Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Hi everyone! As Tuesday rolls around again I am moved to meditate upon an important fact, a fact which has slowly been born in upon me over many months. The fact is this: trilogies bite.

You guys know how much I love The Name of the Blade. It's my sugar-coated-unicorn-angel-baby and I adore it. But writing it is KILLING ME. My constant refrain now to everyone I speak to, from Wonder Editor and Super Agent, to my friends in my writing group, to my mother, is, 'If I ever say I'm going to write a trilogy again? Please slap me upside the head/lock me away for my own safety/kill me and end my suffering'.

I sort of think about the story told throughout The Name of the Blade as one big book. Yes, each individual book that you, the reader, will pick up, needs to have a distinct atmosphere and each one needs its own arc - in plot and characterisation - and each one needs a sense of emotional resolution at the end. I know this. But because it's very tightly plotted and the whole thing takes place over one week of storytime (a challenge I set myself because I intended this book to be truly different from my high fantasy, which often takes place over *years* of storytime, and I wanted to see if I could tell a breathless thriller a bit like John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps) it always just felt like one grand story to me.

As a result of this, I had kidded myself that writing it wouldn't be all that different from writing, say, Shadows on the Moon, which is over 100,000 words long and has three distinct acts, each of which has its own atmosphere and character arc. I ought to be able to replicate the same thing on a slightly larger scale, right?

No. No, no, no.

It is not the same thing. It is not in any way the same thing. This is what I have painfully discovered. For me, a trilogy of books is fundamentally - essentially - different from one book, no matter if that book has a three part structure. I mean, I had no choice about this story being a trilogy, and I realised that almost straight away. It's not like I could have done anything differently even if I had known it was going to kick my *ss. But my own initial sense of chirpy optimism - which, let me tell you, constantly rears its head in all the synopses and plot diagrams and notes I made back at the beginning of planning this thing - is so annoying to me now that the urge to build a time machine for the sole purpose of travelling back to 2010 and giving myself a right telling off is kind of overwhelming.

Although what I'd actually do with a time machine would be to go forward to 2015 when the whole trilogy will be out, buy the books and bring them back so that I can copy them in the present, therefore cunningly bypassing all the suckiness of writing a trilogy. Speak not to me of paranoxes! I prefer the quantum inevitability theory of time travel!

I have put far too much thought into this.

Anyway. I had this idea that writing a trilogy would be just like writing one really long book, OK? And the thing about me is that I'm the sort of writer who hates writing beginnings. I find them really, really hard going because much as I know all the facts about the characters and the world, I haven't really gotten inside them and learned them properly yet. I can only do that by doing the writing. So it's basically a process of slogging through all the actions that I've already decided the characters will take without any real input from them, hating every minute of it, and hoping and praying for the moment when the characters suddenly spark to life and begin pulling their weight.

This is why, generally, writing the first third of a book takes about half (or even more!) of the time that I spend writing a book in total. And I think this is also why, generally, I spend the vast majority of editing and rewriting and revising time - both on my own and in conjunction with my editor - on the beginnings. Knowing that doesn't help much with the slogging, either.

So, with my one-book theory, I thought that once I had written the beginning of The Name of the Blade - that is, The Night Itself - I would be on the homeward straight, coasting downhill all the way. And writing The Night Itself was a pretty darn joyous experience, even when we came to edit it and those edits turned out to be slightly more extensive than originally planned. That surely meant books #2 and #3 would be even more joyous and delightful, right?

No. No, no, no.

Guess what? Turns out that the beginning of a second book in a trilogy? Is TWICE AS HARD to write as the beginning of a normal book. I mean, dude, I didn't even know that was possible. (And what this says about how the final book will go, I don't even want to contemplate, and if anyone chimes in about it with the obvious conclusion in the comments I will come after them like a berserker baboon because I AM IN DENIAL OK do not take my denial away from me it is all that is keeping me AFLOAT right now).

Maybe the reason for this is that, if you've done it right, the events of the first book should have profoundly affected all the characters and changed their world? They're almost new people, who have new perspectives and goals and new knowledge and new ways of interacting with each other and their world. But there's just enough of a sense that you *should* know who they are, that it makes it all more difficult because you *expect* them to act a certain way and then they do something they never would have done in the first book. Or, worse, they don't react at all, and it's back to slog, slog, slog...

But the middle also seems to take a different sort of effort than a normal middle. Even the ending, the blissful part, is more difficult and sort of sideways than with a standalone.

I spent most of the weekend (that I didn't spend working on a new beginning for book #2 of the trilogy, because once again my beginning basically stinks) working on this factsheet thing. I filled in, in chronological order, all the facts about in-world-mythology and backstory that the characters (and readers) learn in The Night Itself. And then I filled in, in chronological order, all the facts about in-world-mythology and backstory that the characters (and readers) need to learn in the final, as-yet-unwritten book. And then I tried to figure out what that meant for this middle book. And eventually I ended up with something which I hope will help me.

And today I finished the new first chapter of bk #2. So I feel like have made a start on the start. But trilogies still bite, and I'm still recruiting volunteers to smack me, lock me up or assassinate me if I ever suggest writing one again.

What? You thought there would be some kind of a point to this post?

No. No, no. no.

*Unhinged laughter*


Katy Moran said...

Oh Zoe, I feel your pain sooooo much! I don't know how many times I started again with the sequel to Hidden Among Us! A lot. That's how many. A looooot. Man, it was hard. Anyway, I'm supposed to be finishing it right now... *Scurries off*

Zoë Marriott said...

Katy: Why don't they warn you? Why doesn't anyone WARN you? Is this like that childbirth thing, where no one ever tells pregnant women how awful giving birth is because they 'forget' once the baby is there?

Laura Mary said...

I don't see why you can't view your trilogy as one long book - worked fine for Lord of the Rings! Although I think that actually was originally written as one book, then publishers asked for it to be divided into a trilogy (? Am I making that up? Can’t remember where I read that!)
But, yeah, I guess my point is, screw the rules!

What happens if you write Chapter one of Book two as if it followed right on? Even if you go back and change it later it might take some of the pain out of writing right now?

(I have the opposite problem with my trilogy – am chomping at the bit to write the opening of bk 2 when I can’t properly finish bk 1!!!)

Zoë Marriott said...

Laura: Well, that's what I'm trying to do now. But it's hard to get over this feeling that I need to *explain* stuff - stuff that I've already explained. The whole first half of the first draft of this second book was just backstory, exposition, backstory, exposition. Now I have to fix it, and thinking of it as a continuation is HELPING. But I still have to do the work.

Laura Mary said...

Well now if it was easy then where would the fun be?
Just think, once it's all done you can feel really pleased with yourself!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...