Second Books and Second Acts: The Secret Trilogy Trap

Holy geez, that’s a cutesy title. I’m not even sorry.

When I first sat down to write The Marian Trilogy, my plan wasn’t to write a trilogy. I just had a single novel in mind, but that plan went out the window when I finished what I thought was a solid exposition, only to find it was almost as long as a full-length novel. At this point, I figured I had three choices:

1) Resign myself to writing a nearly 1,000-page young adult adventure novel. Sure, no one’s heard of me, and sure, it’s a soft science fiction story, which is not a genre known for longer works…but good golly, a doorstop novel with my name on it would look sweet on my bookshelf.

2) Hack and slash the exposition until it was down to a reasonable length. Kill your darlings and all that. I mean, these are cool scenes and all, but I guess I could rush the storytelling and character development and not spend so much time on lame things like setting and foreshadowing. I set out to write one book, and I’m gonna write one book in 400 pages or less, doggonit.

3) Write a trilogy.

I went with the third option, but as soon as I made that decision, I knew the second book – the book I’m currently preparing to release – would be the hardest. When you write a trilogy, especially one that tells a single, continuous story, you end up putting a microscope over your strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller. You expand each act of a story into an entire novel.

Book one is the first act of the story. You get introduced to the main characters, the world around them, and the challenge facing them. Questions are asked, setting is explored, and tone is set.

Book three is the final act. All the pieces are lined up, and now it’s time for the big, climactic ending. You get big battles, major plot twists, devastating character deaths, and closure on the main story question.

Book two is the second act. It’s…the middle bit.

And that part is hard. At least for me, it is. I know a lot of authors struggle with the middle, because it’s harder to get excited about. In the first act, you get to introduce people to all your cool characters and the world you’ve created. In the third act, you get to blow it all up and have big, crazy stuff happen to end things with a bang. But it’s all too easy to only see the second act as a bridge between the other two.

And that’s bad.

Honestly, turning this story into a trilogy is one of the best things I did for it. When you separate out your second act only to realize it’s where your storytelling is at its thinnest, you’re forced to do some work. You don’t have a thrilling opening and a satisfying conclusion to hold up your sagging middle anymore. Your weakest act has to find a way to stand on its own.

I was forced to sit down with my second act and figure out how best to keep ramping up the tension in the story as a whole, while still writing a powerful, self-contained arc. I was forced to flesh out my world a little more. I was forced to test my characters’ limits a little more. Essentially, I was forced to tell a better story.

And holy geez, am I thrilled with the result. I can’t wait for you to read the next step of Ethan’s journey.

You can find links to preorder The Hunted here, and if you haven’t read book one yet, click here for more information on The Marian. For a limited time, you can get both ebooks for 99 cents apiece. That’s over 700 pages of wild, post-apocalyptic pirate madness for less than two bucks. Pretty solid deal, if I do say so myself.

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