Things I Didn’t Know When I Started to Write a Trilogy – by Jacey Bedford

Nimbus cover 400pxNimbus, the third book in my Psi-Tech trilogy is out today.

Let me say that again because I only have twenty four hours to keep repeating is and it’s one of those phrases that doesn’t get old.

Nimbus, the third book in my Psi-Tech trilogy is out today, Tuesday 3rd October 2017.

In all fairness I never intended to commit trilogy, but when I sold Empire of Dust to DAW my original three book deal it was for Empire of Dust, an unnamed sequel, and Winterwood (a fantasy and the beginning of another trilogy). My editor, the lovely Sheila Gilbert actually bought Winterwood first, but she said those words that every author is gagging to hear right after, ‘I want to buy your book,’ and that is, ‘What else have you got?’

Psi-Tech 2015 6x4smTo cut the story short, I sent her Empire, which I’d written a few years earlier as a stand-alone with potential sequels. She liked it and asked me for an outline for a follow-up. I dashed of

f a page full of ideas that turned into Crossways. Part way through writing Crossways I needed to know whether to wrap up the story arc in two volumes or whether it would run to three. I was delighted when I got the go-ahead to write a third Psi-Tech book to round off the story of Ben, Cara, and the Free Company.

If you twisted my arm to offer advice on how to write a trilogy I wouldn’t say, ‘Write one book with no future plan in mind and see what happens.’ Though that’s what I did. Of course, I’d thought about the series potential, and I already knew that Crossways was under contract before I stared extensive editorial revisions on Empire, so I was able to sit back and think about a much longer story, one that I could finish in two books if I had to, but one that would profit from being given the breathing space that you only get with a three-book-story. These are not short books. Empire is 171,000 words; Crossways is 173,000 words and Nimbus is 169,000 words. That’s over half a million words to reveal a plot that begins with a personal story – a  lone telepath on the run from corporate skulduggery in an era of interstellar colonialism – and ends with a paradigm shift. (I can’t tell you more or I’d have to shoot you. Read the books, please.)

So what didn’t I know?

I didn’t know that writing sequels is difficult and writing a sequel to the sequel is even more difficult. How much of the story of the first book do you give away in the second? How much of the first two books do you give away in the third? Many times I was tempted to start the second and third books with a chapter of the story so far, but I didn’t give in. I tended to put in way too much backstory in the first draft, and had to pare it down, sometimes relying on fellow writers in our critique group, Northwrite, to scribble: Yes! WE KNOW! In the margin of my manuscript. Hopefully all those bits have been excised.

What else?

Rookie mistake, but when I wrote Empire, I didn’t know to compile a style sheet which noted spellings of names and terms used in the book. When does Telepath have a capital letter? (Answer, when it’s a Telepath whose talent comes from having a neural implant.) Is it air lock, air-lock or airlock? Is it jumpdrive, jump-drive or jump drive? The answer is that it can be any of them, as long as what you write in the last book is consistent with what you wrote in the first. The copy editor who dealt with Empire very kindly sent a style sheet. I added to it as the cast of characters and the specialised vocabulary grew. By the time I got to the end of Nimbus, my style sheet was (well, still is) 12 pages, double columned, using 10 pitch Calibri.


I didn’t know how and when to kill off characters. I’m no George RR Martin about to drop the headsman’s axe on the neck of a beloved character, or wipe out a family at a wedding, but without losing some characters, the threat to the others wouldn’t seem real. I’m too soft. One of my characters died and was resurrected about three times (not in the plot, but in several early drafts) and he still made it to the end of the third book.

And then there’s the problem of writing about sex in a stable relationship.

OK, not exactly a problem, but I started Cara and Ben’s relationship backwards. They had unwise sex as strangers (in the very first chapter of the first book, so I’m not giving you much of a spoiler) but grew past it – and that was only the first book. So the romance sub-plot had to leave will-they-won’t-they? far behind (because they already had). I introduced Ben at the beginning of the first book, and he grew to be an equal viewpoint character with his own story arc. His problems intersected with Cara’s and they solved them together… eventually.

Rounding off.

I’m a sucker for circular plots and for actions growing logically from earlier actions rather than happening for the convenience of the author. I was a little worried about the motivation of one of my antagonists and the answer didn’t hit me until the very last revision of the very last book. I was one of those oh, yeah! moments, so logical that I wondered why I hadn’t planned it from the beginning. And then I realised that even if I had I wouldn’t have written anything differently, because I wouldn’t have wanted to spoil that final reveal. It still worked anyway.

Sometimes luck is on your side.


 jacey-novacon-2012-300pxsquJacey Bedford is a British writer from Yorkshire with over thirty short stories and five (so far) novels to her credit. She lives behind a desk in an old stone house on the edge of the Pennines with her husband and a long-haired, black German Shepherd – that’s a dog not an actual shepherd from Germany. She’s the hon. sec. of Milford SF Writers’ Conference, held annually in North Wales.


Jacey’s books:
Empire of Dust (Psi-Tech series #1)
Crossways  (Psi-Tech series #2)
Nimbus  (Psi-Tech series #3)
Winterwood (Rowankind #1)
Silverwolf (Rowankind #2)

Follow Jacey:
Twitter: @jaceybedford

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (, the secretary of Milford SF Writers (, a singer ( and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (
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