1. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Bizarre Question for Series Writers

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by Cephus, Jun 14, 2019.

    This is a weird one that came up last night, so bizarre in fact, I wanted to run it past other writers. I had a friend drop by last night to borrow something and while he was here, he was kind of reading over my shoulder while I was doing some editing on a book. He's not a writer, I don't think he's really a big reader, but he asked me a question about a scene I was working on and I told him that it referred to something that had happened in a previous book.

    And he said "Aren't you just assuming that people had read your previous book?" Well yes, that's the assumption. This is the second book in a series, after all. I don't know if he didn't think about it before he said it or what, but it got me thinking, at least half-heartedly. Is that an assumption that we shouldn't make? I mean, it sounds ridiculous to me, but might people just jump into the middle of a trilogy without reading the first book? How much recap do we give for people who just can't count?

    For that matter, what about readers who don't decide to start at the beginning of the book? Someone just might decide that chapter 6 is a good place to start reading. It gets silly the more you think about it, but it might be interesting, in a light-hearted way, to talk about.
     
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  2. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I do think each book needs to be able to stand on its own even in a series. I've got a series of shorts in the works, but I've been careful not to assume readers will start at the same place I started wringing. I don't think you need to recap everything, but somethings might to be restated as the series goes on. I don't think you have to worry about readers who open up to chapter six and start reading there. That's on them. But book one might not be everyone's starting point. I know I've read some books that are part of a series out of order and never had a problem knowing what was going on or feeling like I had to go back and read the first book. Personally, I'm not that into series. It's a lot to assume out readership is going to stay with us from start to finish and read everything in order. We don't want to alienate those readers who book up book two or three as a starting point. Hopefully, they will want to go back and read book one or continue on, but if they don't a sale is still a sale and our fist book might not be the best when it comes to sales. With all our books, we bring writers into a world and even if it's the same world, they should be able to get it even if they read out of order. Just my thoughts on it.
     
  3. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    I'm with @deadrats on this one. I've done it myself, jumped in when a backblurb sounded good and not worried about Book 1. For that matter, maybe the bookstore didn't have Book 1 in store and I had the choice of buying or not. If I would have needed to assume that reading Book 1 was necessary for me to understand Book 2, I'd never buy it. So it's in the best interest of the author to not assume too much prior knowledge on part of the reader.

    That doesn't mean that you need to rehash everything, but elements that are necessary for the understanding of the current plot? Unequivocally yes. In my own writing, I make every story stand on its own, but if a reader chooses to read more than one they are going to discover rather a lot of cross-connections, which make each story even more enjoyable than if they'd been read only as standalone.
     
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  4. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Stubborn Finnsperger Contributor

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    Hmm...

    If a book is interesting and it can stand alone... Of course.

    "You should not buy this book if you have not read the previous one (which you have never heard about)!" That attitude really does not sell books or get anyone to read.
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Even if I have read the first book, I might have read it quite a while ago, in which case it'd be good to have some sort of reminder of critical events.
     
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  6. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Obviously, the story in each book must stand alone, but it's like... you started watching The Two Towers without seeing The Fellowship of the Ring and then you expect The Two Towers to tell you everything that happened in the first movie so you don't have to go watch it. Yeah... not so much.
     
  7. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    Doing your best to write the second book in a series which can stand alone--thus may have to give reminders or context for actions or situations--is important to readers. Even readers who read the first book six months back might need reminders of who someone is/relationship/history with another character, for example.

    As you get further into a series, say book 5 or 6, then that becomes more difficult, and a person is less likely to pick up on book six. Sure, the book may be readable, but there will be some minor things that might be missed.
     
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  8. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you can just pass over with a few words like, "Looks like she still hasn't forgiven me for last time. That one night stand was a bad idea." You don't need to go into the whole story - those lines are enough to explain to the reader why the interaction would be stiff or barbed and that's enough. Whereas if there was no such unique history, it might just be two characters who have worked together in the past, it could just be "Tom's idea on the last project was excellent, so John was only too glad to hear his old colleague's back on the team."

    Like, it's really quite brief. You need just enough to explain the reactions and actions in the immediate scene and then you can move on. But yes, I do think you need to recap anything that would affect the current plot and character reactions. I've often started midway through a book series, and only find out later it's part of a series and then go back and read Book 1.
     
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  9. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    They all stand alone. We're talking a minor point that happened in one chapter that is mentioned in passing in the next book.
     
  10. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Pretty much any series I have, you can read in any order. Harry Potter, The Death Gate Cycle, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, all recap points salient to the ongoing plot so readers dont' get lost. It's one of the reasons Deathly Hallows is twice as long as Prisoner of Azkaban.

    Lord of the Rings wasn't meant to be a trilogy. It was one novel that was broken into separate volumes due to the publishing constraints of the day. The fact that it could be broken into three relatively stand alone novels is mostly because Tolkien was good at structuring.
     
  11. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Important plot points, yes, but not minor things that happened in one book, that have no impact on another book, and are only mentioned in passing, which is all I even asked about.
     
  12. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Welp, if they're only there in passing, have no impact on the book, but are causing confusion, then they should probably not be there, or have some context to go with them. If they're not an issue, they're not an issue, but if someone walked off the street, read some of your manuscript and told you it might be an issue, it's probably something you'd want to keep track of when you farm it out to your betas and alphas.
     
  13. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I just deleted what I was writing because it was exactly the same as the hooligan's post. If they're not relevant to the current book, I'd delete them. They're just unnecessary confusion.
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If I'm reading a series of, say, detective stories featuring the same detective that doesn't carry the plot forward from previous books, I'm okay with a few mentions of factors about the detective himself. I don't need to have read the previous books. The author just tells me a few things. The detective's not married. He drinks a lot. His supervisor doesn't like him, but his colleagues do. He has a cat, etc. A mention of some factors common to all the series will be okay, and not too intrusive. We don't need to know the particulars of his previous cases in order to follow the book we are presently reading.

    However, a continuing series with a developing plot arc? That's another issue.

    Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings as a continuous story. I wasn't around (or aware) when the three volumes were first published (I believe all at one time,) but when I first read them (late 1967) I knew they were published in three volumes. I knew enough to start with The Fellowship of the Ring. I can't remember if there was a 'catch-up' at the start of The Two Towers or The Return of the King. There might have been. I don't have my original copies to check. (The one I have now is a single volume.)

    It's not a bad idea to write a catch-up intro to consecutive volumes, if you're really worried about your readers not knowing or remembering what went before. It might be especially good if you don't release the entire series all at one time. People might forget certain things between reading the different volumes. A separate "What Went Before" introductory chapter won't intrude on the story itself. It's optional reading. There if you need it; skippable if you don't.

    I'm wondering what would happen if somebody started reading George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire with Book Three? (Whatever it was called.) I don't think there was catch-up writing in those books. Martin just assumed that people had read the first two. Folks would get pretty lost pretty quickly, wouldn't they, if they hadn't? Martin's overall plot and characters are varied enough that he would have a hell of a time catching everybody up, every time he released another volume. So he didn't bother.

    Joe Abercrombie's Before They are Hanged (the second book in the First Law trilogy) also doesn't attempt to catch the reader up with what has gone before. He just keeps going as well.

    I prefer the 'just carry on' method.

    As long as it's clearly stated on the cover/title of the book that it's part of a series, and this is Book One, Book Two, etc—and people choose to start with the first in the series—they'll be fine. I reckon people who choose to start reading in the middle of a series don't have a valid reason to complain if they can't figure out what's going on.

    It's like picking up a novel and starting on page 125 ...and then complaining because we don't know what came before.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
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  15. Viridian

    Viridian Member Supporter

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    I agree with @jannert. No reminders necessary. I'm reading the second of a series right now and am constantly reminded of what happened in the first book. Highly irritating! I've also picked up book 3 of a series (without knowing it was part of a series), started reading, realised early on there must have been more books before this and instantly went out and bought the previous two. I've also read the last of a series (again, didn't realise) and never bothered reading the previous however many there were because I enjoyed it well enough on its own.

    What I do prefer, though, is that if a book is part of a series, that it is mentioned inside the cover with a list of the books in order. It's nice to let the reader know from the outset, that way, if they like the blurb on the jacket they can start at the beginning - something I only see every so often but IMO should be standard practice.

    Mine too will be a series of three. Not because that's how I intended it from the start but because it go so involved it would end up mahoosive as one book. I will not be doing recounts of what happened in the first book unless it occurs naturally (i.e. not simply for the readers benefit/memory), but I will absolutely be making it perfectly clear that it is part of a series.

    I do get that people often forget what happened previously, especially if there's been a while between reading books, but... well, they can always go back and check up on details if it's that big of an issue. I do it myself frequently and I much prefer that to being constantly reminded in book 2, 3 or whatever.
     
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  16. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    I haven’t yet started the sequel to Valentine, but my plan is to treat anything from the first book just the same as any other backstory: mention what’s relevant when it’s relevant and leave out anything unnecessary.
     
  17. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    I bet this is important for TV & Movie writers, since people channel flip, whether they've seen the entire movie or not.

    One aspect of our art form (fiction books) is that it is usually meant to be read in a particular order, though some have experimented with this. Someone can read it in a different order if they want to, but they're voiding their warranty. It's like listening to music at 2x speed. Yes you can do it but that's not really how it was meant to be listened to. It makes more sense to read books out of order within a series, and I think different authors & publishers will usually signal whether this is recommended through the marketing material. How clear is it where a particular book falls within the series? If the book cover says "A Jack Reacher Novel" instead of "Harry Potter: Book 2, The Chamber of Secrets" I think the writer is incurring the responsibility to make the book stand on its own.
     
  18. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. Nothing annoys me more than having to figure out which book in a series comes first, etc. I have just been scrambling around with a series that has been presented this way. (Partly because the writer wrote them out of chronological order ...complicated by the fact that the titles and covers have changed between the UK and USA version!!!)

    List the books in order, on the inside cover AND the outside cover? Seems reasonable to me.
     
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  19. RobinLC

    RobinLC Active Member

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    I think it is good to do a quick recap for anything you mention in your current series. But it doesn't have to be a long explanation. I know as a reader, even if I've read a book from the beginning story I don't remember everything that's happened. Especially if that first series was read a year or more ago. So yes, I think if there are details in your first book necessary to know, you need to remind your readers of it in the following books.
     
  20. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Not a bizarre question at all. I'm wrestling with how much backstory to include in my romantic suspense series, each book of which stands alone but will feature the same MCs.

    There's a good chance I've put too much into Book 2. I'll edit it out when I get the ms finished.
     
  21. bparker

    bparker New Member

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    I'm not a series writer by any means, so I'm not the authority on this, but I think it's best to work it in like a TV show. The show has a sequential story, but people can tune in at any episode and understand most of what's going on (or at least enjoy the ride).

    I'd make sure to indicate to the reader that the characters have been there before (especially helpful for people who have read the other books in the series and just don't remember).
    "He entered the barn, wondering if it would look the same as it did before he left for college, and was immediately overcome by the familiar pungent stench of compost."
    We know he's been there before, and we've reset the scene. People who are familiar with this will piece it together with the past, and newcomers will be able to follow along.

    So I guess the best approach is to touch on the past and familiar ideas, but don't go in to too much detail unless it's necessary to the story.
     
  22. KiraAnn

    KiraAnn Active Member

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    Nowadays, more and more tv shows are moving to season long plots. I don’t watch them.

    When I consider books for purchase, if I see that it is in a series and I can determine that the same plot stretches over multiple books, I put it back. Won’t buy that.
     
  23. Richach

    Richach Contributor Contributor

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    Whilst I wrestle with writing my story in 70k words, I can recap it in 250 words.


    I don’t think it is a problem to recap the gist of the series in some way in each book. If anything, it’s an opportunity to plug the other books. Or if you don’t like the commercial term 'plug,' then by all means choose another that sounds more artistic or palatable.


    I also think having a common theme throughout a series is a good thing, otherwise it is not a series. One needs to deal with the reality of what is in order for a book or a series of books to stand up.


    It is important not to become precious about such matters, after all, good writing is good writing. It will require creativity and practicality.


    All readers will make sense of writing, not because of how it is written, but because making sense of all things is the human condition. We just simply stimulate the readers curiosity.
     
  24. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

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    I think this really depends on how intertwined your story lines are. If you're setting up for big payoffs like in Game of Thrones it is necessary to read from the beginning of the series.

    But a series like say the H.I.V.E series, it's not entirely necessary. Generally in that series a plot line can carry on from one book to another but it's generally just light foreshadowing then an incomplete story line to make up the next book.

    It's kind of the same for Lord of The Rings. It's definitely not necessary to read each story in chronological order. However, a fantasy world with a more complicated world building, like in Percy Jackson you could be overwhelmed by just jumping into to at any random point in the series.

    Ranger's Apprentice you would recommend to start from the beginning because of character growth and relationship plot lines but in terms of story plot you could pick up one of the books and start wherever. You just would get the full experience.

    Some series are written to be stand alone novels in their own right, only taking place in the same world and with the same characters. But whether or not you should make the assumption that your readers have read previous books entirely depends on whether you're playing the long game payoff like Game of Thrones, or short game play off like the Shane Schofield Series that has a neat story all wrapped up in one book but brings it's characters back for more adventures not at all pertaining to the original book.
     
  25. Cephus

    Cephus Senior Member

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    Which is fine, I do the same thing, but what I think a lot of people are missing is this person didn't want a general recap of previous important events, they essentially wanted me to write the entire first book into the second book so that they wouldn't have to read the first book at all.

    Sorry, that's not who I'm writing for.
     

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