Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Musings: How much continuing series detail...

Welcome to your Sunday Musings, we're always thrilled to have you visit.

As you know we're musing on series this month and Chuck Bowie is asking:

When writing a series, how much detail (of the original plot, continuing characters) do you re-visit in subsequent episodes: Books 2, 3, 4...?

I believe, when thinking about detail and characters in subsequent episodes of a series, we're treading on a somewhat personal approach. I've read series, for example, where the same dozen characters 'inhabit' every novel. I can't do that, or at least, I haven't succeeded to date. When I create a series, I create their attending (no pun intended) world. In many cases, I try to make it much like the real world, since I write contemporary thrillers. So, just as in the real world, characters come and go. If we look at Murder, She Wrote, all the villagers would be dead and poor Angela would be all alone, wondering why folks don't visit. (It's because they were all murdered, Angela!)

So, I keep a very small core of characters, and others come and go, as the plot dictates.
And, since Life is Change, my characters tend to evolve. This is a good thing, but one cannot expect to have a man seeking redemption, as my guy Donovan is, be conscienceless in the first half of Three Wrongs, and to still be remorseless in Book 4. People change, and their actions and interests must change.

That said, the series is called Donovan: Thief For Hire, so our Gentle Reader can surely expect someone to get hired to steal. We have some measure of constancy, and some change. It's the way of the world, folks, even in my novels!

In my series I will try to drop reminders about who the secondary characters are, and I might refer to previous events in passing, like anyone would in real life, but I don't try to do a full recap of the previous book. I guess I have some expectation that the reader will begin with the first book, though I did get a nice review on Amazon from someone that couldn't get past the rough scene in the first chapter of Forging Day but still bought the sequel, Family Values. She read that, went on to read the companion book to Forging Day (which takes place before Family Values) and then finally picked up Forging Day. It's not how I would expect someone to read it, but it worked for her.

I found I had to revisit any details about events that were not discussed in the book. So really it was anything that happened in the first book that pertained to the plot of the second book. I did this either in narrative or in flashbacks to explain relationships between continuing characters and in conversation when an event is not understood for the reader. I tried very hard not to give too much detail, but I wanted to catch up the reader on the history of these events and relationships with the characters. My feeling is that the author needs to give the basic details of the first novel so someone can read this one without having the need to read the first novel. Yet, of course, you can’t give everything, so you pick and choose and generalize so the reader gets the basic gist of what happened. It’s like the previously’s on TV for a show. So in the first chapter a lot of the end of the first book was used to familiarize new readers to the story.

For example: Though Jennifer is the main character of the second book, when Carolyn is introduced in the second book their relationship in the first one is discussed. It is completely different from the first book so readers of the first one will be surprised. But new readers who have no idea of what their relationship was earlier need to be given their history. Then they will understand the change and be aware of the dynamics of the two girls’ friendship.

 Sunday's Child is the first in my series of novels set in the Regency era. Monday's Child will be published in Spring, 2016 and I have nearly finished Tuesday's Child, which I shall submit soon.

In each standalone novel, some characters from Sunday's Child take part. Monday's Child introduces three sisters, Georgianne, Helen and Barbara. Georgianne is the heroine in Sunday's Child, and Helen is the heroine in my new release, Monday's Child. The heroine in Tuesday's Child, my work-in-progress, is Harriet, a minor character from Sunday's Child. She is helped by Georgianne, who plays a minor but important part in the story.

Of course, ideally I'd love for everyone to have read my whole series and remember all of them perfectly :-). However, I am always trying to attract new readers, so I want to make it as easy as possible to start with any of the four books. Since my series, Novels of Aleyne, is science fiction, I have to include enough details about my aliens, the Aleyni, the culture, political situation, and whatever, for the book to make sense. In addition, although each novel features a different main character, the ones from previous novels keep re-appearing, and so I need to include enough details about their life situation to date for what I'm currently writing to make sense.

Of the four novels, the one with the most “recap” is Broken Bonds. The entire first chapter, which is about 5,000 words, is basically a retelling of the first novel in the series from the point of view of Brad Reynolds rather than from Keth's, the main character from Relocated.

For my upcoming series, Serpents and Flame, each book more or less directly follows its predecessor. My sequel picks up roughly a week after the first book ends. The same follows for the third book. Without reading the first book, you would have no clue what was going on or who people were. Some people write a series where, really, the plots are so singular that they could be read as standalones. For that I think of Sherlock Holmes; you have a hazy idea of how the stories connect, but really you don’t have to read A Study in Scarlet to understand The Adventure of the Speckled Band (as long as you have an idea of who Holmes and Watson are, at least). Mine are more of just a really long story broken up into volumes. A core group of maybe six characters appear in each book and have a central role in the plot, and then a larger group of secondary characters fall in and out. Everything in the latter installments is grounded in things from Book One.  

For me, a series, by its nature, means a continuous tie or multiple ties throughout all the books. Not only do I utilize continuing characters, but each book in the series advances my overall series arc. To do this, I have to bring in bits and pieces of previous plots or reappearance of characters. Because my PSY-IV Team books focus on different couples in each installment, the continuing character reappearance is vital. Not only does it give my readers a touchstone as they move through the series, but it helps to develop characters that may find themselves as the focus of their own story. On the flip side of this, I try not to revisit previous story elements if they have no impact on the current story. For example, if in Book 3 you mention the characters from Book 1 and how they got together, it could be a simple sentence of two, just enough to make the reader who’s been with you from day one nod their head in recognition and continue along, while the reader just joining you may make a mental note to go back and check out the story behind that comment. But only if their names come up for a significant reason, and their appearance fits in with the current story, otherwise you don’t want to be in Book 6, trying to recap the previous five stories and possibly pushing your readers out of the current story.

Character details must continue throughout the series.  The history must continue.  As for other details or incidents from the previous books, that depends on the situation.  Where the stories in several novels are following a continuing line, the earlier information is important.  For example, the hunt for stolen armaments began in FIRE PLANET, continued in JUNGLE ASSAULT, and finished in CALL TO ARMS, books 7, 8, and 9 in the Star Commandos series.  Details which impact on later stories must be recalled to the reader's mind in those newer works.  Those which deeply affect a character or characters must always be present throughout the series.

MJ LABEFF, New Mainstream author

This depends on whether or not the original plot or information regarding the continuing characters is needed to move the story or characters forward in subsequent books. Readers may need a bit of reminding but this brings us back to last week’s Sunday Musings where we talked about planting enough facts and actions in early episodes to sow the seeds for actions in subsequent novels.  In my series the Last Cold Case, I’ve found opportunities for the homicide detective and FBI agent to discuss previous cases, finding it important for two reasons. The first is to remind readers about those cases that had placed the homicide detective in grave danger, illustrating her obsessive and willing to risk-it-all, rogue attitude which makes the FBI agent a by-the-rules kind of guy absolutely mad, but somehow they manage to work together and even manage to find their happily ever after. The second is to pique the interest of a reader who may have picked up the series in the middle and is now intrigued just enough to go back and read the previous books. When writing a series much of this is organic, the information about the original plot and characters seems to just happen while writing subsequent books, and I think that’s because it is integral information needed to move the story forward.

In my developing series Adventures of the Half-Dozen, which are stand-alone books, I have mentioned, in passing, a couple happenings that are told in detail in the previous book(s), but it is not necessary to have read that book to feel the current story is not complete.  However, since they take place in the same location, the school, stores involved, friends met previously, and maybe an incident or two, are briefly mentioned, but not necessarily fully detailed.

For instance, in All Because of Chickens there is a complete description of when Sam saved his chickens from a hawk attack.  In the sequel, Lessons from the Sheepfold (due out this fall/winter), it is just mentioned as: “…otherwise, if you hadn’t deterred that hawk last month, there would be eleven hens out there on the steps instead of twelve!”  Sam felt a shudder shake his body as he remembered his fight with the hawk.

I guess it is a way to let the reader know there is a previous story, and something about it, if the current tale is captivating enough he or she would like to read another adventure of the same characters. 

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

No comments: