Thursday, February 10, 2022

Recap in Sequels: inspiration & spark

This post is part of a series to augment the Author's Manifesto available for free download.

This and other inspirations of mine are gathered in the Spark Directory for you to explore.

Find my published stories and guides in the Books Directory.

As I moved deeper into my Tales of the Known World saga, I ran into some troubling issues regarding recap in my sequels. As you may know from my Workshops on Writing, I'm not a big fan of exposition. I feel like it's the death of a story, and over-explaining stuff is where readers lose interest and put a book down.

For a long time, I was mired in revising the very first chapters of my second novel, Broken, though I'd finished drafting it months earlier. I just didn't seem able to get much revision done. At last, I realized the issue was that I still wasn't sure exactly what I should be doing, in terms of explaining what happened in Book 1.

Here's the rub: I hate it when a series over-explains what happened in the last book. But how much exposition is necessary for a sequel? Should I re-describe the characters in Book 2, or trust that you remember what they look like from Book 1? Should I re-set the scene by painting the picture of each place as it's visited, or leave it up to you to remember what the areas look like?

As a serial reader, I tend to read a whole series back to back. When I have to wait for the next book to come out, I often read the previous book in the weeks before the book launch to refresh myself. That or I just rely on my reading retention, coupled with most authors' tendencies to recap a lot of their earlier story in each new release.

Check out this Author's Manifesto for more of my inspirations!

This extensive recap in sequels has always pissed me off. I swore never to include such tedium in my own works, and yet... I was trying to find a balance between necessary exposition and boring rehash. As I started exploring this balance, a few insights became clear.

Even with a sequel, a new reader should be able to pick up the book, start reading the first chapter, and get hooked on the story. This can't happen if the new reader is too confused to follow what's going on. Ideally, the new reader decides to get Book 1 and read the story in order, but in the real world, if they're stuck on a plane and need a good read, there should at least be enough exposition to follow along.

I also realised there's no reason to retell the story of Book 1 in a sequel. When you're rafting down a river, you aren't expected to go all the way to the very first stream that feeds the river. You just enter where you are and end up further downstream of where you started.

Stories are the same way - they never end, and they never start. Authors just pick the most interesting place to begin, and leave off when plot resolution is achieved. By that metric, even the story of Book 1 started mid-stream, and it was easy to include enough explanation there to let readers plunge in and follow the stream.

In Book 1, I explained the plot elements and character motivations that occurred before the story took place. I didn't require you to read an encyclopedia of information about the world and its history before joining the adventure. So, I thought, in Book 2, I should be able to do the same thing.

I decided to approach the story as its own unit of a much-larger story, including the explanations required to follow along, but without over-explaining things, which I tend to avoid anyway. And by approaching my sequel like a standalone book, I could easily apply my revising philosophy from Book 1.

Overall, ironing out my approach to a sequel has been really helpful. I feel more clarity about the direction of my revisions, and I am more confident about producing a great story. Serial readers should be undeterred by the sprinkling of exposition to orient new readers, and I can strike a balance between not recapping anything and retelling the whole story.

That's it for this post! Check out my latest inspirations for more.

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