Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Finally, the last Friday of February! Not that I wish my life away like that; I don't. It's just that...well, this winter HAS been dragging on! I'm ready to stop draping thick, shapeless, warm things on in the morning. I feel like an amoeba.

So. This week, after several weeks of staring into space and plotting and staring into space some more, I tentatively jumped into my new WIP. I've been kind to myself, allowing a daily word count of 100 instead of my normal 1000. I'll ramp up once I get past this I'm-afraid-I-don't-know-the-dance-steps phase.

You know what I mean. Right? Choosing exactly the right place to begin the story. And actually...beginning.

What makes this even harder is that it's technically a "book two." A sequel, if you will. Or the second installment of a brilliant, eight-book series. (Well, not really. Then again, you never know.)

So there's that fine balance of "jumping right in" and "gently reminding the reader what happened last time." Without overwhelming him.

It's like the "Last week, on Star Trek: Voyager." And then you get a 30-second montage. Except, in the literary world, that's called an info-dump. And info-dumps are ugly.

Thus the quandary. How much is too much? Too little? How do I weave in the "remember this guy?" without sounding like a condescending narrator?

Honestly, books 2 and 3 of the Harry Potter series drove me nuts with this. I REMEMBERED who Harry was, what Hogswart was, and the whole backstory. I'm sure J.K.'s editor told her to do it, considering the age of the audience. But still. It bordered on ridiculous (and she's a fabulous writer).

So. All you authors-of-book-twos: How do you find your balance? Have you found starting a "book two" more challenging than a "book one"?

I'm hoping to write a lot this weekend, since Mr. A will be attending a conference (in town, but still gone most of the time). So pass along your writerly advice! I'll have lots of time to apply it.

Happy Weekend!


  1. Well, I don't. I assume if and when my readers will read it, they don't need to be reminded. I just go with that it's already know. I fly in to the story like I'm still writing book 1.

    Why? Well in all honesty, if you get book 1 of this fantastic series repped and sold, the expertise of the industry will tell you what to do regarding the info dump. (I always skimmed over the info dump from previous books. It bugs the cerrrrrrap outta me too)

    So for now, assume your readers are smart and were running out to buy this book 2 the day it came out. I bet if you did that, the writing will flow easier. That's really all you need to worry about right now. Get the story on paper.

  2. I'm not a second-book-writer, but I'm a second-book-reader. Does that count?

    Personally, I'd draw some really specific lines between what MUST be explained, and what doesn't. Not only is including unnecessary information generally a no-no anyway, but you don't want those who accidentally find book 2 first feeling that there's no point in reading book one, because they already know what happened. You want them to end up desperate to know what DID happen back before this book started! (While still totally understanding this book, which is, I suspect, rather difficult, depending on the story.)

    I'd use phrases and adjectives such as "again" and "unusual" and thoughts like, "if only they'd done ____ like last time" to really subtly drop hints about that necessary information. Sometimes when I'm reading a book and I can't figure out how I know so much backstory, I'll go back and look for the words that clued me in...and a lot of times it's these kinds of things.

    I don't know if that's any help to you...

  3. Jeanie's got a good point, too. If you write it first without the backstory, you might be surprised at how much info squirms its way in there anyway. And when you sell book one, you'll have lots more input on how to add whatever bits of information didn't make it in.

  4. I started my book 2 of a series I'm writing in December. It was weird--but stuff about the previous book just came out naturally as I was writing the first few scenes. Not all at once like an info dump but a little piece here, a little piece there. This second book is so much easier to write now that I have a handle on my voice and characters. I'm having a great time with it and I hope you will have fun with yours too.

  5. Less is more - so, give a bit of information here, then a bit there, and then another bit everywhere. I think if you dump it all in the first chapter . . . well, we know how agents/editors feel about that, don't we? So, start where you want to start, and then give the info in bits and pieces.

    Isn't there one school of thought, even with a series, to write the book as a stand alone novel first, and then in the various revision phases add what you must to tie it into the previous one? If not, there should be.


  6. Having just started a book two, I've found that the necessary info seems to pop up logically here and there throughout the first few chapters without needing an info heavy chunk at the beginning.

  7. Tough one. For the sequel that I'm writing when I'm not writing 17 other books, I tried to identify the information that was absolutely necessary for the plot of book 2. It really came down to 1or 2 lines about who the characters were in relation to each other. Of course, this made me wonder why I needed 60,000 words for book 1 in the first place...sigh.

    I think the goal is to give only what you have to and to do it in a different way. When it comes to details, if book 1 tells us about a character's hair colour or height, maybe book 2 can give us the shape of her eyes or mouth.

  8. Technically each book should stand on its own, so I can see where this could be an issue. I have a published friend in the cozy mystery genre who is an expert at this--just a sentence to remind. She is also the queen of snapshot descriptions. She says she often has to go back and read what she said about the character before so as not to get repetitive but you do have to continually describe hair color etc. not just once but through-out the book! Readers often go days between reads so they need gentle reminders.

  9. Well... I have a ten book series hiding on my computer (doesn't EVERY fantasy writer?) so I guess I can help....

    Dust in reminders where it is relevant. And don't worry about putting too much in on the first drafts. You can always tighten it up later. ;)

    Begin the sequel the way you would any book. Assume you have a new audience who needs to be introduced to your characters and understand their place in the 'world'. As you bring them all together, you can slip in little info bits as they make sense.

    Like say you bring in a character who mentally bonded with the main character in the first book. While you explain the way mental bonding works in your fantasy world, you can also tell the reader how that mental bonding happened between the characters. <- And this can be done in a single paragraph.

    Don't feel like you need to remind the reader of EVERYTHING that happened in the previous book. Just the main and important things.

    Like with Meg Cabot's mediator series, each book began with a mixture of newplot/action mixed with a quick explanation of the main character's job in life as well as her quandary concerning the ghost guy she liked. That was all.

  10. Winter has been pulling me down too. Today I bought a bunch of fresh flowers, arranged them and put them in the kitchen on the island. I feel like the rest of the day will be more productive. I'm ready for spring!

  11. The beginings! The beginings! Ugh, the beginnings. (I'm not even sure how to spell them) My current wip has had about six of them, and I still haven't got it right.

  12. Agents expect a first time novelist to write a standalone novel. In my mind that is a book, offering resolution for every character or plot conflict that the author presents to their readers. In order to write a series the author must let the reader know there is a continuance. In my first novel, I ended with the protagonist musing about her immediate future and at the same time let the reader know her adventures were not over.

    I began book two by introducing several antagonists. My beta readers liked this, however several first time beta readers questioned the fact that there was not enough information about the characters (all fully described in book one). Looking at many successful trilogies, I found a summary in front of the first chapter. I see a need for this recap of book one. Many times when I am looking for a novel to read I see a book that interests me only to discover it is the second or third in a series. Without an explanation, of who the characters are or the previous plot, I would be most likely to replace it back on the shelf. I can understand why an editor would want a short synopsis of previous action/plot/characters.

    David Ferretti

  13. Personally, I don't think you should throw backstory into your second story unless it pertains to the second story. After all, you want them to read the first book. You just don't want them to get lost if they're reading them out of order. As long as you include everything you need for the plot and character development of the novel you're currently working on, the reader ought to be happy. Good luck!

  14. I just read the Libba Bray trilogy and that drove me nuts, too. Halfway through book three I was still getting reminders about the first two books that I'd just read. Do people ever read book 2 without reading book 1? I'm tempted to just skip the "it happened last week" bit. ;) I don't know if you can get away with it or not, but it's tempting...

    Good luck with the new WIP- I'm doing that same dance right now - it's hard to go from editing mode to first draft mode for me.

  15. The last manuscript I wrote, wound up developing in a series of four. I wrote them all in a row (Well the last one is half-written because after a while, I started wondering if there was a chance in hell another vampire series would ever possibly be published).

    Rick Riordan had a good writing style with his recaps in the second book of the Percy Jackson series. Most of them were written in a funny way and spaced out so it was hardly noticeable.

    The way I tackled it was as something came up where background info was needed, I tried to be quick and sweet about it. I agree, if J.K Rowling did it and still bogged down the story, what are the rest of us supposed to do?

  16. Thanks for raising this question. I'm writing a second book in a series too and am struggling with this. The general consensus of my critiquing partners is that too much backstory doesn't work. I'm trying to intersperse it more as relevant as some people are suggesting. My guess is that your critique partners will be able to tell you if you've used too much.

  17. I’m writing a series of ten junior novels, but don’t add back story from a previous book. I want them to stand alone. I just add things as they crop up. I usually add information through other characters pointing things out that the MC did in a previous book. I also add things through her thoughts as memory. The reader should pick up what’s going on and if they want to know more, they can read the previous book. And that’s good isn’t it?

  18. I have a two book(er).

    Firstly I believe that its not fair to a reader not to end book I (hereinafter BI as a finality. Everything neatly tied up as far as the main protagonists are concerned. I absolutely hate programs that say CONTINUED NEXT WEEK because you can just about guarantee that somebody will ring, or I will have forgotten about it and gone out on a dinner date and suddenly realise later that I have permanently missed a whole ending. How frustrating is that.

    With printing, even with an old out of print book, imagine that a second hand book II has turned up on a shelf and you will never find a copy of book I to find out what the heck.

    So book I is neatly settled into it’s own little entity. Of course it’s going to be phenomenally successful, huge demand is going to be created for these absolutely wonder characters to continued, I’m going to be famous and live happily ever after, the books will never be out of print and eat your heart out J.K. Rowlings.

    BII began because one of the protagonists became such a strong character while I was writing, even though he wasn’t meant to, I wanted to hang onto him. The other main protagonist was known about in a vague way until the very end BI. They can land softly at the end of the book because it has an insinuation built in (just as Rhett and Scarlett do at the end of GWTW).

    I think it is extremely important to establish a book as its own entity so that a few things can happen. Fairness to the reader. Publishers may also be put off by book II in the wings. If they like book I and it takes off, then they’ll be after your tail for book II pronto. But lets say if circumstances happen to make book II unpublishable then they will be wary of you as potential problem author. Problem as in you being angry that they may be reluctant to publish book II if book I doesn’t come up to expectations for a myriad of reasons. If they like your BI m/s and your writing, but they’d like a different m/s from you for your next publication, which may not relate to BI… editors have enough headaches in marketing and accounting. You’d just be more hard work and in a slush pile there’s a couple of other authors who are just as good as you, so it’s easy just to take the easier option and think “oh well they’ll probably eventually place this anyway”. Angry authors defending their precious little chicks can sometimes be a bit nasty.

    I know this can happen with children’s manuscripts if an author brings along an illustrator of their own. Editors hate this unless the illustrator is the same person. Then they love it. Editors will generally, with a children’s book m/s, want to select an illustrator of their own choosing, for various reasons. In-house style; self-preference; don’t like the illustrations brought by author; wariness. And in the huge slush pile of thousands of m/s (because everybody thinks they can write children’s books) there are a few good ones and enough to fill the very few places the publisher allocates to that genre on their lists each year.

    So book two should not need any explanations. Your fans in their huge numbers will already be hungry for your talents. And your new readers won’t need to know much more than just come into the world you have built so convincingly to join the gazillions already existing. But if you have world built well, back knowledge shouldn’t really be needed. It’s like watching programs on television each week. Each of the episodes stand alone. They are small and complete in themselves, um(?)… except when they get extremely annoying and yes… CONTINUED NEXT WEEK

  19. Wow! Excellent suggestions. I just sold a series and am starting to write book two and part of the problem I was having was explaining who everyone was and what happened before. I guess I'll leave it to the editor to decide what needs to be done.

    Excellent blog post!

  20. Thank you, authoress, for giving voice to this frustrating state. I am in the same quandary and my book two is boring me to tears! Sarah Rees Brennan recently blogged about this same problem. Hope you resolve yours. I'm adding more action to mine. I also go back to 'Book 2's' that I think did it well - CITY OF ASHES by Cassandra Clare, for ex.
    Okey doke, back to writing...

  21. Thanks for bringing this up. And thanks commenters for your ideas. I'm just finishing up a book one and thinking about how to jump into book two.

    As a reader, I appreciate a reminder of what went on in previous books, but I don't want to be smacked in the face with it. Two series authors I think do a wonderful job of sprinkling backstory around are Jim Butcher and SL Viehl. I'm going to try to emulate their abilities when I jump into writing book two. We'll see how it goes.

    Good luck, Authoress.

  22. I was hoping for it to be clearly outlined and given the stamp of approval from all agents, editors, and publishers...
    Dang, nothing's ever that easy.

    I tend to agree with everyone else, put in little snippets here and there. I don't know this from writing experience, but as being a reader. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the times I've read a series book and had to skip over all the boring backstory.

    Then again, don't be like a certain vampire writer and fail to put in a little backstory because you wrote a short story between the MC and some side characters, presuming your readers read that short story, when instead they're scratching their heads, turning the pages back wondering why they don't get what's going on. (And I still love you vampire writer.)