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Old 28th November 2011, 10:58 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Two questions on starting a sequel

I’ve started book2 of my WIP series, and have come across a couple of questions as to what to do about readers who haven’t read book1. The main question is how or whether to get the main points of book1 across. There seem to be three main options:

1. Dump everything into a ‘what has gone before’ summary, which isn’t part of the story itself.

2. Try to weave the information into the story, which brings new readers up to speed but risks annoying those who’ve come fresh from book1 (at least, it does me).

3. Make no concession to new readers at all and throw them in the deep end – if they find it interesting but want to know what happened before, they can go back to book1.

My preference would be to avoid 2 – unless it can be done in such a way that sheds new light on book1 for existing readers, which might be ideal, but isn’t always possible. The choice between 1 and 3 wouldn’t affect the actual writing of the novel. As writers, and readers, what do others think and prefer?

I also have a question about POV.

In book1, I wrote the prologue from the POV of a character who never appeared again, though he was referred to. I then started the story proper with the main character.

Book2 begins with another prologue from book1’s prologue character, but then I have a problem. The book1 main character is also the main character for book2, but the first chapter of book2 works much better from the POV of another important (but not the main) character. Would I risk misleading new readers into thinking she is the main character if I have ch1 from her POV? Or is that really not worth worrying about?
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Old 28th November 2011, 11:10 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Can you use the prologue to bring people up to speed a bit, and kill both questions at once ie prologue from 1st book POV to establish them and maybe give you the opportunity to switch POV when you need to?
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Old 28th November 2011, 11:14 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Re the options: don't worry about trying to weave bits in so a new reader can 'get' it. I imagine that could be a) incredibly hard work to pull off and b) risk putting off readers who have read book 1. Tolkein didn't do it... I have seen quite a few books that give a recap for readers, but personally, I'd expect them to go and buy the first book, if the second interested them. Agents and publishers will guide you, but I'd continue the story, especially if the timeline follows (which it does). Otherwise you'll have characters saying "Do you remember when Bill came in and slew the dragon, with those soldiers after him?" and some readers going 'ho hum, where's the next action?'

Quote:
Book2 begins with another prologue from book1’s prologue character, but then I have a problem. The book1 main character is also the main character for book2, but the first chapter of book2 works much better from the POV of another important (but not the main) character. Would I risk misleading new readers into thinking she is the main character if I have ch1 from her POV? Or is that really not worth worrying about?
I'm confused... and I know the characters you're talking about! But, since the timeline is almost immediate and we know all the characters intimately (some more than others, especially the bunny girl) there will be no problem - we know them, we understand them, we will follow them easily. (A new reader will need a recap, or to buy book one.) We expect you to tie the storylines for us, and I know we'll be waiting to see all the characters again, so it won't make any difference.
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Old 28th November 2011, 12:14 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Hi HB

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3. Make no concession to new readers at all and throw them in the deep end – if they find it interesting but want to know what happened before, they can go back to book1.
That one. If you are writing a trilogy, eveyone will read Book 1 first anyway. If you picked up The Two Towers, you'd read the first couple of pages, realise that you liked it but hadn't started at the start and then go and hunt out Fellowship.

If you are writing a series of loosely interconnected books, each one will have to stand as a complete story in its own right in any event. Take Fraser's excellent Flashman series. Although he makes references to earlier stories, it isn't necessary to read any of them to understand what is going on. Pretty much every book starts with Flashman loafing around London on half pay and, in the first few pages, we have seen enough of his shagging, bullying, boozing, cowardice and card sharping to know what we are dealing with.

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Would I risk misleading new readers into thinking she is the main character if I have ch1 from her POV? Or is that really not worth worrying about?
Should be fine. As discussed with TBO last week, I think the trick is to use your main character whenever s/he is around. When s/he isn't, bring on your substitute. You can trust the reader to keep up.

Regards,

Peter
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Old 28th November 2011, 12:16 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Best bit of advice I've heard about writing sequels is: don't write one. Not until you've sold the first book. If you can't sell book 1, then you've wasted time writing book 2 - time that would have been better spent on a new project which you might be able to sell.
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Old 28th November 2011, 12:26 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Regarding bringing the reader up to date.

I'm not sure I can help that much. I'm the sort of person who won't** buy "Book Two of..." something unless I know I can get hold of "Book One of...." (This is even more true when borrowing from a library: I have to read the books of a series in the right order.)

As for my own WiPs, I've done what I can to reduce the need for info-dumping from earlier books:
  • WiP2 can be read on its own: it involves just one character from WiP1 and the specific setting and story are quite different. (This character also left WiP1 well before that book's denouement.)
  • WiP3 is the direct sequel to WiP1; some of the characters (not including the one in WiP2, who is absent from WiP3) are trying to work out what was really going on in WiP1, so the relevant information is provided (although, I hope, not info-dumped). It might help the reader to know what happened in WiP2 (because this tells the reader some of the underlying truth of the "universe" in which the story plays out), but as the characters in WiP3 are unaware of this, it doesn't really matter.
  • Only when the finale, WiP4, appears does the reader need to have read the previous three books. I reckon that if one is reading the fourth book in a tetralogy, you should have read the first three and shouldn't expect too many hints as to what went before.
There is a frame story, but until WiP4, this is relatively insubstantial, and the points the reader needs know are easily covered.


Regarding Tolkien: LOTR was written as one book (a single volume); the publishers decided to sell it as three books.

In response to Ian Sales's excellent point: I am being a true amateur in that I'm writing the books to find out how it all pans out (i.e. not just the main plot). If writing is (or you want it to be) your profession, you should follow his advice.



** - Okay, I bought The Line War, but only because it was in a second-hand-bookstore. I haven't even opened it yet, and won't until I can get whichever books (there are up to four of them) should be read earlier, for which I'll be using the useful chart in this thread (In what order should I read this?) in the Neal Asher sub-forum.

Last edited by Ursa major; 28th November 2011 at 12:40 PM.
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Old 28th November 2011, 12:50 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

I tend to write my sequels the way I like to read them -- almost as if book one didn't exist and only include any details relevant to the current story. There is a larger story arc that runs through all of them which could be missed without reading the previous books but the main story standsalone (basically with my high fantasy it's about balancing the universe by getting all the leaders of the elements in place, but each element has a story). Someone who has read book one will have a deeper, richer experience reading the story, but someone who hasn't won't miss it. However with every sequel I've tried, book one has nearly always been rewritten as a result.

I now write first drafts of several books before rewriting the first book.

The POV character doesn't have to be the MC - Sherlock Holmes comes to mind first as the example - I am sure there are others.
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Old 28th November 2011, 01:00 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Quote:
Originally Posted by iansales View Post
Best bit of advice I've heard about writing sequels is: don't write one. Not until you've sold the first book. If you can't sell book 1, then you've wasted time writing book 2 - time that would have been better spent on a new project which you might be able to sell.
Although (no, not him again!!) Patrick Rothfuss wrote over a million words to finish his story which was linear and with seamless timelines because it was just one story. Naturally it became three books - although I am looking forward to the bumper edition in ten years time. Don't agents say: "Ah, everyone can write one book, but can you maintain the style longer" and you pull volume two out of a deep pocket and go: "Tah dah!!"? Well, I would...

There's part of me agrees, Ian, but I guess it's our belief in it, and the fact that deep down, we're only writing for ourselves that means we have to finish it... irrespective...
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Old 28th November 2011, 01:06 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Why would anyone buy Book Two of a series and start there? Lunacy. Go for option 3 and let the reader catch up. The only concession I would make is perhaps a Star Wars crawl of the 'it is a time of war and some things have happened' one pager.
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Old 28th November 2011, 01:06 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Just to be awkward, if not downright contradictory, I'd go for a combination of points 2 and 3 -- jump in the deep end but with a bit of explanation of what has happened woven in unobtrusively into the narrative as the book progresses, though not dumping it all in chapter 1. Even if people have read book 1, they might appreciate some kind of reminder of the salient points, since they're unlikely to have refreshed their memory immediately beforehand.

As for POV, I think readers are sophisticated enough to work out who is important -- just because the first POV of the book proper is from a secondary character isn't going to faze them unduly. Those who have read book one will know who is the main character; those who haven't won't know whose POV started book 1 in any event.

Re the writing a second book before the first is sold, that advice rather depends on how quickly you can write the second and subsequent books. Publishers are, I understand, likely to want the books to come out in successive years. If you can write and completely edit a sequel to publishable standard inside 9 months, that isn't likely to cause a problem. If it takes nearer to 15 months, then my advice would be to ensure you have at least one follow up substantially written, so you are ready for the deadlines.
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Old 28th November 2011, 01:28 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Thanks for the responses so far everyone.

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Originally Posted by Boneman View Post
especially the bunny girl
Outrageous.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Graham View Post
As discussed with TBO last week, I think the trick is to use your main character whenever s/he is around. When s/he isn't, bring on your substitute.
The MC is around, but I don't think he's the best viewpoint for the first chapter. But thanks to everyone, I'm reassured that isn't a problem.

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Why would anyone buy Book Two of a series and start there? Lunacy.
I agree, but some people do it. And some writers/publishers seem to feel there's a need to cater for them, judging by the excessive recapping I'm sure I've seen in some books. However, I'm having trouble remembering which ones, so it might be less common than I'd thought. Was it Harry Potter that did this?

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Even if people have read book 1, they might appreciate some kind of reminder of the salient points, since they're unlikely to have refreshed their memory immediately beforehand.
That's a good point actually. It makes sense to aim to jog the memories of those who might have read the previous book a few months before, as long as it's unobtrusive. It's perhaps also a good chance to get the perspectives on those earlier events of characters who may have been involved but who weren't viewpoint characters at the time.

Quote:
Re the writing a second book before the first is sold
I think that's a good topic for a thread by itself, but my thought is that it can't hurt to get book2 finished before approaching agents, to show I'm committed to the series, and to get some idea of how quickly I can write the other volumes.
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Old 28th November 2011, 01:32 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Thing that I learned from writing a sequel, is that you can try to avoid dumping information from the first book, but if you left some of things in the air you are in trouble when you bring back those elements without doing some sort of flashback or a information dump.

Last edited by ctg; 28th November 2011 at 01:47 PM. Reason: Removed stupid things
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Old 28th November 2011, 02:54 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

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Just to be awkward, if not downright contradictory, I'd go for a combination of points 2 and 3
I think I'd agree here as well - Peter is quite right that when faced with a trilogy or other series, most readers would be expected to start at book 1.

However, any significant events from one book in a series will necessarily be referenced by following books as appropriate.

You don't need to do a big info dump at the start of the first book in a series to introduce the world and characters - you do that through the story telling itself.
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Old 28th November 2011, 02:54 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

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Originally Posted by HareBrain View Post
I agree, but some people do it. And some writers/publishers seem to feel there's a need to cater for them, judging by the excessive recapping I'm sure I've seen in some books. However, I'm having trouble remembering which ones, so it might be less common than I'd thought. Was it Harry Potter that did this?
I know J.V. Jones has done this. Took her ages to write one of the books though, so I suspect everybody forgot what was going on and she had to write a recap.
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Old 28th November 2011, 06:03 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Two questions on starting a sequel

Just on the waiting until book 1 is sold before starting book 2, I disagree entirely (though this may largely be a point of style and process).

Firstly, it may be years before you sell it, and you'll lose any enthusiasm you have for the project. Secondly, the amount of times I've had a great idea while writing book 2 or 3 that necessitated tweaks or rewites in book 1 are incalcuble. The art of foreshadowing is one best undertaken when you can still actually change things. Lastly, the ability to edit an entire trilogy is a delicious one. You can go through with the same eye and the same style, the same love for the characters and the same ideas on life. That's what make your work a trilogy rather than a book with two sequels.
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