writers tips / writing

Tricks to Writing Trilogies

I shared this article on an efriend’s blog during the launch of my latest prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature. Here it is in case you missed it:

I didn’t start out writing a trilogy. It was supposed to be a story and then it got long, longer, and finally ended up enough for three books. Of course, a trilogy isn’t just a story broken into thirds:

trilogy is a set of three stories that are connected and can be seen either as a single work or as three individual works. … Most involve the same characters or setting

Why is my series structured as multiple trilogies

My series is called Man vs. Nature (the link takes you to my author page with all the books listed). It examines seminal times in man’s evolution to explore what went right/wrong and how events moved mankind forward in our development to ‘modern man’. I had intended this to be one book for each event but soon found that was sorely inadequate. There just wasn’t enough time to fully develop the ideas so readers would understand that amazing time in his predecessor’s evolution while staying true to fiction characteristics like plot development, characters, and setting. Three books seems to work much better.

I have three trilogies so far:

Dawn of Humanity–the birth of man

Book 1 and 2 are published; Book 3 planned for early next year

Crossroads–the story of the most resilient species of our genus ever (Homo erectus)

This trilogy is completed but left the door open for a time man survived some of the coldest climes this planet has ever experienced

The Warrior Way–when humans almost became extinct

In the planning stages

Why Write a trilogy

Writers must choose what format their story will take. You can write a stand-alone book, a duology/trilogy (or more), a series, or something else I’m not familiar with. One of the most popular formats is the trilogy. Here’s why:

  • Readers get to stay with favorite characters while still knowing there’s not a never-ending story.
  • Many readers like the long story idea of trilogies.
  • The scope of a trilogy offers writers a liberating sense of space and freedom.
  • Many people who read one book in a trilogy will then read the rest, which is great for sales!

Tricks for writing trilogies

Here are a few tips for writing trilogies. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them but they are well-accepted tips for writing this format:

  1. Break the story into three acts.
  2. Include the same characters, overall theme in each.
  3. Each book should satisfy readers on its own, be able to stand alone should the reader not want to read the others.
  4. Book 2 and 3 should briefly summarize events in Book 1/Book 2 so readers understand what happened if they didn’t read them.
  5. Leave some unanswered questions in Book 1 and 2 but not too many. And, resolve some of those posited in Book 1 and 2 in later books.
  6. Some writers write all three at once and then publish all at once or with sequential roll-outs. Others write them one at a time. There doesn’t seem to be any right or wrong.
  7. This is well-suited to genres with longer books like epic fantasy.
  8. Write Book 1 at your leisure but write Book 2 and 3 on a tight schedule. Readers don’t want to wait forever for the rest of the story.
  9. Book 3 ends the story with this caveat: Don’t worry if it doesn’t. Write another. It just means you no longer have a trilogy. Now you have a series.
  10. There is no set way to structure a trilogy. You can make it one long story with stopping points. It can be an extended anthology where each book is only loosely related to the others. It may be character- or plot-driven.

Most popular trilogies

  • Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The African Trilogy by Chinua Achebe
  • The Night Trilogy by Elie Wiesel
  • The House of Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  • The Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King
  • The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
  • Unraveling the Veil by D. Wallace Peach
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
  • Innerscape by A.C. Flory

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.


76 thoughts on “Tricks to Writing Trilogies

  1. I’m a pantster and a slow writer, so these days I write the whole trilogy before publishing the first book. Apart from keeping readers happy, doing it all in one means that I can go back to book 1 and make changes to keep things consistent with book 3. I wish I’d done that with the very first book I published. There’s something in there I’m dying to change. Ah well.

    Great article, Jacqui, and I’m chuffed you included one of mine in your list as I’ve read and loved most of the others, including Unravelling the Veil which has become one of my all-time favourites. I’m going to check out the ones I haven’t read yet. Thanks for the recommendations. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      • Good luck! There are a lot of advantages to doing it in one hit – consistency, structure etc etc – but it’s also hard to resist the desire to publish your new baby once it’s finished. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

          • My sales are so low, I’ve gotten to the point of just shrugging off the whole marketing side of things. I envy people who can write /and/ publish three books a year. For them, the marketing works. For snails like me, not so much.
            On the plus side, you could run a marketing blitz over 3 months – 1 month per book. That does take a lot of energy though. :/

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, it would but you’d need a lot of extra ‘content’ to keep the buzz happening. Do you have bits and pieces of your research that you could offer up? Both as an insight into the creation of the story[ies] and as interesting content above and beyond the actual books.
              If you do end up doing it, I’d love to know how it goes, and what you did. 😀

              Liked by 1 person

            • And that’s another great idea. I know when I discovered that until recently (recent being a fungible term in the fullness of history), people squatted didn’t sit. That post got a lot of interest from readers.

              Thanks for the idea!

              Liked by 1 person

            • Oh! Yes! That’s exactly the kind of thing that would pique my interest too. I remember seeing footage of primitive tribes squatting rather than sitting but never put the two thoughts together.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Tricks to Writing Trilogies – Adams Exports

  3. Excellent tips, Jacqui. I’ve been thinking about developing my current urban fantasy into a trilogy. There is more than enough room to continue the story as book 1 will be a springboard for bigger problems to be resolved.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great tips, Jacqui. I agree that trilogies take lots of planning. Not only doesn’t each book need to find a good ending place, but if the triology is one long story, I think the stakes need to keep increasing from book to book. I use the 7-step story structure for each book and then lay it over the entire trilogy as well. I can’t imagine pantsering the beast. Lol. And thanks so much for the shout out of Unraveling the Veil. 🙂 So kind of you. Happy Writing!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting food for thought on writing trilogies. I like how you mentioned with writing a trilogy, there is much more space and freedom for character and narrative development – honing own to the nitty gritty of personas and story arcs. Not sure if I’ll ever write a trilogy. I’m currently writing my first book and it’s already hard enough. But I’m not saying never 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting topic, Jacqui! At what point in the process did you realize you were going to write a trilogy? Almost from the start, partway through the first book, or later?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I realized my book was a trilogy when the first one in the Crossroads trilogy was way too long for a book! Then I got the idea to write trilogies based on seminal events in evolution. This was all long after my first fiction book!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It seems to be a formula that is working well for you. I’ve left room for a sequel if I decide to go that route with my current project. It’s a tricky balance between solving most problems and leaving a little wonder in a reader’s mind. As of now, I’m working on something completely different as it seems premature to assume my first work of fiction will be well-received.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I lucked in to my trilogy. It was sort of like I had just done some yard work (first book), and then I walked into a post (second book), and staggered a few steps forward and twisted my ankle in a hole (third book).

    Pantser life.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Hi, Jacqui. These are excellent tips. I’ve written two trilogies but I recall how daunting the first one seemed when I started out. I enjoy them as both a reader and a writer, especially if the books also work as standalones but have a major ongoing arc.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. The idea of writing a trilogy exhausts me. Yet, I find it fascinating and kind of wished I’d thought of it before. Although if the books would all be based on my lifestyle, it would probably turn into a series. Maybe one day, I will do this and rebrand the first memoir. Who knows? My problem is that I want to travel more than I want to write…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Jackie – such an interesting post … and you’re obviously so well organised and have planned your trilogy ideas … so they pan out. I’m looking forward to reading more … cheers – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love #9, Jacqui. I can’t imagine having enough story in me for a trilogy, let alone more. You certainly do, though. I haven’t read any of those trilogies on your list. I think I have read a few series over the years though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel the same about a series. All you’d have to do is add an overarching theme that doesn’t conclude for three books. Like Amanda trying to find what country she wants to live in or what job she wants. I do enjoy following along as Amanda grows and matures through each story.


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