This becomes apparent almost right away with the Empire’s destruction of the rebel base. We love the heroes, but they’re facing setback after setback. The wonderful dramatic tension that results from this is something to emulate when you’re writing a second installment.
It seems silly now, but despite my husband being a major Star Wars fan, I had never thought to sit down and analyze how the trilogies in the series were done. I don’t know that my writing will ever be Star Wars or Lord of the Rings quality, but at least this gives me something to visualize. And hopefully, as I study the classics and begin practicing my writing again, I’ll start to improve and be able to deliver a Book 2 equal to its predecessor.