Sunday, 22 May 2011

On starting with back story

I can't believe I've done it myself! Since ages I told everyone whose opening I read and contained too much back story, not to do it, to web it in, to introduce it slowly and bit by bit, but ignored my own advice.

The reason being is that I've never written a sequel. I'm sure I wouldn't have done it with a new book, but the sequel is a different animal entirely. I created a scene with four people talking to each other, and two people, who are absent, introduced in the first 400 words. Now that's what I call tight writing, tight, but wrong.
I had a feeling it might be too much information and back story crammed into the opening and got the confirmation from a friend I sent it to. Nothing I couldn't fix easily, but something that shows once again, as writers we need feedback, best in the early stages to avoid big rewrites.

Sequels need to be able to stand alone, so while back story is important, it shouldn't have the function of a teaser for the other books in a series. It's a challenge to connect the books without going too deep into what happened in the first one. But you need to introduce the characters to readers who start with the second book.
Since I'm experiencing this now for the first time, I take my hat off to every single author who's managed that effortlessly.

I'll also have the task to go deeper into some of the characters that played minor roles in the first book, plus I'll add some more characters, especially for the dark side. Keeping the balance between romantic comedy and paranormal will be a lot harder for the sequel, I want to keep the light tone of the first book, the wonderful intimate moments between Celia and Tom, but without repeating them.

Well, something positive came out of it: he liked the writing and the scene itself. Go, me! ;-)


  1. Interesting post. I've never written a sequel myself but I'm flirting with the idea for a future book. I think sequels work best when they bring something completely different to the story, though without altering the protagonists. I know the ending of a novel I'm working on and I have an idea about how the sequel could begin and develop.

    My main concern would be how to add something new to the characters without resorting to tired clichés like bringing some old family mystery, or something equally overdone - though I'm guilty of this myself :-)

    On the one hand, sometimes when I write I tell myself to keep some information from the readers for a possible sequel. But on the other hand, I always wind up being tired of the storyline by the end and want to move on to something else. Cathch-22...

    Steve Richer
    Do you know what The Kennedy Secret is?

  2. Hello, Steve

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, that's usually the problem. Though I'm not too worried about it, because my two MC go through hell and back in the sequel and I've got some really big secret that's going to be revealed -- in the last book. Don't know how many I'm going to write, but planned three now.

    I know the feeling all to well, to be fed up with the story and wanting to move on, but I planned a sequel for this book anyway and it shows in the ending. So readers would be puzzled if I stopped writing ;-)

  3. Stella! *waves!*

    I recently read a romance series in which the third book had a steamy scene that was almost exactly like the first book...same wording, same character movement ... different characters. I felt cheated, wondering how the author or the editor didn't catch that. And then I remembered that, while I had spent a few days reading the books back-to-back, she probably hasn't read the first book since it's release.

    I swear, I think sequel writing is some of the most difficult writing there is!

    Elizabeth Isaacs

  4. Hi, love, how nice to see your name here. *waves back*

    That's just horrible! I can understand why you felt cheated. It's something you have to do: read your books again, or take notes of what is happening. That's what I do, I have a timeline. It's not only useful for these sort of things, but also for editing purposes and synopsis-writing, in case you'd like to submit to publishers.

  5. Good post Stella, and food for thought. I'd never read a sequel without reading them in order, but I agree - got to easy people in and not jump off! Thanks for some food for thought. x