When I first started writing the sequel to Legend (my debut novel and the first of a trilogy), I kind of knew to brace myself for the next one. After all, every writer I know has struggled with the dreaded Book 2. Book 2 is the sophomore slump. Book 2 is full of all the things you never had to deal with in Book 1: continuing the arcs for characters that you’ve already developed, introducing a new plotline while incorporating all the stuff that’s already happened, making sure the series’ overall plot works with Book 2’s standalone plot, ensuring a smooth transition to the next book–God, thinking back on writing Book 2 makes my head spin.
Since I’m typing this out, it’s obvious that I managed to survive my Book 2 ordeal (although how successfully will remain to be seen). I remember thinking, it should be smoother seas from here on out. Right?
Book 3 is supposed to be easier. I clung onto this popular reassurance, and when I finally started writing Book 3 of my trilogy recently, I went in thinking that it was going to be a walk in the park.
Book 3 is NOT a walk in the park. Unless that park happens to be in Satan’s lair of doom.
Here’s something rarely discussed: writing Book 3–especially of a trilogy–is turning out to be even harder than writing Book 2. At first glance, it seems like it should be easy (or at least easier). Chances are you already know what the big final climax is supposed to be, and you already know your characters really well.
There are so many little details about the characters that need to be worked in, so many tiny threads that need to be wrapped up along with the bigger threads. Everything–characters, conflicts, mysteries, relationships–is hurtling toward a final conclusion, and unlike Books 1 and 2, there is no sequel to expand on any lingering plot/subplot issues or pick up a thread you might have forgotten to finish.
Is it any wonder, then, that readers tend to be the most critical of the last book in any series? One look at Amazon’s star ratings will reveal that the final book in a trilogy almost always seems to have the lowest rating out of the three. Even I have trouble thinking of a series’ final book that I liked better than the series’ first book. Thus, I’m always shocked that I don’t see more writers talking about how difficult it is to write Book 3.
I’m currently about a fourth of the way into Legend 3, and it is owning me hard. The process I used to write Legend 1 (a basic story outline that I wandered waywardly around, then two solid revisions), and the process for Legend 2 (writing the next chapter’s outline after I finished each previous chapter, then revising the bejeezus out of it 14 times), are not working for Legend 3. The problem is that there are too many threads. I can no longer pants my way through it, like I did for L1 and L2. What to do?
I’m still figuring it out as I go, but the new technique that seems to be working for me is that I write a one-sentence note for every thread (i.e. “Bob dies during the attack.” or “Jane finds out about Bob’s secret.”) that I know HAS to go into the story. I have about 25 of these so far. Then I write these down on index cards and shuffle them around until I end up with a chronological sequence that seems to make sense. Now I’m fleshing each one-sentence note out into a thick paragraph. I’m hoping that, with a more organized method like this, I can make sure all the necessary threads tie together.
I suppose the moral of this post is that, at least for me, it never gets easier. Every book requires a new thought process, and every book creates new challenges. But I think this is a good thing. It’s like a thorough workout–if you’re not sore the next day, you didn’t really max out your potential. And if I’m hurting while working on my latest manuscript, I hope it’s because I’m growing as a writer.