November 7, 2016

Writing a Trilogy-Hook, Hold and Satisfy

By Steve Bradshaw

When the first book of The Bell Trilogy published in 2012, it launched my journey as a mystery/thriller writer. At that time I did not realize writing a trilogy was tantamount to catching a sixty-foot wave the first day I picked up a surfboard. Writing the next two books of the trilogy proved a daunting task. Now, the trilogy doing well and the release of my forth novel in November—EVIL LIKE ME—and well into writing fifth thriller for a May 2017 release, I have a few lessons learned to share that may help the trilogy writers out there.

The typical novel length ranges from 80,000 to 120,000 words. For most writers, managing a “story arc” over that amount of “word acreage” is enough of a challenge. If you subscribe to Nigel Watts (Writing a Novel) philosophy, there are eight elements of the story arc that must be addressed—stasis, trigger, quest, surprise, choice, climax, reversal, and resolution. Each element must be well crafted to successfully hook, hold, and satisfy the reader. Writing a trilogy significantly amplifies that writing challenge.

By definition a trilogy is three connected works with a combined length between 250,000 and 400,000 words. Not only must the “story arc” be well crafted for each novel, it must also be firmly in place for the trilogy as an entity. Just as each book must have a beginning, middle, and end, the trilogy (as a connected body of work) must too.

When considering the construction of the “trilogy story arc”, the writer must think in broad terms. For example, the first paragraph in the first book must have some relevance to the last paragraph in the last book—if not, why a trilogy? The characters throughout the trilogy must be introduced, develop or fade, or drop out for reasons that support the individual book story arcs and the trilogy arc. There must be good reasons for each character and event or the reader will not invest the extra time and attention to read “three novels”. A trilogy asks a lot of a reader. Therefore the reader asks a lot of the writer. Everything must connect and be relevant to the trilogy experience or it must be eliminated. There is no room for tangents and dead ends.   

Some authors just write. Others have outlines and plans. To write a trilogy, I believe a plan is necessary because there are a lot of details to manage over the course of its creation that can take two to three years. I kept track of each character and story event on a master timeline (on and EXCEL spreadsheet). The Bell Trilogy had roots a century old.

If you decide to write a trilogy, you will benefit by laying out the key elements of your story arc that you believe will hook, hold, and satisfy your readers over the duration of a quarter-million or more words. Be sure the story merits three books? If it does, grab your surfboard and take that sixty-foot wave. 

It is an incredible ride.

Steve Bradshaw is a forensic mystery/thriller author drawing on life experiences as forensic investigator and biotech entrepreneur. He received a BA from University of Texas and trained at the Institute of Forensic Sciences. Steve investigated 3,000+ unexplained deaths for the Medical Examiner Office. As founder-president/CEO of an innovative biomed company, he led development of an innovative meniscus implant now under FDA clinical review. Today, Steve puts his readers on the front row in fascinating worlds of fringe science, forensic investigation, and the chilling pursuit of real monsters. Visit his website and read the first chapters of second edition of The Bell Trilogy—BLUFF CITY BUTCHER, THE SKIES ROARED, and BLOOD LIONS. His new novel EVIL LIKE ME just released. Social media links are: Website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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