Friday, August 28, 2015

Things I Learned While Writing a Trilogy by Melanie Hooyenga

I recently published the third book in my YA trilogy, The Flicker Effect, and this release was far more stressful than the previous two. Writing a novel—not to mention publishing it—is a huge accomplishment, and I could have used this advice to avoid unexpected bumps along the way.
Planning to write a trilogy, or already in the middle? I hope this helps!

It’s very very important to keep a character bible.

When I wrote the first book, FLICKER, I hadn’t planned to write a trilogy. It was only after I finished that I realized it had series potential, and I’d neglected to take some very important notes while during the writing process. Case in point: Mid-way through the first draft of the second book, FRACTURE, I couldn’t remember my main character’s last name. I didn’t remember even GIVING her a last name. But since I never kept track of that HUGE detail, I had to skim through ALL OF FLICKER to make sure. Nope, I never called her anything beyond Biz, and her BFF Amelia refers to Biz’s dad as Mr. Biz.

I started a loose guide at that point, but with FADED, the third book, I ran into the same problem. I don’t spend a lot of time naming secondary characters—I often write the first name that pops into my head—so when a new character from chapter three resurfaces ten chapters later, there’s very little to help me recall that person’s name.

It’s difficult to promote books 2 and 3 without giving away THE BIG THING from books 1 and 2.

While working on the back cover copy for FADED, I was faced with this challenge: how do I refer to the BIG HUGE LIFE-CHANGING EVENT that was the climax of the previous book without giving away the ending to those who haven’t read it? You need to hook readers so they’ll want to read it, but for someone who’s never read any of my books, I don’t want them to skim through the descriptions of each one and be disappointed.

My solution? I stuck with vague details that focus on a big event that opens the book, with a few hints of trouble to come:

Biz didn’t think life could get worse after after the tragic events that surrounded her last flicker, but when she accidentally flickers on her eighteenth birthday after doing shots of vodka—she’s forced to face the consequences of her actions in a way she never imagined.

When an anonymous email threatens to reveal her secret, Biz must decide if flickering is all it’s cracked up to be, or if she needs to stop. Forever.

Generic adjectives like “tragic” and phrases like “forced to face the consequences” may not be the most elegant solution, but they allow a glimpse of what’s coming without giving away the ending of book two.

Ending a trilogy is much bigger than ending a stand-alone book.

Concluding a book has always been a challenge for me. I don’t want the ending to be trite or clich├ęd, or worse, leave readers feeling unsatisfied (well, except for the end of FRACTURE which was definitely a cliffhanger), and I often struggle with finding the perfect way to end a story.

Well, multiply that times a hundred for ending a series. Based on my outline, I was still several chapters from The End when I realized, “Hey, I’m already in the end.” Story lines that started in FLICKER were wrapping up without me realizing it (this is the stuff we writers say that annoys non-writers) so I had to back-track and make sure ALL the loose ends were tucked neatly away. The character arcs from books one and two had to close as well. As my husband teases me: ALL THE THINGS. There was a lot more than I expected, but I’m happy with how it came together.

You’ll both dread and look forward to saying goodbye to your characters.

FADED was published in June and I’ve said goodbye to Biz, Cameron, Amelia, and my new favorite character Quinn. They’ve been with me since 2010 and while it makes me sad to let them go, I’m excited to get to know the characters in my next book. I still need to do character development projects to learn what makes them tick (I know Cally loves to ski, but what’s her favorite subject in school, or her least-favorite food?) and I’m a little nervous I won’t love them the same.

Then again, they say there’s always a special place in your heart for your first love.

Melanie Hooyenga first started writing as a teenager and finds she still relates best to that age group. She has lived in Washington DC, Chicago, and Mexico, but has finally settled down in her home state of Michigan with her husband Jeremy. When not at her day job as a graphic designer, you can find Melanie attempting to wrangle her Miniature Schnauzer Owen and playing every sport imaginable with Jeremy.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: We're heading back to school with a 3-part craft series on Voice, and Patti Richards is collecting your good news for another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. Email Patti at

Kristin Lenz


  1. Great advice! Best of luck with all your writing projects!

  2. Thanks, Melanie. I've been thinking about writing a series and this was really helpful. Also, love your book covers!

    1. Thank you Dawn! I will be very happy if my mistakes help another writer. :)

      And thanks for the compliment on the covers -- I designed those myself!

  3. Really helpful post, Melanie! Thanks for sharing your insights with The Mitten readers. We appreciate it!

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