Second Book in Trilogy

Nano has begun, and so has my feverish dash through a first draft of FLYNN Book II. I find writing the second installment in a trilogy much different from writing the first. Authors usually have a clear idea of the story’s beginning and end, but the middle–well–that gets kind of muddy.

When written well, second installments can be the filling in the proverbial sandwich–every bit as good and wholesome as the bread. But they need a certain blend of elements to accomplish this.

Continued conflict. First books set up the conflict. Third books bring it to fruition. Often, second books get lost in the shuffle. They end up the “catch-all” for any scenes that don’t have a home in the other two books. This

The best antidote to this dangerous trap is to devise a specific point of conflict related to (but not identical to) the overall conflict of the trilogy. Take, for example, THE TWO TOWERS. While the overall ring quest continues from FELLOWSHIP, Frodo and Sam are also occupied with the new challenge of how to deal with Gollum/Smeagol.

Continued character development. Authors feel pressure to wrap things up at the end of first books. Even if several sequels follow, that first one still needs a sense of closure. This often leads to the wrap-up of character development, leaving nowhere to go in the sequel.

But consider real life people for a moment. We all develop continually, not just at certain points. Just as fast as we gain closure on one issue in our lives, another opens up. Storytellers must take that attitude to their characters.

For example; at the end of Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke has grown from a farm boy to a fighter, Han has decided to be a good guy, and Princess Leia–well–actually, she pretty much stayed the same 🙂 But their development doesn’t stop there. Empire Strikes Back finds a blossoming romance between Han and Leia, and opens the door to Luke’s ultimate struggles against the temptations of the Dark Side.

A tone of their own. I don’t know why, but most successful second books share one overarching quality; they set the tone for the remainder of the trilogy. Usually, Book III looks a lot more like Book II than it does like Book I.  Let’s take our two previous examples and add some others.

In TWO TOWERS, Tolkien began the trend of splitting up the protagonists. This increased their danger and gave the story the larger, more sweeping feel which remains constant almost to the end of the trilogy.

Empire Strikes Back introduced a dark feel to Star Wars not present in A New Hope. It also introduced the central plotline of the entire trilogy; Vader’s true identity and path to redemption.

In Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders Trilogy, MAD SHIP plucks the protagonists from the situations they lived out in SHIP OF MAGIC, and sets them into the roles they will fulfill in SHIP OF DESTINY.

What about you? What really turns you off in a second book? What really works? I feel like there are tons of great trilogies I haven’t considered in this post that need to be mentioned. Feel free.



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