Wednesday, September 15, 2010

So you see, what happened was . . .

While I have a project on the back burner that is completely unrelated to either of the series under contract, nearly all of my attention is currently on the two series I'm writing. Which means everything I'm writing right now is a sequel to the book or books before it.  In a series, each book should stand alone, as in the major issue presented at the beginning of the book should be resolved to some fashion by the end so the story has its own arc. But most series are connected by more than just character and world. While the main plot might be tied up at the end of each book, plot threads are often woven through a series. Also character growth, relationships, ability development, and such are explored over the course of a series. This means that while theoretically you could pick up a series and read it out of order, you'd get a lot more out of it by starting at the beginning.

That doesn't mean everyone starts at the beginning. In fact, I'd gamble from other discussions I've seen that as many as a third of those reading this post don't mind reading a series out of order. Personally, that would drive me nuts--guess I have a little OCD hidden  in me somewhere--but knowing that the books will be read out of order means a writer has to take into account that just because something was explained in a previous book, doesn't mean that all the readers will be familiar with that explanation. (Or even that they will remember with most books coming out nearly a year apart.) So some rehashing of information is necessary, both to inform new readers and to remind everyone else.

The question then, is how much?

I know I've personally read books where I wanted to toss the book across the room as I yelled "I know all that already! Get on with it!" I've also read books where I sat there going "Who is this guy? Did we meet him already?" So there is definitely a happy medium.

When working with back story, the general rule is: No large info dumps. Work the information into the narrative in small slices.  While what happened in a previous book isn't the same kind of back story as what happened to the character at say, age fifteen, it still happened before the opening of the current book. Quick reminder explanations of who someone is or how something works the first time it is encountered typically works well. The biggest issues tend to arise when dealing with something that changed drastically in a previous book (most likely due to the plot of that book) and trying to decide how much about that change (and plot) needs to be laid out for the reader. Again, this is (typically attempted to be) done without interrupting the forward progression of the story.

But recently I've noticed something new occurring in books. I wouldn't say it's a new trend because I haven't seen it enough to call it a trend, but I've run across at least a handful of books over the last few years which have a type of foreword that's not quite a prologue and basically quickly (as in maybe a manuscript page or two) lays out some of the pertinent events which occurred in previous books in the serious. Kind of like on TV shows. You know: "Previously on Vampire Diaries" followed by a series of quick scenes which brings viewers up to date before dropping us into this weeks episodes. (Yes, I admit it, I'm totally addicted to that show--it's deliciously dark and twisty.)

Have you read any books recently which had this "previously in . . ." type of start? Did you read it or skip it? Was it a good refresher, or just a rehash you could have gone without? Also, just because I'm curious: Do you always read series in order, or do you read them in whatever order you happen to stumble upon them?

Happy hump day everyone! Also, remember to check back tomorrow for a fabulous guest post from M. K. Hobson.


Jessica said...

I sometimes like a short little "previously..." especially if there was a long gap between the book releases. I've read other things in between and a refresher, even a small one is always good. Rachel Caine did this with her Weather Warderns, just a short 1 pager, really it was only a few short paragraphs but it was enough.

When it comes to reading a series, I'm a little OCD, so I have to read them in order. I've mistakenly started a series by reading a different book and I was lost, because they kept referring to things that happened in the past and I didn't really like not knowing what it all was. It was explained somewhat, but I still missed the history to explain the characters' present relationship. So now I do tend to make sure I start with book 1 in a series, because I don't want to miss out on what has already passed.

Which goes back with the first question, even though book 2 might explain a little bit of what has come to pass, I still feel like I am missing out on something. I want to know what happened in book 1 what led the characters to where they are now. Like I said, I might be a little OCD in this manner, but it's just how I am with series. :)

Marcia Colette said...

Richelle Mead's Blood Promise comes to mind. Since I don't buy hardcover books and have to wait twice as long--so it seems--for the mmpb to come out, I usually forget what happened in the previous book. All it took was a few paragraphs to jog my memories and I was off diving into the series again and happy as ever.

I like the idea of having a foreward because that sums it up without the info dump. I can comfortably skip it without worry that I might have missed something.

Oh, and I don't mind reading things out of order. That was how I go hooked on LKH. Of course, that doesn't bode well for any of my series because I'm having a hell of a time writing a sequel. It's no wonder I'm on my way to becoming a single-title urban fantasy author. LOL!

Kalayna Price said...

So far we are fifty/fifty on the 'reading out of order' question (you know, if you don't count my opinion) and are over all positive on the "previously . . ." type intros. Very interesting. ^_^