The Weight of a Trilogy


It wasn’t so many years ago that I thought I’d never be capable of writing a full-length book. And after I’d managed to actually write a whole memoir, I wasn’t confident that I’d ever be able to write a fiction novel. Though I haven’t finished my first novel yet, I feel certain now that I will indeed finish, and go on to do something I definitely never thought I’d be capable of doing: complete a trilogy.

As part of my research for this novel, I read and treasured Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy. And when I finished the third book, it occurred to me that Pullman would have certainly needed to know the plot line for the entire trilogy figured out before he began even writing the first book. This thought left me awestruck. Again, this just isn’t the kind of thing I usually do. In fact, I think of myself as quite the moderate-achiever. I go after my dreams, sure—but I’m no go-getter. I really, really like to be lazy. So I marveled at the elaborate plotlines and sub-plotlines in the His Dark Materials series, wondering how Pullman had done it.


And then when I was in South America, the complicated plotlines and sub-plotlines for my own trilogy just strolled on into my head, leaving me stunned and surprised. I hadn’t planned on extending my novel into a series, but I now understand that it was meant to be a trilogy all along—I just hadn’t realized it yet.

Shouldering the weight of a project this huge makes me feel a little frightened, certainly overwhelmed, but most of all, it makes me feel excited. If I don’t keep pushing myself in my writing, I’ll never have the kind of career I’d like to have. And a trilogy, with a potential prequel concept? That’s definitely pushing it. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about my writing thus far, it’s that I need to follow my imagination, to whatever frightening depths it takes me.

If an idea strikes me, I have no choice but to follow it down the rabbit hole, to write it out and see it through. Because there will be plenty of times when the desire to write will take hold of me, only I won’t have any ideas to make anything of that desire.

And so I plow ahead, not sure how long this project will take me. Knowing the story arc for the entire series has given me the renewed vigor and passion for the first book in the series that I so badly needed just one month ago. I can’t handle a project like this without my usual overzealous plan of organization, of course. I have armed myself with a giant roll of butcher paper, on which I plan to write the storylines for all three books individually, and for the entire series. I will suspend this roll of paper onto my office wall, and pour myself into the visual insight it gives me. I have yet more research to do, and of course plan to reread some of my favorite series, of which there are many. Along with Pullman’s fine work, I have pulled my copies of several other series from my bookshelves. Tolkien, Herbert, and Lessing will guide me as I navigate the treacherous road of staying with one character, or set of characters, beyond the traditional one-book course.

This isn’t something I planned to accomplish or even reach for in my lifetime, but now that the concept has arrived on my doorstep, I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay, to fill my life with something challenging and wonderful, and never, ever boring.


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