What About Book 3?

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.


45 Responses to What About Book 3?

  1. Julie Feb 22 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Hey Marie! Great post! It’s fascinating how each book has demanded its own process. Thanks for the peek into your writing methods. 🙂

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      Thanks Julie!

      • Mik Apr 5 2013 at 3:57 pm #

        Wait, I’m confused… Ms. Lu? When does your third book in the trilogy come out? Dying to read it.

  2. Marc Vun Kannon Feb 22 2012 at 6:53 am #

    “Even I have trouble thinking of a series’ final book that I liked better than the series’ first book.”

    The Destiny of the Sword, by Dave Duncan, is as good or better than The Reluctant Swordsman. That series is one of my favorites. It’s actually one story told over three volumes so perhaps it’s not the kind of series you meant. I also have seen many trilogies that have strong starts, since the author was taking their time, I guess, and weaker follow-ups as the books were under a deadline I suppose. At least I hope those are the reasons.
    In my own case I wrote book 2 much faster than book 1, but I’m stuck in the middle of book 3. Not that I don’t have things to write but I have other stories that are clamoring for priority. The final book of a series shouldn’t be a walk in the park simply because it’s final. It should be clear that the characters are continuing to grow even if the books aren’t going to follow the as they do.
    “And if I’m hurting while working on my latest manuscript, I hope it’s because I’m growing as a writer.” Amen!

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      I haven’t read Dave Duncan before, but I’ve heard great things. Adding those to my TBR list! And yes, other ideas always sound super appealing when I’m having trouble with a manuscript….I have to fight the urge to switch over.

  3. Erin Bowman Feb 22 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Marie, the final paragraph of this post especially resonates with me. Each book is its own unique journey and demands to be written in its own unique way. I’m learning that right now with book 2. I, too, hope this hurt is a sign that I’m growing as a writer! (But eek, now I’m a bit worried for book 3!)

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Good luck working your way through Book 3! Or maybe I should say…Good luck in Satan’s lair of doom. 😉

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 8:45 pm #

      Thanks Erin! Don’t worry, the hurt is good! 😀 (Satan’s lair of doom is pretty dang toasty!)

  4. Alexa @ Alexa Loves Feb 22 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Hi Marie! It was a pleasure to meet you at the Books of Wonder event last week. I absolutely cannot wait to get started on your book – it sounds like something I’m really going to enjoy. That aside, I really enjoyed what you shared about your writing today. It bares the honest experience of writing in a series, and I appreciate the fact that you’re choosing to face it head-on and to try things until you find out what works for you. Good luck!

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 8:46 pm #

      It was so great meeting you at Books of Wonder too! I hope you enjoy Legend, and I’m glad you liked the post!

  5. Sarah J. Maas Feb 22 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    GREAT post, Marie!!! This line made me LOL: “Book 3 is NOT a walk in the park. Unless that park happens to be in Satan’s lair of doom.” Hehehe! 🙂

    I’m *just* starting on writing the sequel to THRONE OF GLASS, and it is SO reassuring to hear that what I’m feeling is NORMAL. And that I can expect MORE of it with the next book. I’m sure that sounds strange, but sometimes (if you glance at twitter or author blogs), it seems like everyone’s just having the easiest/best time writing their next books…Whereas just figuring out the OUTLINE for Book 2 made me re-evaluate so much of how I write my novels and my vision for them.

    So glad to have you in Pub Crawl, Marie!!!! <3

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 8:49 pm #

      Yay, thanks for having me in the group, Sarah!! <3 And don't worry at all–I lost count of how many times I bawled while writing book 2, and I also thought everyone else had it easy by seeing tweets like "I had a great writing day today! 4000 words in 5 hours!" 🙂 I know ToG's sequel is gonna be amazing!

  6. Kiki Hamilton Feb 22 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Satan’s Lair of Doom – it’s called my second home! Ha! So glad I’m not alone. I wrote books 2 and 3 and then had to combine them….a little thing about character arcs…anyway, I’m just going to start working on the new book 3 myself. Shall we have tea together with Satan? 😉

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      What a coincidence–his lair is my second home too! I’m sure he makes a most excellent tea. 😉

  7. Sooz Feb 22 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    I identify with this post SO SO MUCH, Marie…just for book 2. I haven’t even gotten that far into book 3 yet, but I have to admit: I’ve been expecting it to be easier. Hearing that it won’t be is both scary, but also comforting. No one talks about book 3 (you’re right!), so when I DO inevitably encounter the terrors of book 3, I would have thought it was just me.

    And you’ve given me a great gem of advice: “Every book requires a new thought process, and every book creates new challenges.” I’m going to put that on a post-it over my computer. <3

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      Aw, thanks Sooz! <3

  8. Katie Feb 22 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Satan’s Lair of Doom: hahahahahahaha! Also, I like the idea of book writing via index cards 🙂 And speaking of books were the 3rd in the trilogy is the best… Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness! The Chaos Walking trilogy just got more and more amazing with each book. And I have no doubts that I’ll soon be saying the same thing about L1, L2, and L3 🙂

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 9:00 pm #

      omg, the Chaos Walking trilogy!!

  9. Kat Zhang Feb 22 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Glad you’re doing this before me, Marie! XD I’m still in boat number 2. I’m cheering you on madly, though!!

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 9:00 pm #

      lol–aw thanks Kat! <3

  10. Tim Feb 22 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    That’s actually really interesting. Like you hear all the grief about second novels, but a third novel sounds veryyyyyyyyyy difficult. Hmm I wonder how people who write long series ( John connolly, or JIm Butcher esque) deal.
    Strangely I seem to think about my stories in a three book format for some strange reason, which gets really annoying because I seem to plan a very vague outline for three books, rather than a detailed outline for one.

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 9:02 pm #

      Oh I know–I have so much respect for long series writers after working my way through book 2 and part of book 3! And I think a three-book arc is very natural, as they tend to follow the traditional three-act structure.

  11. Petra Feb 23 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    I can’t imagine how hard it is to wrap things up. Writing a book sounds hard enough, writing a series at times must feel like Satan’s lair of doom. It’s always amazing to read how much effort an author puts into their work. Good luck with book 3!

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 9:03 pm #

      Thanks Petra! 🙂

  12. Vanessa Di Gregorio Feb 26 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Marie, this is SUCH a fantastic post!

    I used to be 100% pantser – but now I can’t even pants my way through ONE MS! So I really love your method for Book 3 and using one sentence notes for threads, and then shuffling them till it makes sense. I’ve just started doing something similar, and it’s really making things a lot clearer for me.

    Also – Satan’s Lair of Doom made me LOL. For reals!

    • Marie Lu Feb 26 2012 at 9:04 pm #

      Thanks V! <3 Yeah, the whole process is such an experiment….every day is different!

  13. Summer Dec 23 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    I really loved this post. At least someone I know understands how hard it is to write a series. I haven’t been to library of late, but I will read Legends. I really enjoy your posts. They inspire me to just sit through the pain and continue to write.

  14. Claire M. Caterer Dec 25 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Having just finished the ms (before editing) for my own Book 2, I so identified with this post. (Yes, it’s nearly a year after the post, but I only found it in the Best of 2012 list.) The trauma of Book 2 has only been mitigated by the conviction that Book 3 will be easier, so … augh! Then again, mine is a 5-book series, so I don’t have to pull of the threads together quite yet. But I do see that the final book, whatever the number, is probably the most challenging. As was already mentioned, the best advice you give is the realization that each book is its own journey and may need its own unique approach.

  15. Steve Mar 3 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Hi I was wondering how soon you were going to release the cover to ‘Champion’. Thx love all your books! <3

  16. Riley Mar 12 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    I LOVE the Legend series is Day really going to die? That would be a horrible ending. What is going to be the name of the third book and when is it coming out? i want to get it as soon as it comes out.

  17. Temple Mar 27 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    Love the series such a cliffhanger do u have any idea when u will be done with the 3rd book.

  18. Aly Fairbanks Mar 29 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    OMG! I can’t wait for the third one to come out. Is there a way I can get a ARC of the awesome Champion ( Legend 3)? I never knew the process of writing a book. I wish you the best of luck! 🙂

  19. McKenna Apr 10 2013 at 9:17 pm #

    I just got book two from the library yesterday, and have five pages left! I was so excited to hear that there IS going to be a book three!!!! I actually cried a little, I was THAT excited!!!!!!!! Being the stupid person that I am I read the last page of the book before I actually finished it, (heh heh, oops!) Anyway, lol, I’m REALLY hoping Day and June WILL come together in the end!!!!!!! I think I might actually die if they doubt, LOL! You are a AMAZING writer! Are there going to be anymore Legend books in the works?! I hope so!!! Btw, Satin’s lair of doom, made me LOL!!!!

  20. Michelle Apr 23 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    Hi Ms. Lu,
    I was wondering what your third book is called?
    You are the GREATEST author of all time!
    I am currently ready Prodigy!
    I can’t WAIT to read your third book!

  21. Lamisa Apr 27 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    Hi Ms. Lu,
    My friends and I are all totally obsessed with Legend. Many of my friends say I look just like June. I have many experiences with acting and would like to become an actress and singer when I’m older! I was wondering if the film producers would be having an open casting call for the auditions, and if they did have private auditions, would there be any way I could be an exception? I’d love to show the world some of my talent, considering how much I loved the books. And, also, Hollywood is screaming for a new face to be born!

  22. tristen Apr 28 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    When will book 3 come out so upsesed with your books

  23. tristen Apr 28 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    When i read your book i was addicted i finished prodigy. In 2 .days best author ever ms luggage

  24. tristen Apr 28 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    I meant lu messed up auto speller

  25. cutcheese May 3 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    I’m so glad that this is a trilogy,cause I just finish the 2nd book todat and the ending scared the livung crap out of me!!!

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  27. Aaron Neilsen May 24 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Hi Marie I just finished your second book and loved it! Day should have told her he was dying though:) can’t wait for 3 make it good and I wil definatly buy it.

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  29. april Jan 22 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Hi Ms Lu I’m a big fan of your books I love them so much your last book made me cry so much. I was wondering if you were going to make a fourth I hope you do I know writing stories are hard to think of. I love writing stories I’m in the middle of writing one myself I hope one day I could publish it but I hope you could write a fourth book!!!!! have a nice evening!

  30. Abby Feb 10 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    I read the whole series, (best books I ever read) and I can’t decide whether or not I like the first or last book the best. If I had to choose it would be the last, it made me cry twice. How about a fourth! And a movie!

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  32. Legend Lover May 19 2015 at 5:14 pm #

    Marie are u writing another book after “The Young Elites”??? Im dying to know ur a great author my #1 FAVORITE

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