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I'm in the writing stage of my first book, which is to be the first of three books which are all part of, let's say, Trilogy A.

I'm planning on writing two more Trilogies (B and C) which all start and end at the same time as Trilogy A.

My Question: Are there any tips for setting multiple Trilogies in the same timeline?


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Trilogy A must be read before B (and B before C) to allow the reader to fully understand the significance of events.

All Trilogies focus on different parts of my world but the main characters are related to each other.

The Trilogies all combine into a fourth (and final) Trilogy (D) where the main characters properly meet, so it's essential that the timelines match.

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    I would suggest investing some time in reading a good example of a similarly massive story. My recommendation would be Anne Mccaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern which contains something like 24 books, many of them grouped into trilogies and many of those trilogies overlapping each other on their shared master timeline. It is a fun ride, but it is also an education on how to handle scale and complexity right. Dec 29 '17 at 21:50
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    Now that you have digested how it feels when I asked you to read 24 books to get your answer, realize that you are asking your future readers to read at least 12 books and to do so in a particular order. That is a pretty big request. I would strongly suggest that you make each trilogy (and to a lesser extent, each book) a stand alone enjoyable experience. Dependencies between your stories can limit reader starting points which may limit reader willingness to start at all. Notice that I didn't recommend an order for Dragonriders. It doesn't really matter where you start. Dec 29 '17 at 22:05
  • A quick pointer to a potentially useful source: Orson Scott Card has written seperate novels about the same events from multiple viewpoints, and has a quite extensive collection of writing advice articles on his web site. There may well be something there that is useful to you.
    – Jules
    Dec 31 '17 at 12:30
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    @HenryTaylor You need to put your comment into an answer so I can really upvote that. Your answer is the better than the accepted one... Jan 2 '18 at 15:07
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    @JPChapleau, thanks for the advice and the offer of an upvote. I expected others to provide more concrete advice (as Amadeus did IMHO), and I thought a linear set of comments carried my point clearly enough. Now I wish that I had written more because there is certainly more to say. I may add another, more detailed answer after work tonight. Thanks again. Jan 2 '18 at 15:24
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As with any major writing project, I would suggest beginning with some reading. Some good examples of this kind of trilogy-spanning epics include...

  • Anne Mccaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series which has more than 20 books and several supporting short stories. The trilogies embedded within this massive collection of fiction all overlapping each other on their shared master timeline. They share many characters and events without blatant discrepancies allowing each trilogy to view the timeline from a different point of view. It is a fun ride, but it is also an education on how to handle scale and complexity right.
  • Orson Scott Card's Enderverse is another great example of epic storytelling involving twin quintets of novels, each augmented with multiple short stories and full-length companion novels. There are currently 14 separate works in the Enververse with 4 more in the works. Again, characters and events overlap over a consistent shared timeline, viewed from different perspectives. Another fun and educational ride.

Now that you have digested how it feels to have 34 books recommended all at one time, realize what you are asking of your future readers. Nine to twelve books is a pretty big request. I would strongly suggest that you craft each book into a stand-alone enjoyable reading experience. Each should be a complete story which could stand on its own if that was the only part of your writing that a particular reader ever read. In both of the examples above, early novels and short stories were awarded Hugo and Nebula awards on their on merits, long before even their initial trilogies/quintets were completed. Right from the start, they were both excellent! Literature is one area where quantity can never make up for quality.

Making each novel stand-alone and excellent has an additional benefit. Dependencies between your stories can limit reader starting points which may limit reader willingness to start reading your work at all. Any book in any of the series above can be your introduction into that series. Order is unimportant because every tale is complete and worth reading on its own.

In summary, I would suggest that you focus on what you are writing now and make it great. If you have already imagined the later works and know how they interact with this first story, then plant the seeds of that interaction now, during this initial writing. But stay focused on the work at hand. Let the future works handle themselves.

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Common Global News.

To be "in the same timeline" typically will not mean anything except that the characters experience the same "watershed events" that basically everybody in their world hears about. But such watershed events are rare. Examples might be the death of a ruler, a war begins or ends, a devastating flood or hurricane or tornado, a scandal, an important murder or conviction, a fad or new invention or new 'celebrity' becoming known, a new religious leader emerges. A country is conquered, a revolution succeeds or is decisively put down, or a country is officially split (as Iraq may someday be). Something iconic is destroyed (a fire takes an ancient forest, our own 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center, a famous church or landmark is bombed, or destroyed in an earthquake.

Of course they will also likely have the same technologies at their disposal, or close to it with minor variations, but that depends on your story line, I suppose you can have flint knives versus laser guns if you want, but in that scenario it might be more difficult for the flint knife crowd to be aware of the same watershed events as the laser gun crowd.

Since you contemplate ten or more books, you should have the imagination to come up with a book-universe wide history of what goes on in this timeline.

The watershed events do not necessarily have to be plot points, just markers: In every book, early on, somebody mentions an assassination, in gossip:

"Doctor Havil is dead, did you hear? Assassinated, they say."

In each book with various responses: Shock, joy or celebration, disdain, whatever. Pleasure: "Really? Then Arthur owes me a beer, I told him Havil wouldn't last the year!"

But that can be the full impact of Doctor Havil's assassination, to the plot or book. It doesn't have to really matter, just as it doesn't really matter to us today if some astronaut should die in space or some Hollywood icon gets convicted of rape. We hear about it, but our life goes on, unchanged.

You use other watershed moments similarly; but sparingly: The moment I mention Doctor Havil's assassination, my timeline is synchronized, in every book. That is the same moment in time for everybody, Doctor Havil can only be assassinated once. The same could be said for an earthquake in California with a particular, unique consequence:

"I just heard the earthquake yesterday collapsed the cave of Pilotes tomb. I can't believe it."

"How is that possible? That cave has been there forever! Did it have pilgrims in it?"

"I have no idea, my wife heard it from a friend."

Once again, timeline synced, every time this is mentioned. Once near the beginning of the book, and another watershed event near the end (related for 'closure' if you want; e.g. 'they' schedule a reopening of Pilotes tomb).

If subsequent trilogies move forward on the timeline, your 'closing' watershed event in other books or trilogies becomes something that recently happened in your new book or trilogy.

Just make sure your watersheds have some detail in them so they are unique and cannot possibly (or at least plausibly) happen again. JFK was only assassinated once, Pearl Harbor was only ambushed once, it is implausible that would happen again. The World Trade Center will never be destroyed by terrorists again. There will not be another American Declaration of Independence, or Emancipation Proclamation, or end of Prohibition. There will not be another day in which same-sex marriage became legal throughout the USA (06/23/2015).

If you need ideas of such events, I'd suggest looking at three or four big newspapers, online, say from New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston (whatever you can find for free). Or websites, like Huffington, Fox, major networks, CNN: And find days when all of them have a front page headline about the same news item. They don't have to agree, their spins may be different, but that gives you a clue to what kinds events are watersheds and iconic. The day after the election of Barack Obama, or the day after Katrina, no news outlet failed to have a prominent story on the event.

I do say use them sparingly; unless your story makes great leaps in time, one watershed early on is probably enough. If it does make great leaps in time, have one watershed event for each major time segment. A simple quarter-page conversation in each book will not be intrusive and will anchor the reader. but make the conversation a little different in each book, based on the personalities of those discussing it; their reactions can be different, or even if they all express regret or all express elation, they have their own idiosyncratic ways of doing that. If you choose the common event carefully, these reactions can double as character revealing moments.

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    I have quite a few watershed events (ruler dying, a devastating earthquake, a presidential candidate murdered (there's more but I can't list them all right now)), so this is quite helpful :-)
    – Adi219
    Dec 30 '17 at 16:36
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If you are just starting this run of 12 books, I would write the fist trilogy before making any large decisions. I would even suggest making the first book as stand-alone as possible.

Some authors only finish one book.

Some authors get sick or die before completing their works (Roger Zelazny, Robert Jordon, etc.)

In addition, future readers may not be able to locate your books in your preferred order. Authors have very little control over the order in which readers will read your books.

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