• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Building A Trilogy: The Book of Shadows by ER Murray

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult
book-of-shadows

By ER Murray

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Writing a trilogy is an interesting beast; each book has to stand alone, and yet there needs to be over-arching elements that wrap up in book two, or book three. The characters must evolve, and evolve again, yet still be wholly recognizable. And each book needs to be familiar enough for the reader, but different.

I’ve been knee-deep in deadlines since signing two book deals in 2014. The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 has just launched, and that’s my third publication in 12 months. Yep, you heard right: my third. The second book, Caramel Hearts, was a stand-alone young adult book that interrupted the trilogy, and so this was my first time writing a follow-on book.

I knew from the beginning that my Nine Lives books were a trilogy, and so, I was completely organised, with a full folder of notes for reference, right? Wrong. This is because of two reasons:

  • I find my story through writing, meaning lots of sloppy drafts and plenty of rewrites.
  • This was the first book I’d tried to get published and so I wasn’t quite prepared for what it all involved.

As a result, I didn’t make any records until after the first book, The Book of Learning, was completed, which made it necessary to reread the whole story to find the thread again (don’t worry, I learned my lesson for Nine Lives Trilogy three!). And so, I thought I’d put together some advice to help you to prepare for writing a follow-on book, based on my own exhausting and annoying mistakes…

Create a World Building Encyclopedia: And not just for fantasy novels! I was originally building The Order of Nine Lives world as I wrote – that’s how I found my way into the story. It worked and is doable, but it caused all kinds of problems. This trilogy is urban fantasy, but whatever genre you’re working in, if you don’t have the parameters of your world securely in place, you will break or contradict your own rules without realising and these will need to be fixed. Your characters will be directly affected by the world around them, the world that you create, and so it is, therefore, integral.

11. ER MurrayWhat kind of things am I talking about? OK, here goes… depending on what your story and genre, you may have to know one or more of the following… What do the immediate surroundings look like and how does it impact mood? How far can people travel and why? What modes of transport are in use? What are the politics of the region? How much money is available? Are religions in place and what does this mean for each character? Are anyone’s rights limited and why? Is there electricity/steam/fuel? What are the class distinctions? Are there any specific laws people are abiding by? Is there anyone breaking them?

As you can imagine, any inconsistencies in the above examples as your story progresses would result in plot holes, unbelievable characters – and huge structural edits. Avoid this with a clear world-building encyclopedia that you can use to keep yourself on track. The A-Z format makes it perfect for easy reference, but keep your keywords clear so you can remember them! Have the most important rules up front. So if you’re losing thread of the story, you can refer to these easily, and stay on track.

Create Character profiles: your profiles don’t have to be insanely detailed – I don’t plan my characters’ favourite meals or attitudes to world politics, unless relevant to the story – but if you’re writing a series or trilogy, your characters will change in each book in some way. You need an overview of each character’s motivations and how they evolve in each book, as well as their physical characteristics and basic behaviours. This helps you to maintain consistency and make sure that they each continue to grow. This is essential to keep the story and tone right – you don’t want your characters to regress unless this integral to the story you’re telling.

Draw Maps & Plans: this is fun to do, but it is also essential for continuity when it comes to your setting or settings. If you have several key buildings in your story, you need to know how your character gets from A to B; you need to know the journeys they take. Especially important are plans of rooms – these must stay the same, and you’d be surprised what details you will forget. Having a map makes it easier to keep movement consistent, and allows you to focus on the events, rather than be distracted by the details. If you build whole towns, draw an overview of what’s there, so you don’t forget an essential building or landmark, or accidentally shuffle things around. Readers don’t go through the redrafting and rewriting, so they have a much clearer image of hats happening; they will notice.

Reference Your Story Pages: make a separate set of notes about your characters, important objects, story themes etc, as you work on the proofs, ready for the next book. This way, you know exactly what page to look up when you need to repeat a detail, or keep a character trait consistent, or continue on a storyline. If you don’t do this, you will waste precious time looking back through your previous books. For instance, I have a rose and an amulet in my trilogy, and these change slightly as the story evolves. I have a list of pages where each of these objects appear, with a brief description of their functionality on that page, so I don’t get any details wrong. It’s amazing what you forget!

These suggestions may seem like lots of extra work, but in truth, they’re not. They’re enjoyable, they help you spot potential flaws, and they’re real time savers when it comes to writing your next book. As tempting as it may be to skip them (like I did !), I recommend that you give them a try. I’ve discovered that each strategy can be incorporated into your writing day – as I was writing The Book of Shadows, I added to my notes from book one. As a result, book three is proving much easier to deal with. I’m three drafts in and, of course, there have been challenges and mishaps along the way, but none of them have been as a result of easily avoidable inconsistencies.

I hope the above suggestions help you and I’d love to hear how you get on – and if you have any other strategies that work for you when you’re writing a series or follow on book, please feel free to share! I’m always open to new ideas and we’re all in it together.

(c) ER Murray

About The Book of Shadows

In this exciting follow-up to the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read 2016, ‘The Book of Learning’, heroine Ebony Smart is settling into her role as guardian for the Order of Nine Lives. All seems quiet until she receives a peculiar silver box from an anonymous sender and is tasked with returning it to a mystery owner. Ebony discovers that Zach and Judge Ambrose have allied with a powerful ancient demon, and are more determined than ever to steal her soul and control the fate of the world. To defend the Order and defeat the demon, Ebony and her pet rat, Winston, must unravel the mystery of the silver box, free the trapped souls in the Reflectory and mount a daring rescue. Can she find the strength and courage needed to defeat the enemy, prove herself the rightful guardian and save all of their lives?

The Book of Shadows is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!

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