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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » How much do you tell and how much to you assume when writing a sequel?

   
Author Topic: How much do you tell and how much to you assume when writing a sequel?
keldon02
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How much should the sequel recap and how much should it assume and how completely should it be purged of holdovers from previous stories in a series?

Should sequels fill in the blanks from previous stories? Should they forge on ahead like the multiple writers of the Thieve's World stories did? How many characters should be new and how many should be leftovers? How much should we tell about the old characters and how much disagreement is allowed?


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MCameron
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Personally, I hate it when authors recap previous books. Terry Brooks annoys me the most, because he uses nearly identical phrases throughout the series. I prefer Tolkien and Feist's approach. They put a quick synopsis of "the story so far" at the beginning of the book. This way, if I need the refresher, I can read it, but otherwise I can skip it and get right to the new story.

On the other hand, I find myself having to re-read the entire Wheel of Time series every time the next book comes out, just so I know what the heck is going on. But I think that is more a function of Robert Jordan putting in way too many minor characters and subplots.

In between the two extremes, OSC usually does a very good job weaving information from previous books into the story. I rarely get annoyed with him.

Hmm, looking back over what I've written, I think the key is to not stop your story for a recap. If you can't weave it in seamlessly, you're probably better off putting it in a chunk before the first chapter.


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dpatridge
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if it is sf, i prefer that each novel can be read standalone, they can build on each other to produce a larger whole, but they should still be able to be read individually.

with fantasy i'm more lenient, in fact, i enjoy a good epic every now and then where you almost have to reread the previous book when the new one comes out, or, if you only just discovered an epic which has been out for a long time, read in rapid succession one right after the other.

i, personally, wouldn't mind seeing an epic in SF, although the differences in style make it harder to pull off successfully... in fact, i can only think of one author who made an epic in SF that i really enjoyed: Frank Herbert. even the great Isaac Asimov wrote standalone novels that merely enhanced each other.


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Christine
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There are many different kinds of sequels.

First, there is the epic. The epic is honestly not really a sequel but a continuation of the first novel. The bits are simply cut into manageable parts. (Which are sometimes not all that manageable. ) In this case, I want very little or no recap. The assumption is that the story has just moved on, and the reader with it. The reader should not pick up a book in the middle of an epic series. The only recapping should come in the same way that recapping would occur in a single volume....when you need to reference something that happened in chapter one to tie things together but it's been so long that the reader might have forgotten you find some way to make a casual and in-character reference to the event or thing. I have seen this done well in epics, whereby a POV character might "remember" what happened in book one of their epic when something calls it to mind.

Second, there are related novels, usually tied together by the same protagonist, that are each complete stories unto themselves and can be read in almost any order. If one refers a novel that came before, it does so without ruining the ending except, of course, that you'll know the protagonist will survive. These are more popular in mainstream fiction and murder mysteries.

Third, you have something in between these two. A series of books that are best enjoyed if read in order but which are self-contained stories. Up until the fifth one, the Harry Potter series exemplified this. Technically (and my husband did just this when it was the only english book he found in a airport in Japan), you can pick up and read the fourth book and then go back to read the first three without them having been particularly ruined (well, a little bit but you can still find story to like there). These, like most YA books, do some recapping just for the sake of recapping at the beginng. SO maybe they should be a different category because that's allowed in YA (and expected) whereas it's not so much in adult.


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TaShaJaRo
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The answers to your questions would somewhat depend on what type of sequel you are writing. As Christine pointed out, there are different kinds of sequels.

In my opinion, any book, sequel or otherwise, must be able to stand alone on its own foundation of STORY. There must be a clear resolution and/or the promise of one.

Do not withhold information for a sequel that would be better placed in an earlier book. The Shannara series by Terry Brooks is an example of Christine's second type of sequel. Each book is its own story set in the same milieu with some of the same characters. In this type of sequel, each book needs to be its own entity with a complete resolution at the end. There should be nothing left hanging and therefore, no need for a recap.

In the example of Tolkien, each of the books needs the others to survive. While the major plotline is left hanging at the end of book one and two, most of the subplots have been resolved. There is a series of conflict and resolution that moves the characters toward their ultimate goal. Notice that I said confliction AND resolution. Even the threads that have been left unfinished have a promise of resolution. Frodo has survived the many perils thus far and is still progressing toward his goal. Merry and Pippin have been captured but are not dead and Aragorn promises to find them. Whether he will find them in time is what leaves us in suspense but at least we know we will found out. We believe the author will tell us because he specifically ended the story with Aragorn going to look for them.

The only time a story should span multiple books is when it is justifiably too large to fit into one book. Each book within the series should have its own resolution, something that makes the reader feel the journey was worth his time. The rest is up to you. Would this piece of information be better displayed in the next book? Will it hinder this book to withhold it? Is it reasonable for this character to be remembering past events or characters? Does it move the story forward?

All of your questions should be put through the same screening as if each book was its own story, because it is.


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KatFeete
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Epic sequels have been covered pretty well, but I want to comment on the related-standalone series. What most people have concentrated on is making sure readers who pick up in the middle of the series aren't lost. Well, there's another big problem - making sure the people who've been following the series all along aren't bored. It's finding the balance between the two that's a problem.

Events aren't necessarily a problem, unless they directly impact what's happening now. Characters, places, things, and backstory are. They have to be introduced to new readers, lest they be lost and confused, but without telling old hands what they already know.

The best method is to find what's changed in the intervening time and emphasize that ("Charlie had cleaned himself up in the last year, gone off the booze and gotten a real job. Opinions were divided as to how long it would last." Or, "My apartment was still a dump, but a lot less so than it used to be - Maureen objected to pizza boxes more than two weeks old.") Failing that, treat it like any other infodump - wait until it's absolutely necessary, make it brief, and make it interesting.

As for new characters, there's almost always some... but most readers are reading a sequel because they liked the first book and, thus, the characters. The MC is obviously the same, but if you're wise, you'll keep some of the minor characters around as well. They don't all have to appear in every book, of course.

And always make sure the sequels don't contradict what came before. There's nothing that drives me as crazy as a contradictory story. If you must contradict yourself, make sure you give a good in-story reason why stuff has changed.

[This message has been edited by KatFeete (edited March 25, 2005).]


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autumnmuse
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I know that there are a lot of people who do this, but I am incapable of starting a series in the middle. It deeply bothers me and I find it hard to even read things like the Nero Wolfe books because they can be read in any order. I like books that have a sequence and I like starting at the beginning.

If I find an interesting book at the library, I usually check every bit of text on the dust jacket and flyleaf for hints that it is not the first in the series. On occasion, I have been midway into a novel and realized that it was the middle book. I usually stop reading immediately at that point and go find the first book.

That said, I hate recapping in novels. I don't mind occasional references to things that happened previously, but I hate it when the MC has a little info-dumpy speech reminding the new character Joe Bob about what-has-gone-before. Those types of things always stick out like a sore thumb to me. I figure if the reader doesn't know what happened they should read, or re-read, the first book to find out.

I know I'm a bit caustic and anal about this, but that particular brand of laziness really gets to me (though the type of laziness involved in having no clue who's playing in the Superbowl does not. Can you tell I'm a nerd?)


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dpatridge
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that's ok autumnmuse. i find that i'm pretty much the same way!

what i think the writers that have info-dump speeches by the MC or any other character is that they got carried away on it. the way such things should be done, imo, is to say that they are relating past events, write the beginning of the discussion, the end of the discussion, and any highlights in between...

of course, when you are first writing, it might be a good idea to write out the entire discussion, but that discussion should get cut out of the first draft that you actually send out for a critique.


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QuantumLogic
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One thing that bothers me is when the main character in a "related standalones" series keeps having random, improbable adventures. One improbable adventure is okay, because if it didn't happen there would be no story. But for the next book to have another improbable adventure with the same character, that wasn't a result of the first improbable adventure--that's just too improbable.
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RavenStarr
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As MCameron said... OSC is a perfect source of example... he does get close to the edge of too-much, but he never really goes over. Keep it flowing, like make it so there is a complete and total reason for the character to be flashing-back to what happened or something, but when there's no more reason, that's where you stop... just... pay attention to the flow of it all... if it starts to remind you of Speed Racer diolog... then maybe you need to trim it a bit...
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Jaina
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Hmm, Speed Racer dialogue, that's a good one. I was thinking more along the lines of the Babysitter's Club books, in which the author would begin EVERY ONE of her 100+ books with a gigantic infodump about what the BSC was, how it got started, and who the characters were. Anybody who read the series with any sort of regularity tended to skip the first three pages or so because it was always the exact same thing. But it was YA fiction (if that--I'd classify it as kid's books, but I was an exceptional kid when it came to reading), so she could get away with it.
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RavenStarr
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"Hmm, Speed Racer dialogue, that's a good one."

That's what I use for anything that gets into describing backstory... if I'm writing and suddenly the Speed Racer theme song starts playing in my head, then I know to start trimming things...

[This message has been edited by RavenStarr (edited March 28, 2005).]


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Jaina
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I've only seen Speed Racer a handful of times (guess I'm a bit young for it), so I don't have that to rely on. Sounds like it would be a good system, though!
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ScottMiller
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Jaina: Speed Racer is on DVD, so now you can harm your mind, just the way kids of the last forty years did by watching it on TV! Yay! (Sorry. I do hold a fond place for Speed in my heart. A very small one, but a fond one, nonetheless.)

On this issue I think you're better off weaving it into the story (if at all necessary) or going with the Tolkien Option and just dumping it all at the beginning (Stephen King also tried this with his earlier Dark Tower novels; I haven't actually gotten around to reading the last three yet so I don't know if he did it all the way through). So I gues I'm more or less in line with the consensus on this one.

dpatridge: Generally I agree with your comments re: epics in SF. But while The Foundation Trilogy is kind of a hodge-podge (it had to be--each book was written as a series of short stories sold individually to magazines), and not an epic, I do think it hangs together well enough, and is enough of a unit, so that you can't just read the individual parts and know what's going on. I'm talking about the original, not the sequels he wrote much later (that aren't as good).


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HSO
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Well, last summer/fall, I read all three of the "Bourne" novels. At no time did the Mr. Ludlum spend effort at recapping the story. He just went with it. At certain points in the story, when it happened to be relevant, he had the characters consider the past -- things that happened in the prior book(s). But, I suspect, he just assumed you had read the prequels, which I feel is probably the way to go.

However, if you're writing an epic tale with numerous plotlines and characters, and intend for each book to be a standalone story, then recapping the prior books probably won't hurt. It depends. What do you, the author, feel is necessary.

And it may happen that an editor decides a recap is necessary and asks you to write one. I don't think writing a recap or not writing one makes much difference. Yet, to err on the side of caution, it maybe be worthwhile to have a recap ready to go. Just beware of info-dumping the information into the main story, which is always awkward.

That's my thought on the matter.


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keldon02
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Thanks for all the replies. So in the end we come back to intention and direction as being the primary factors. I'm going to lose my plans for a grandiose recap.

I think the style for my first sequel might be close to the 'Christine type II' except that I want to have a different POV character but retain some 'type III' interactions.

Funny, I never thought of Asimov as being disjointed.


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ScottMiller
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Keldon02: Sorry. What I meant to say about the Foundation Trilogy (and not what I did say) was that Asimov had to do some jiggering with the individual parts to get them to fit together--but they do fit together. (Otherwise, my argument re: the original Foundation Trilogy hanging together well falls apart completely. D'oh!)
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