Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Agony and Ecstasy of Writing Trilogies

By Judith Keim, @judithkeim

Part of the How They Do It Series

I have a love/hate relationship with trilogies, so I can relate to joys and sorrows of writing one. But they can be very rewarding novels to write. Judith Keim visits the lecture hall today to share her experiences with writing trilogies.

Judith was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and long-haired dachshund, Winston, and other members of her family. As Judith Keim, she writes novels about women who face unexpected challenges with strength and find love along the way. As J.S. Keim, she writes children's middle-grade stories. She loves writing about kids who have interesting, fun, exciting experiences with creatures real and fantastical and with characters who learn to see the world in a different way.

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Take it away Judith...

Writing trilogies isn’t for the faint of heart, yet I love to write them. I’ve completed a woman’s fiction trilogy, and two Hidden Moon books for kids (The third is due to come out by late May). So what is it about a trilogy that is so intriguing and so fun/awful to write?

For me, the fun part of both reading and writing a trilogy is following the life of a character through books featuring others as well. I tend to fall in love with the characters I write and hate the thought of giving them up. Placing them in three books allows me to see how they grow and change in stories other than their own, keeping them close to me.

In the Hartwell Women Trilogy, each woman has her own distinct story that stands on its own. But their stories are enriched because the threads of the other two women’s stories are woven in.

Writing three stories with the same characters and with some of the same settings sounds easy, right? After all, a lot of the same characters are in the books so you know them inside out. And some of the locations are well known to you. And yet it’s the differences in the characters and settings that make the stories interesting.

In the “Talk” trilogy, The Talking Tree takes place in upstate New York, Atlanta and Maine. Sweet Talk’s story unwinds on California’s northern coast. Straight Talk takes the reader from Boston to California wine country. So I had different women, different stories, and different locations to work with. Ecstasy!

But wait! Not so fast! A character placed in a different story from her own sees the people and the setting uniquely, due to her experiences, desires, etc. And though she grows and changes in her own story, the heroine must also do so in any following stories as well. So, though Marissa, the heroine in Book One, changes by the end of her story, she must continue to change in Book Two and by the end of Book Three is very different from whom she was initially in Book One. In other words, in writing a trilogy, your main characters must not be cardboard figures in the other two books or there’s no reason to dedicate a whole story to them or continue to have them present in the other two books. Agony!

And what happens if the three books take place in the same locations? Another challenge.

In each of the Hidden Moon Stories, Jack Coughlin, his brother Collin and their friend Danny travel together to Anron, the Hidden Moon in outer space, weaving their lives together. Same main characters, same locations. Ecstasy!

But wait! How do you make the same location seem different enough to be exciting? In Book One, having the boys discover what the hidden moon was, how it worked and what the characters living there were like made for a lot of interesting reading. When they’re called back to the moon in Book Two to help their Anronite friends, they landed on the moon and then went to nearby Planet IXX for most of the story, adding something new to their surroundings. In Book Three, the boys are again called back to the moon to help fight the evil creature who wants to take over the moon and eliminate the youngest Anronites. Agony!

For Book Three I used the familiar moon as the place where they landed and Planet IXX where they’re captured. But I had to come up with ways to make the moon seem different and exciting and place them on a different part of Planet IXX so the reader would discover something new and yet have a sense of familiarity with both the moon and the planet.

Writing trilogies is both fun and hard. But it can be rewarding to writers because they have the chance to spend more time with the characters they love and it challenges them in ways single stories don’t. Most importantly, readers love to follow characters they love through story after story.

Note the differences in styles between the two trilogies n the following blurbs. The Hartwell Women books describe very different stories but, to varying degrees, the three main characters remain in all stories to the very end.The Hidden Moon stories show the same characters in the same settings, making it challenging to keep each story fresh.

The Talking Tree: Following her estranged mother’s death, Marissa Cole returns to her hometown. Her mother has left a request for Marissa to scatter her ashes in New Hope, Maine. Marissa doesn't understand why; she’s never heard her mother talk of such a place. In Maine, Marissa is thrilled to discover a family she never knew she had. But the family isn’t what she thought, and helping her grandmother keep her share of the family fortune might cause Marissa to lose the only man she’s ever trusted enough to love.

Sweet Talk: Following her divorce Allison Hartwell leaves Maine for California to become a partner in her college roommate’s art gallery. She’s out to prove she can succeed in business, get along without a man and have fun along the way. But things quickly fall apart–the business is financially insecure and she’s left with the care of her roommate’s eight-year-old daughter, Daisy. When Blake Whiting, owner of Silver Goose Winery becomes involved with Sweet Talk, a wine and chocolate bar Allison opens, things become more complicated even as Daisy teaches her to open her heart to loving again.

Straight Talk: Samantha Hartwell’s life changes completely when she’s attacked by a client’s boyfriend. She leaves Boston and Straight Talk, her consulting business, and escapes to California wine country to heal and to help her sister and brother-in-law with their vineyard’s growth. But she can’t escape the desire Derek Roberts, a world-wide photographer, had sparked inside her. The two challenge each other in ways they’ve never experienced and end up with more than they ever expected.

The Hidden Moon: Twelve-year-old Jack Coughlin and his younger brother Collin find a small wooden box that’s supposed to hold magic. Instead of flying to the Space Center in Florida like Jack wants, the genie-like figure inside mistakenly sends them and a friend to outer space. On the eerie hidden moon of Anron, where things are not what they seem–boys and girls can change shape and pears hanging from trees unfold into flying dragons that carry them into battle–Jack must figure out a way to get them all home safely.

Return to the Hidden Moon: The adventure of the Hidden Moon continues when twelve-year-old Jack Coughlin awakes to find the rock on his bedroom dresser glowing green. It’s not just any rock; it’s a rock that was given to him when he, his younger brother Collin and their friend Danny magically visited Anron, The Hidden Moon. The rock is flashing a signal: dit-dit-dit, dah-dah-dah, dit-dit-dit. S-O-S in Morse Code. It can only mean one thing, their new Anronite friends, Karna and Nidar, are in trouble. The boys return to The Hidden Moon to discover Karna’s father, the head of the People of Light, has been declared King on Planet IXX but he goes missing when one of his twin brother’s underlings tricks them both so he, himself, can become king.

Trouble on the Hidden Moon: Jack Coughlin’s magical stone from Anron sends another Morse Code message. This time the dits and dahs spell G-R-U-N, the name of the evil creature they all thought was dead. Jack, his brother Collin and their friend Danny return to outer space to help their Anronite friends-Karna and Nidar- and discover Grun is very much alive and is determined to have The Hidden Moon for his own. The battles to save Anron take them from the dark side of the moon to the dangerous Bogg on Planet IXX where they must win the freedom to go back home again.

With the Agony and Ecstasy of writing trilogies will I continue to write them? Definitely.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound


  1. Thanks for having me on Fiction University, Janice! There's always so much to learn and so much to share. Appreciate your blog!

  2. Nice article Judy. I'm a fan of trilogies too but haven't been brave enough to write one yet.

    1. Amberly, I'd love to read one of your trilogies! Go for it!

  3. My problem came when I didn’t know I was writing a trilogy until the seventh book’s characters ganged up on me…
    Writing Into the Dark (dws - [grin]) is fraught with surprises.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Love this, Tony...Into the Dark sounds wonderful!

  4. Great topic! And I agree with you saying writing trilogies is both fun and hard.

  5. I'm working on a trilogy where all three stories take place concurrently. I have to track where each of the characters are at any given moment from book to book...I will never do that again.