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Thread: Sequels and backstory

  1. #1
    permaflounced
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    Sequels and backstory

    So I'm working on a trilogy, and I just got a comment back from an editor about the first chapter being fairly heavy on backstory.

    He's totally right, but it was a fairly conscious thing because I wanted to recount the important points of the first novel.

    Do you think it's actually necessary to include these details? Or just strip it back and assume the readers will get it?

    I'll admit I went down this route partially due to Harry Potter, as those books tend to start with Harry reflecting on his current situation and what had or hadn't happened for the previous few months in a similar way to what I've done. Of course just being its in Harry Potter it doesn't mean much.

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
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    Hard to answer. It really depends on what you're writing. Some stories rely on character backstories. If you have something that's heavily character driven, and a large part of your story is how your character came to be who they are today, then I would say, it's really needed, but if it's unnecessary information, and it's holding down the plot, you can probably delete it.

    Also, it's going to depend on how you're giving the backstory. If it's through exposition, that tends to bore people to tears, but if it's flashbacks, it can work, but like I said, it's really going to depend upon what kind of story you're trying to tell and what you need it for.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Punk28's Avatar
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    Back story can be a good thing to incorporate in a story, but too much of it can also be a bad thing. If there's a sequel, and there's a moment where the character reflects on the events of the predecessor, have them just mention them events in dialogue or a sentence or two in a paragraph -- if the reader's read the predecessing story, they'll know what them mentions are pointing to.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Odile_Blud View Post
    Hard to answer. It really depends on what you're writing. Some stories rely on character backstories. If you have something that's heavily character driven, and a large part of your story is how your character came to be who they are today, then I would say, it's really needed, but if it's unnecessary information, and it's holding down the plot, you can probably delete it.

    Also, it's going to depend on how you're giving the backstory. If it's through exposition, that tends to bore people to tears, but if it's flashbacks, it can work, but like I said, it's really going to depend upon what kind of story you're trying to tell and what you need it for.
    I'd say it's more plot backstory. Potentially it's not that much of an issue. To be totally honest I could probably just pare it back a bit and rejib the method of delivery and it would work ok....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Punk28 View Post
    Back story can be a good thing to incorporate in a story, but too much of it can also be a bad thing. If there's a sequel, and there's a moment where the character reflects on the events of the predecessor, have them just mention them events in dialogue or a sentence or two in a paragraph -- if the reader's read the predecessing story, they'll know what them mentions are pointing to.
    Yeah that's probably the way to do it. Thanks

  5. #5
    Interesting question! My current WIP is the first in a planned trilogy, and I've been thinking about this as well (way ahead of myself — still on draft one of book one, haha, but whatever).

    I don't know if yours is the same case, but in my planned trilogy each book can stand alone. Technically, that means the reader can read only one, or read them in whatever order (even though they do move forward chronologically, so starting with book two or three may spoil some of book one). It also means that I approach each book as a standalone, and treat backstory in sequels the same way I treated it in book one: it was what shaped the characters, and what's occasionally referenced in various ways, when it fits and it can be naturally weaved in. The fact that the readers were there for the ride during what's backstory in the sequels just means they'll understand those references on an even deeper level, and already be connected with the characters at that point.

  6. #6
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Is this a book which wouldn't make sense to a reader who hasn't read the first book? I'd say if so, your reader has probably read all that you need to recap, but might be a good idea to recap it in the form of a prologue.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cauliflower View Post
    Is this a book which wouldn't make sense to a reader who hasn't read the first book? I'd say if so, your reader has probably read all that you need to recap, but might be a good idea to recap it in the form of a prologue.
    Yeah, you need to read the first one. I'm starting to lean towards less is more.

  8. #8
    Grand Duchess Ambrosia's Avatar
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    In Jim Melvin's The Death Wizard Chronicles, the author puts an Author's Note in the front of each of the books in the series. The Author's Note gives a short description of what has happened prior to the most current book. Perhaps something like that would work?
    ..
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    Could you spread the backstory throughout your novel? A little here and there as needed?

  10. #10
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    Kevin J Anderson, despised by Dune purists for his sequels, has a pretty terrific space opera saga of his own, called Saga of the Seven Suns.



    I started from book 5 or 6, and the book opened with a prologue entitled The Story So Far.
    For example:
    THE STORY SO FAR
    For the first test of the Klikiss Torch-a device discovered in the ruins of the ancient alien Klikiss civilization-the Terran Hanseatic League (the Hansa) ignited a gas-giant planet, creating a small sun.
    The Hansa's suave CHAIRMAN BASIL WENCESLAS intended to terraform the gas giant's frozen moons into new colonies. Humanity had spread across many available worlds under the benevolent but reticent watch of the alien Ildiran Empire and its godlike leader, the MAGE-IMPERATOR. The Ildirans, represented by their Solar Navy commander, ADAR KORI'NH, were skeptical about the Torch project, but came to observe.
    When the gas planet was ignited, instant reports were transmitted around the galaxy by BENETO, a "green priest" from the forested planet Theroc who had a symbiosis with semisentient "worldtrees." Like living telegraph stations, green priests provide the only form of instant communication across vast distances through the forest network.
    Back on Earth, OLD KING FREDERICK, a glamorous figurehead ruler, led a celebration of the successful test. Unknown to anyone, though, this and many gas planets were inhabited by a powerful alien species, the hydrogues. The Hansa had just destroyed one of their populous worlds and unwittingly declared war on an entire hidden empire.
    On Ildira, the Mage-Imperator's firstborn son, PRIME DESIGNATE JORA'H, welcomed the human REYNALD, Beneto's brother and heir to the throne of Theroc.
    And on and on, until a reader like me, who stumbled into the series halfway, actually understood what's going and and why before starting to read. I hereby attest that in this case it worked superbly.
    Last edited by JCornelius; 05-20-2017 at 04:23 PM.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    Prologues I think work well in scifi, where there are not only a cast of characters all with histories, but also where intricate world building has taken place. In the case of thrillers, where a MC and possibly a few other characters have been carried forward, it's somewhat less important. In that later case, we need to know the characters, their relationships, and motivations that will drive the current story; I believe that information can be brought forward piecemeal as necessary.

    I may be odd (probably am), but if I come across a series of novels, I always start at the first one. I would think that most people do this, but have no way of knowing for sure.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW Maze Runner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by indianroads View Post
    Could you spread the backstory throughout your novel? A little here and there as needed?
    This is what I mostly prefer. As long as it's organic and seamless. One of my favorite writers is Larry McMurtry, and he does this very well, but there was one book of his where in what appeared to be afterthoughts during edits he'd just tack on a bit of backstory at the end of a scene. It was clumsy and disruptive.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by indianroads View Post
    I may be odd (probably am), but if I come across a series of novels, I always start at the first one. I would think that most people do this, but have no way of knowing for sure.
    You're not odd, we each have our preferences and tendencies. I start with whatever book in a series first catches my eye, and if I like it, I look for the rest of the books. No sense hunting down volume one if I don't care for the story or characters.

  14. #14
    Imagine a story Thecla's Avatar
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    I'm with those who think less explanation is almost always better than more. A little, here and there. The events of my book 2 assumed that those in book 1 had happened but referred to them only in passing; the stories were separate, although some of the characters were the same. In the end book 2 got published before book 1, so that approach worked.

    Even if you're writing a story spread over a trilogy or series, I still think the less is better rule applies. Most people will read the books in the intended order and those who don't ought to be aware that they're not.

  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW cmhbob's Avatar
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    I remember a post-nuke-pulp series called The Survivalist (and The Guardians as well, now that I think about it) that would just dump a bunch of expository backstory as soon as the characters dealt with anything established in the last installment, and it got pretty boring. I'm editing book 2 of an accidental series now, and I've had to be careful not to dump too much in. If I refer to one of the characters from the last story, the first time I do, I'll add the shortest tag that I can to tie them back to that story, and remind readers who they are. But there's a fine line between doing that and "As you know, Bob..."

  16. #16
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    One of my pet peeves in television is the first minute of an episode wasted on "Previsously on blah blah blah......" However, you do want someone new to the series to have some clue what's going on. There is usually a way to work in that backstory in a casually so it doesn't feel forced.

  17. #17
    You Are My Density Gateway's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RightHoJeeves View Post
    So I'm working on a trilogy, and I just got a comment back from an editor about the first chapter being fairly heavy on backstory.

    He's totally right, but it was a fairly conscious thing because I wanted to recount the important points of the first novel.

    Do you think it's actually necessary to include these details? Or just strip it back and assume the readers will get it?

    I'll admit I went down this route partially due to Harry Potter, as those books tend to start with Harry reflecting on his current situation and what had or hadn't happened for the previous few months in a similar way to what I've done. Of course just being its in Harry Potter it doesn't mean much.

    Thoughts?
    I don't think it matters if it reads well. I think the problem is likely something else, too little information to say what that could be.

  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW CJMockingbird's Avatar
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    I'm in the camp of "my series can be read independently" but in my books the characters often reference things through dialogue and characters to give you an idea of what's going on without it being confusing.

    I actually had an issue with my current WIP because it's literally the story of my MC's life and I wasn't sure whether or not to do the "intermittent flashbacks" method or start at the beginning. I think starting at the beginning worked well, but I'm not sure. We'll see, I guess.
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  19. #19
    Get it off! It burns! Dennis E. Taylor's Avatar
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    I struggled with this question, and finally decided I would go with "you gotta read book 1 first." Really, anything is acceptable, from my solution, through a prologue for those who need to be brought up to date, through in-story flashbacks, to novels that can be read independently. I've seen all of them used, and I can't really say that one works better than the other. It depends on the story or stories.
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  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    The problem I continue to wrestle with is when motivations for a particular action or MC POV in the second novel stems from something that happened in the first.

    My WIP is the first series novel I've written (second in a series), and at times I struggle with this issue. For now though, I mention the motivation / history in passing and hope it isn't coming off as a distraction or is too heavy handed. I'm roughly 60% through my WIP's first draft, and hope to clean it all up in edit. Time will tell I guess.
    Last edited by indianroads; 05-24-2017 at 07:47 PM.

  21. #21
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Hi! If you aim at each book to be readable independently then the answer might be Yes. From commercial perspective it might be also quite a reasonable strategy cause you would not discourage potential customers from purchasing your X product just because they would have to also purchase X-1, X-2 etc. till the first one.(if they like X however they are to buy also the previous releases afterwards). All in all artificially forcing the reader to be familiar with all your former work might be counterproductive thus I would suggesting the input of all the necessary information to proceed with the current story.(done either at first chapter or simultaneously, along with the story flow). Best

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