The Trilogy Challenge

When I came home from work that balmy summer night two years ago and sketched out for my wife the sci-fi / dystopian / mythological story bouncing around in my head, she said she thought it was pretty good. That was encouraging. Then she told me it was too big for a single book and would probably need to be tackled in a series or at least a trilogy. Gulp.

I do a lot of writing for my day job, so I wasn’t intimidated by the amount of writing that would require, but I did have second thoughts about how I could maintain continuity through three books and roughly four hundred fifty thousand words. Yet, I had to agree that she was right. The story was too big to jam into one book – not with the story arc I had in mind.

So I started my outline, which was brief – fewer than ten pages. I’ve never been big on planning, preferring to etch out a rough Gestalt then dive in. It usually works out, but not always; I’ve discovered the that the possibility of catastrophic failure is the wind beneath my wings, so to speak.

So I banged out book 1 in about eight months plus a couple months of editing, formatting, etc. Not bad, considering I have a full-time job, two young children, and a commute of three hours per day. How did I accomplish it you ask? Well, gather round and let me tell you a secret…I discovered that if you trim your sleep down to no more than five hours a night, you can get a lot done. Of course, the bags under my eyes now count as carry-ons, but that’s a small price to pay to exorcise the spirit of this story from of my poor noggin.

So now I’m knee-deep in the bog of book 2, slashing away at the hanging vines of failed story lines and interesting but distracting characters. Book 1 was difficult but it bumped along pretty well as I wrote it. Book 2 is much more of a challenge because of the need to maintain the trajectory of the various story lines in book 1 AND lay the foundation for book 3. I sometimes think it would be easier to write book 3 first and then write book 2, but I’m committed to this course now.

I have a good solid draft of book 2 finished now. It’s riddled with typos and similar errata, but I think it’s coming around, which is a relief. I’ve got about 150K words so far, and I’ve cut at least 75K throughout the process. William Faulkner warned writers that they must be prepared to kill their darlings when writing fiction. While many of the things I cut were not “darlings”, I have to say that by Faulkner’s standard, I should be wearing stripes and swinging a pickax.

So wish me luck with book 2. It’s pretty good, but not as good as it needs to be. I’ve got a good story in my head, but it’s a struggle to put it into words. And since I can’t pantomime it, I’ll keep on writing.


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