How I Learned To Write A Trilogy By Raiding My Kids’ Bookshelves - Dundurn
Mar 19, 2021

How I Learned To Write A Trilogy By Raiding My Kids’ Bookshelves

I had written a few books before I sat down to write the Jack Palace series, but I had never written a trilogy before. I didn’t map it all out in advance. I concentrated on the first book, Yard Dog, and made sure it worked as a stand-alone story that also left the door open for potential sequels. When Dundurn Press bought Yard Dog, they bought it as part of a three-book deal. Then I sat down to write the next two books, Carve the Heart and Season of Smoke

I wanted each book to work as a stand-alone story while also being part of the larger three-book narrative. This, I discovered, was easier said than done.  One problem I encountered: How do I present things that happened in previous books? I definitely did not want to resort to clumsy expositional dialogue (“Hey, Jack! Remember when we fought all those mobsters last year? That was crazy!”). 

So, I asked myself, How did other writers solve this problem? I looked at two authors and their series: James Sallis, author of the Turner Trilogy (and the book Drive, which is 1000% better than the movie that was made from it, although I did enjoy the soundtrack), and Dav (pronounced “Dave,” in case anyone was wondering) Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series. Captain Underpants? That’s right, I raided my kids’ bookshelves. 

Ultimately, I found the answer in the pages of Captain Underpants. (Has that sentence ever been said before? Probably!) At the beginning of the Captain Underpants books, there is a short comic book–style recap of the previous books. This made me realize I could take advantage of the fact that the Jack Palace series is written in the first person, and I could just tell the reader what they needed to know.

Gasp! Just … tell them? Doesn’t that violate that age-old writing advice “Show, Don’t Tell”? Generally speaking, “Show, Don’t Tell” is excellent writing advice. One of Jack Kerouac’s writing tips was to “see the picture better.” You (the writer) want to use words to put images into the readers’ minds. So how did I keep the focus on the showing and not the telling? 

In the Jack Palace series, I keep the exposition to a minimum. A few lines here or there, just to help out the reader who may be dipping into the series out of order. Who is this guy Tommy? A reader might wonder. “Tommy was a mobster who saved my life in jail,” Jack tells them. Done! And the narrative moves on.

Rules, as they say, are made to be broken. However, when writing a book, especially a thriller, you don’t want the telling to disrupt the showing. Hopefully, with the help of Captain Underpants, I’ve struck just the right balance. As always, you, the reader, will be the final judge!