To start with, there are two kinds of series: episodic and overarching. As per the title, I’ll be using the example of trilogies today.
An episodic trilogy is one where each installment is a separate, standalone story from the one before it. When you’re writing an episodic series, most of the time the only connection each book has to each other is the characters. Sometimes, the events of a previous book are mentioned, but they’re not relevant to the current installment’s plot.
Example: The Indiana Jones movies.
An overarching trilogy is one where each installment continues the story from the previous book. With an overarching series, the books will be connected by the main plot. There will be subplots here and there, and each book should be able to stand on its’ own. However, when you take a step back, there will be an overreaching storyline.
Example: The STAR WARS movies.
Episodic trilogies have a little more leeway than ones with an overarching storyline, because though it’s quite common, the books don’t necessarily have to take place within the same time period, nor do they necessarily have to involve the same characters.
In writing an episodic trilogy:
- The books will either take place within the same time frame or they will take place some years apart from each other.
- The protagonists will either be the same in each book or they’ll differ from book to book.
- The characters will either all know each other or they won’t.
Overarching trilogies require a lot of foreshadowing. The events of the second book should be foreshadowed in the first. The events of the third book should be foreshadowed in the second. And depending on the kind of arc your protagonist goes through, the ultimate ending to the trilogy will vary.
In writing a trilogy using an overarching storyline:
- Each book should be able to stand alone while also simultaneously continuing the main storyline from where it left off in the previous book.
- Book #1 is set-up. The events of the first book set up the main conflict, the relationships between the characters, and set up consequences for the characters in #2. It will usually end with a victory for the good guys.
- Book #2 is where you dive deeper into the story. Deeper into the conflict, deeper into character development, and deeper into the relationships between the characters. This one will usually end with a victory for the bad guys.
- Book #3 is the big climax and resolution. This is when the good guys will get their bearings after being thrown for a loop at the end of #2 and move with more determination to defeat the bad guys. This one will usually end with the victory going to the good guys.
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