I was interviewed today and a question came up about the difference between a story arc in a limited book series versus a feature film, and it got me thinking just how difficult Book 2 of a serialized trilogy can be. I use the word “serialized” as an ongoing story is either serial or episodic.
Serialized storytelling usually involves an overarching plot that does not resolve until the end of the series. Jumping into the middle of a book series that is truly “serialized” can be difficult as plot points from Book 1 may arise in subsequent books. Without this knowledge, a reader can feel lost. A classic example of a serialized book series is George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice.
Episodic storytelling usually allows for a reader to read the series in any order as each book is a self-contained story. The characters usually stay the same, while the adventure they go on or mystery they solve changes each time. Within each book, the author writes a clear beginning, middle, and end, and these elements remain unique from book to book throughout the series. Detective stories are a classic example of episodic storytelling.
Serialized storytelling has an added challenge. Not only does each book require an arc, so does the overall story. When I wrote Cecilia: The Last Croilar Tier, I hadn’t intended to write a trilogy. My story had a very clear beginning, middle, and end. Cecilia starts in a forest as a naïve, nature-loving teen, and as she journeys to the city of Vitus, she transforms into a warrior princess.
Because fans kept asking for more, I wondered: Can I turn this story into a trilogy? The process wasn’t easy because I had tied up most of the loose ends. But with a bit of creativity (and many sleepless nights), I discovered a way to re-ignite the battle between the Goddess of Light and her Dark Shadow, while keeping the underlying Prophecy ongoing.
Book 1 is set up as a physical journey from point A to point B. As Cecilia and Amalardh travel along this path, they grow and transform. In short, my arc was straightforward. Because the physical journey in Books 2 & 3 is contiguous, finding a place to cut the storytelling for Book 2 was challenging. I had to balance story length with a satisfying emotional arc. When a battle defined the end of Book 1 and another battle had been planned to wrap the series, providing this satisfying ending meant I had to turn to “craft” and let “inspiration” take a back seat. Meaning, I couldn’t simply let the story take me whatever it wanted to take me. As the author, I needed to step in a direct the journey to a specific end.
The key to satiating my Book 2 reader was to include several mini-battles between Cecilia and the Dark Goddess’s beasts that lead us to a “Cecilia must get away” moment. After which, we taper off to: “Cecilia is safe, but is she really?” My goal was to make sure the story felt resolved, and not frustrate the reader by cutting on a major cliffhanger. At the end of Book 2, it’s clear that Cecilia’s journey needs to continue. However, because several questions have been answered, the reader is left satiated.
After completing The Cecilia Series, my respect for George RR Martin’s achievements with A Song of Fire and Ice is through the roof. I can empathize with his long bouts between books. Sometimes, it’s easy to know what we want the end game to be, getting there can be a struggle.