A Serious, Writing Related Question

Posted: June 10, 2009 in Braak

This is a serious question, that I find myself pondering while I (try to) work on my new book, and I guess it’s particularly pertinent to books that are a part of a series.

There are many elements in the new book that are the same as the elements in the old book:  things like the Architecture War, and the Arcadium, for example, or the city’s predilection for anonymous bronze statues.  This book, after all, is about the same people and takes place in the same location.

So, how much do I need to, or should I, revisit those things?

I bring this up because it absolutely infuriates me when I’m reading a series by, for instance, Jim Butcher or Laurel Hamilton, and they devote even one single line to explaining something that I learned in the last book.  I mean, it’s bizarre how angry it makes me; I want to just throw the book down and scream at them.


Like that.

I don’t know why this upsets me so much, but I am willing to concede that this may be a personal peculiarity on my part.

But it leads me to some interesting questions.  One of the reasons that I don’t feel any shame about spending time “world-building,” or why I don’t have a problem just dumping a few paragraphs (or a whole chapter) into the book about what something is or where it comes from is because I think that it satisfies a natural desire for exploration.  I think this is part of the reason that science fiction and fantasy remain thoroughly popular, but only for a relatively small demographic:  a small percentage of human beings really like to find out about new things.

If that’s the case, then I’m undermining my own approach by revisiting old places.

Obviously, this can be solved by:  revisit the old places in a new way.  But this is still practically problematic:  how much of the old description do I need to recycle in order to make the new experience comprehensible?

Anyway, tell me what you guys think.

  1. V.I.P. Referee says:

    You could go the “Canterbury Tales” or “Chronicles of Narnia” route, where stories are interconnected through a band; yet, relatively isolated from eachother; consistency through character perspective, as applied to different scenarios. Hmm…

  2. threatqualitypress says:

    Well, I could, except that the new book is still about the same guys. The next two won’t suffer from this problem, but this one is definitely giving me a headache.

  3. Hsiang says:

    I really dug the descriptions of Trowth’s infrastructure and that can be done again without dragging down the narrative. Maybe have some of it through the eyes of a newcomer to the city, too obvious? The Architecture War is a great idea but do not blow another whole page describing it again.

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    1) You cannot guarantee that a new reader has already read the first book. Giving a cursory explanation of things/ideas from the first book costs you NOTHING, and is beneficial in doing your job: communicating ideas to your readers. If they’ve already read it, they’ll just breeze through (without getting enraged, which, no, isn’t a standard response). If they haven’t, it’s very helpful.

    2) Never underestimate the value of two people who haven’t met explaining things to each other. It drives me nuts when two people on a TV show or comics tell each other things they were actually there for or might otherwise know, but as long as there’s someone in the story who’s new to the information, you can get away with the recap without it feeling like wholly inorganic exposition.
    AND as a bonus, by showing HOW a character explains something a previous reader already knows about, it’s not a total waste of time because they’re learning something about the character’s point of view.

    2) Revisiting descriptions – less necessary than recapping plot elements, but still, it’s important that everyone is on the same page here, so a brief description, better yet if it’s actually relevant to the plot somehow. Again, you don’t have to take a lot of time – sorry to say, the descriptive elements are less crucial for an audience to understand every nuance of.

  5. Moff says:

    I agree with everything Holland says. Moreover, a small but well-placed and well-handled reference to a previously described event can actually make a reader want to go back and check out the earlier book. So in that sense, you’re still feeding someone’s need for exploration.

  6. threatqualitypress says:

    Man, you guys and your advice. Everything boils down to, “Sure, as long as you do it well.”

    Which is true, yeah, but god damn it.

  7. Moff says:

    Dude, have you seen some of the books out there? You really just have to do it OK, and you’re ahead of the game.

    Here is a bigger question: I want to write a 10- to 12-book series with a bunch of characters and have it deemed the grandest and most glorious science-fiction series ever, and also I want all the little twists and mysteries to fit together seamlessly. Where do I find a wishing genie?

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, turns out doing it well is pretty crucial to the process.

    I started Andrew Vachss Burke series about four books in, and because of some overly flowery first-person recapping, I was under the impression that a recently-killed supporting adversary was actually some kind of alternate personality Burke was referencing.

    Clarity. Surprisingly important.

  9. Moff says:

    Holy shit. Andrew Vachss looks awesome.

  10. threatqualitypress says:

    It’s definitely true that Andrew Vachss is, 100%, the most bad-ass looking writer in the history of time. About all he really needs is a fat pair of sideburns and a robotic hand.

  11. Jeff Holland says:

    Huh. And all this led me to learn his last book concluded the series. One more to add to the summer reading list.

  12. Braak, I’ve GOT it!


  13. threatqualitypress says:

    Oh, shit, don’t say that. I love me some footnotes.

  14. Bill says:

    Chris – Didn’t I give you some of the Vachss books years ago? I remember passing them on to some friends a long time ago – I felt sure I gave you one or two of them.

    I agree with what Holland says – in fact, I’ve found the a different point of view of the same object in two different books sometimes illuminating. Especially if one is from the ‘storyteller’ point of view and another is from a character point of view.

    My 2 cents, anyway.

  15. threatqualitypress says:

    All right, you’ve convinced me. I’ve decided to throw out everything I’ve written, and just make the next book a three hundred page travelogue about Red Lanes.

  16. Erin says:

    Ideally, yeah: provide a completely different recount from a new point of view that uses NONE of the same adjectives or metaphors you used the first time around.

    If that’s not doable, I prefer an intro for catching readers up to speed. That way, if you’ve read the last book, you can skip over it.

  17. threatqualitypress says:

    Oh, the hell with that. I only know eight adjectives.

  18. Hsiang says:

    Andrew Vachss is in fact totally awesome. His books are the kind I throw against the wall and then cower trembling in the corner only to crawl back in supplication whimpering, “Please Sir, may I have some more?” Recently I’ve had the the same reaction with those Laird Barron horror stories. Both of those authors have eyepatches. Eyepatces arelike totally bitchin’.
    Do you have a sharpened spoon handy?

  19. Jeff Holland says:

    Vachss is indeed great, but over the last few books, when you start adding up how old Burke’s gotta be by now, his gripes about the Disney-fication of New York started coming off less like tough-guy observations and more like “DAMN KIDS GET OFF MY CITYSCAPE!” grousing.

    And the clockwork way Burke would be having sex with an oddly-named mysterious woman pretty much by page 200 EVERY SINGLE BOOK started to annoy me.

    That said – I am really looking forward to this last book.

  20. […] while back, Braak had been wondering about the most effective means of recapping a previous plot element in a fo…, and I recommended the audience-surrogate. But I didn’t feel good about it, because…c’mon, […]

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