The Power of Three

Not in a Charmed sort of way, or not exactly. I began my current project with the idea that it was a standalone novel, but about fifty pages in, I realized that it needed to be a trilogy. A lot of my favorite books have been part of trilogies — from growing up with L.J. Smith’s Forbidden Game, Secret Circle, and Dark Visions (and for a while, Vampire Diaries before that got serialized) to Lord of the Rings and the Song of Albion trilogy by Stephen Lawhead. I like the possibility that exists within trilogies, but in the last couple days, I’ve been asking myself about the structure of the individual novels within a trilogy. I just read phenomenal series on structure by bestselling author Kristen Lamb, which you can find on her blog. (Start with the first installment; there are seven.) It made me rethink the structure of my first novel in particular, especially when it comes to the Big Bad. I love my Big Bads — they’re insidious and sometimes insane, and a couple of them have some great back story.

Andrew's depiction of the ultimate Big Bad: The First

Anyway, one of the points she makes is that each book should show the protagonist defeating that book’s Big Bad for the climax. It’s the way fiction has been done for ages, and I can’t say I disagree. While at first I felt a wee bit trod upon by the statement, it made me think seriously about the way the structure of a novel affects the experience readers have with it. Must every book end with the Big Bad dead? No. Sometimes the Big Bad is as incorporeal as the big, dumb The First. But there is a reason things like “rising action” and “climax” exist.

It’s a little bit like sex that way, I suppose. No one really wants to get busy, get bored, and then have it be over. I find it interesting that terminology for plot corresponds pretty directly with terminology for sex, if you substitute “introduction” for “arousal,” but really when you write a novel, you want your intro to get your reader so hot and bothered that they can’t stop.

That paragraph ended up in a different place than it started out.

I’ve started the third book of my trilogy, and coupling (aaaaah, sexy words, get outta my blog!) that with the series on structure I just read, it’s gotten me thinking about how my books “flow.” As Ms. Kristin Lynn (different Kristen) said the other day, that word is annoying and nebulous. I’m not even sure what it means without using it to define itself, and that’s just silly. Unfortunately, that misty little concept manifests itself in the way of poor plot sometimes. What I don’t want is for my readers to be reading along, reading along, then BAM ZING POOF, big scene, then reading along for another 100 pages until the end leaves them unfulfilled and lonely, sobbing in a corner.

So structure is important, especially in the situation where you want your readers to pick up the next book. That’s a tricky thing to juggle — you need to resolve the plot of the first book whilst simultaneously tickling their fancy enough to buy the second and third. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then you can do THIS!

Ideally, a trilogy should be structured something like this:

Book 1
1. Introduce protagonist, who should be super cool and sympathetic.
2. Introduce antagonist, who should be scary/obnoxious/full of boogers. This includes the Little Big Bad and the Big Big Bad (who probably will exist until the last book).
3. Introduce small and large goals (large goals further the series, small ones further the book.
4. Build tension (think power chords and minor keys).
6. Resolve Big Climax, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that lead you to….

Book 2
1. Introduce/refresh protagonist.
2. Reiterate Big Big Bad and introduce Little Big Bad.
3. Big “You Are Here” in terms of big goals, introduce little goals.
4. Tension, Tension, Tension! Bah, bah, baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!
6. Resolution and more bread crumbs. Maybe a couple chunks of baguette instead of just crumbs. If you’ve done your other steps right, your readers should gobble them up and cry that there’s no more until…

Cue credits.

Book 3
1. In my humble opinion, this should intro protagonist(s) and establish good tension from the beginning, especially in a fantasy series. Your readers have been hurtling toward destiny like the prologue script in a Star Wars movie, and they should already have some momentum saved up for Le Grande Finale.
2. OMG, Big Big Bad!
3. Goals like a heat-based missile…neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyuuuuuurm ……PPPPSSSSHGHGHGH. (See above.)
4. Tension so thick you could land an airliner on it!
6. Resolution, nostalgia, and sniffles.

All of that is just my opinion, and it’s definitely a big fat generalization of plotting (which I’m only reluctantly admitting is necessary), but there it is. If those things are done, your trilogy (and hopefully mine) will be dynamite!

Hopefully more successful than this guy.


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on November 15, 2011, in book three, the silver thorn chronicles, writing process, writing progress and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I like the nostalgia and sniffles.

    You know, I know that’s all supposed to be in there, but I try not to think about it too much as I write, otherwise, I get stressed about it. I leave that sort of thinking for my outlining. Once that’s done, then I just write and let my characters figure out how to hit the low and high spots. They are remarkably amendable for some reason. At least, right now. Outlining definitely helps me.

    • Yeah, I usually ignore all of it in the first draft too, but once November waves bye-bye, I will be trying to make book 1 into some semblance of a salable novel, so I’m going to have to think seriously about the structure even if it hurts me. :/

  2. If I ever decide I have enough to say to write a novel, I will keep this for Day One of my attempt. Just following the protocol of book one on your list seems like a great outline for the dramatic type of novels I like to read. Good for sci-fi, fantasy, or crime novels, etc.
    Awesome, thanks!

  3. The book I’m writing consists so far of two parts, for now. I’m still on part one and I’m in love with my Big Bad and my Little Big Bad, as a matter of fact the first chapter is from the point of view of the Big Bad. Did I say I Love Her, the Big Bad? Love this tips! Thanks for sharing them.

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