I got up this morning intending to write a question about sequels, and to my astonishment there already was one! It's not the same question though, so instead of usurping Zero's topic, I'm making a whole new post.
I'm preparing to write a sequel-ish kind of novel, and it occurs to me how much I hate the info-dumps that almost all sequels seem to have. But Harry Potter was not a normal boy. He was as not normal as it was possible to be. He was a wizard, fresh from his first year at Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardry (that was not a direct quote). My options seem to be:
1--info-dump most of the pertinent information. There seems to be a trick for doing this at least sort of well, but I can't quite figure it out.
2--pretend like it's the first story set in this world and explain it all again (PLEASE NO!!!)
3--imagine that people will so love the first book that they will rush to the store and buy the second one the moment they finish it, and therefore everything will be fresh in their mind and there is no need to say anything extra.
[This message has been edited by Unwritten (edited August 01, 2008).]
Info dump is a term of art used in critique. While writing, I ignore my critic saying that term. Instead, I focus on what makes exposition dynamic. Like anything about story, be it plot, discourse, narrative, setting, etc., I want my expository passages to resonate with the reader, drive causality, increase tension, opposition, and antagonism.
When writing backstory, summary exposition is a good technique. If backstory is necessary information and no immediate manner of relating its causalilty, tension, emotional resonance, opposition, and antagonism presents, my default option for a backstory reminder summary is to make it concise and generic, about as much as a fan needs to remember where they were in the storyline.
I think a reminder summary should entice any other readers to read the previous titles first or allow them to ignore it and enjoy the story before them. I think one context does both, where the reminder summary promises the forthcoming story will be a good read.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited August 01, 2008).]
Do you want this book to be a stand alone as well as a sequel? If so, you will have to incorporate the pertinent information. Remember, though, you don't have to incorporate all of it. Just because your MCs went through a previous adventure does not mean you have to recap that whole adventure--just the parts that are pertinent for your next story. It will become essentially just like any other back story.
Most books I've read seem to incorporate this stuff within the first chapter or so. Some direct sequels, like GRRM's SIF don't bother with recapping. Perhaps the best handled recapping I've read is Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave/ Hollow Hills/ The Last Enchantment series. Of course, I read them in sequence so I don't know what it would be like for someone starting the second book cold, say, but I admired how she dove right into the action, but then was able to bring in the pertinent parts, but not all of it. Some of the incidents from the previous book she would merely allude to, which felt like a gift for a reader who'd gone through all books because I knew exactly what she was talking about, while a new reader would get enough of the essence of it to understand what was going on and how it was important. Of course, too, she benefits from writing about incidents which are familiar to most of us in some way (Arthurian legends).
Yeah, I'm a bigger fan of short sentences explaining past events, as relevant, in the story to the PoV. (If it relates to something that happened in a prequel, it's the same as something that happened in an earlier time than the first book, the PoV will remember his or her version of events when it comes up.)
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My preference in reading sequels is Martin's handling. He never does backstory, just plunges in. A sequel is still a novel, and I like them treated as such. No chapter of infodumping the MC did this and the bad people did that and such and such died. If and when the reader needs to know that, then sure you tell it. But I assume in the first novel there was backstory that you didn't fill the reader in on right off the bat.
So that's my theory on the sequel thing--the opinion of someone who's never written one. lol
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited August 01, 2008).]
Thank you for your thoughts. It seemed like a lot of the first book was spent having a character who was unfamiliar with the world get to know it and its rules. It was fun to do once. Now the world is really defined in my own mind, and there are so many stories aching to be told about characters who wouldn't constantly be thinking about the rules of magic because it's just part of the world. I suppose I should just start writing the book and not worry about it, and then when my critiquers are lost I can fill in the gaps????
I know I once bought a book thinking it was a stand alone novel. Then once I began reading it, there were references made to a prior adventure. That's when I found out it was the third book in a series. I'd already bought the book, so I read it. Then I went back and bought the first book in the series and then the second one. That's when the first book I bought began to make more sense. So, it would seem to me that if a sequel is written well enough to peak the reader's interest, it will make any prior books in the series sell. JMHO
I find info dumps boring. I love the Firekeeper series by Jane Lindskold. But the latest book in the series, "Wolf's Blood", has a huge info dump several chapters in. What Lindskold was doing was introducing a whole new society that is important to the story line. The problem was that my eyes kind of glazed over when reading it and my mind couldn't stay focused. I think it could've been done much better if Lindskold had given it a bit more thought.
Funny, I was thinking about this topic too. For me it came from listening to Terry Pratchett's The Color of Majic and where he leaves those characters until The Light Fantastic starts.
Anyway, not to hijack this post. You walk a fine line with conveying information about the past stories.
In the HP series, the reader needs to know some important details about Harry's life to date for what happens next to have meaning. But, instead of paragraphs of "info dump," we are told what we need in 3 lines - ie there's something different about Harry, he's a wizard and he just got back from his 1st year of school. What she doesn't do is spend a chapter recounting the issue with Voldemort. The rest of the novel and what happens next allows her to convey the most important bits naturally.
Martin deals with the past events in short sentances and only when strictly necessary.
Mu biggest problem with it so far in my WIPs is putting too little of the back story in to make the new WIP stand alone. So far what's working for me is to write it and spend a lot of time editing asking yourself:
1) Does the reader really need this detail about what came before; 2) Does this only make sense if I know what came before?
If the answer to 1 is YES - keep the bit, if NO - delete it.
If the answer to 2 is YES, make sure you work the information in, if the answer to 2 is NO, make sure you don't discuss/relate the other bit.
Essentially, it's the same process I do for every other scene in the story.
[This message has been edited by kings_falcon (edited August 05, 2008).]
I've been off this board for a while, busy with other things, but I'm revising my second novel (which is a sequel to my Star Sons novel) and was delighted to find this thread! Thanks a lot, you've answered some questions for me. The backstory is woven throughout the novel, but I got a case of insecurity and wrote a prologue for it. Now I have to decide whether to keep the prologue or just depend on the references within the text - and after reading this thread, I'm back to thinking "interwoven" rather than "prologue" is the way to go. Thanks a bunch!
I don't remember where I encountered this--it could've been the Chronicles of Pyrdian-- but I remember there being a 2 page synopsis at the beginning of each of the sequels explaining everything that happened. It's an extreme info dump, to be sure, but it gets it done very quickly and efficiently. After that, you don't have to worry about bogging down the action while catching up new readers. However, maybe a synopsis covers things too quickly and won't stick in the reader's head.
I thought DOWNBELOW STATION started with a prologue (that wasn't clearly named a prologue) that didn't really have that much to do with the rest of the book (started with characters who weren't that integral, and so on), as I recall.