Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ask The Editor

Hi AJ,
My question is on back-story when writing a follow-up to a previous story. The new book needs to stand on its own, but if you are planning it as a series, is there an accepted formula for the amount of tie-in to the original? Is that a stupid question?  From Mac.

     Of course that is not a stupid question. It's a brilliant question -- and since I am working on a series a very appropriate one as well!
     You actually hit the nail on the head. When writing a series (and let me be clear, in this case I'm defining a series as those books which contain the same h/h throughout the entire run -- think Twilight) the most important issue is to make sure that the second book can stand alone without relying too much on the previous story in the series. However, it is also in the author's best interest to make sure a few pertinent details are incorporated into the second and third books (fourth, fifth -- however many in the series) so that the reader's interest is piqued enough they will want to go back and read the first book after finishing the second (if they cheat and read them out of order). Please note I said a ‘few’ details.
     As an avid read of series books, I can state from personal experience that to me, nothing is more irritating than reading the first book in a series, only to find a large portion of the second book is dedicated to explaining what happened in the first story. Makes me grind my teeth. It's almost like a punishment for those of us that insist on reading series books in the order in which they were published -- and in fact, I will skim most of those sections because I already know what happened. In turn, I lose interest, because I know the third book will most likely repeat the pattern, and quite frankly, I don't have time to re-read stuff I've already read. Plus I'm a tad ADHD and I’m easily distracted by bright, shiny objects (in this case, another book which doesn't repeat something I've already read).
     At the same time, it IS important to mention those defining details from the first book, those larger plot issues which are relevant to moving your characters forward from the moment you left them in the first book. But again, it's important these salient points be mentioned in such a way as to tease the reader to go back and read the first book. So that they ask themselves, "Okay I know a really important conversation
happened before this moment, because both the H/H are talking about it. I wonder what the heck happened? I better check out the first book and find out!" AHA!
     Walking that fine line between just enough information and too much is tough, no doubt. But remember two key things: First, during these moments in the second book you should TELL what happened. Yes, I did say TELL. Although I'm always harping about showing, a good tell does serve it's purpose. Second, intersperse the back story throughout the second book. Don't information dump everything on the reader all at once. It will be very obvious what is happening is a summary of the first book, and the reader will feel no need to rush out and buy the first in the series.  
                  AJ Nuest, Senior Editor Still Moments Publishing

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