Jeannie Van Rompaey

Writing a Trilogy


Nowadays many novels are written in threes. Whether genre or literary fiction, the trilogy seems to be the trend. Apparently trilogies sell well. That’s provided the first book is popular. Think of the YA sci-fi, Hunger Games, now made into three films, or the more literary dystopias by Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and Maddadam. Or Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy about the effects of World War Two. In the latter case, Barker pursues her characters through several more novels, including Life Class and Toby’s Room. All five are stand-alone novels in their own right. If you haven’t yet read Ms Barker’s novels rush out and buy them. You’re in for a treat. The quality of her writing matches the depth of her understanding of the trauma suffered by victims of war and makes for compelling reading.


Oh and I must mention Hilary Mantel’s trilogy, even though she doesn’t need the publicity. The first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, have already been reinterpreted as a play and a television series, proving that literary novels can also be popular. We never seem to weary of reading about the Tudors. Her angle is to engage us in the persona of Thomas Cromwell as we view his world from his perspective.


After this preamble, it is about time I come clean. I am writing a trilogy. The first book, OASIS, is published on Amazon and no I haven’t waited until sales hit the roof before embarking on the second book, EARTH UNLEASHED.


I decide to write a trilogy because I am still interested in the characters and the worlds they live in and I want to know what happens next. I hope readers will feel the same.


How is writing a trilogy different from writing a one-off novel?   Towards the end of the first book, I deliberately leave certain parts of the story open-ended. Don’t worry, there is a satisfying conclusion, with many of the ends tied up, but, as in real life, there is room for further developments.


My return to writing about the familiar characters I created for Book One, OASIS, is like a reunion with old friends. The genre is sci-fi and the characters in this post-apocalyptic world are either mutant humanoids, living in compounds on Earth, or complete human beings, living on satellites in the sky. The first book is written from multiple viewpoints, with the mutants as first person narrators. They tell their stories in the present tense because they know little about the past and have no expectations about the future. The use of the present tense keeps the characters’ impressions fresh and allows instant responses to events. I intend to keep the same format in this second book to give continuity and make readers feel “at home”. I find it useful to re-read sections of the first book to remind myself of the “voice” of each narrator. Because the format is prescribed and the characters known, I find it easy to start writing Book Two, EARTH UNLEASHED.


I’m not a detailed planner. I have lots of ideas buzzing around in my head but very few notes on paper or screen. I prefer to start with a blank page. I believe I have written in an earlier blog that I find a blank page challenging but stimulating. I begin the first chapter with a journal entry from my protagonist, Michael Court, once a mutant, now a complete on the satellite Oasis. As I write he comes to life and the words began to flow.


When Hilary Mantel started to write her second book of her aforementioned trilogy, she said the same thing happened to her – the words ‘just came out.’ I am in good company then with the two times Mann Booker winner!


I continue with no definite written plan until the ideas crowd out my head and I’m forced to stop, make notes and do bits of research to support the ideas. This happens after the first four chapters have been written, two with Michael as narrator, two with Heracles, my incompetent and consequently dangerous villain, chronicling events. I invent two new characters, one in chapter three and one in chapter four; but haven’t yet decided if they will have their turn as narrators or not. If it seems right and energizing to have a new perspective on what happens, yes; if not, no. They would have to earn their place in the book as chroniclers. Already they have earned their place in the novel by being instrumental in advancing the plot.


I make a few notes – just a couple of pages of storylines all character-led. I then write summaries of the four chapters I have already written. Sounds like writing backwards? I find it a useful exercise to check I’m on the right tack. After that, I sketch out who is to narrate the following three or four chapters and make a few notes on the section of the storyline each would tell. All this is speculative. I can change anything as I write. Flexibility is essential for me to carry on being creative and produce the best story I can.


What next? I go back to the beginning and re-write those first four chapters. Shock, horror! That’s a procedure that creative tutors, including myself, do not advise. But hey, whatever works for me I will do. At this point I don’t seem able to progress until I have fixed those initial chapters. With several strong chapters as a foundation, I can continue.


Once happy with the early re-writes and adjustments, I update the initial four chapter summaries. I can now use them as a springboard to develop further themes and storylines.

Because I know the characters and the approach I’m using, the story is evolving pretty easily. Long may this spell of creativity last. Well, I must stop talking about writing and write Chapter Five, Swords into Ploughshares, narrated by one-eyed Odysseus, museum curator and prospective grandfather.


You can find Book One of OASIS on Amazon.