In this series, we put our own writing coach on the receiving end of your questions. This is the second question. Mia Botha will answer questions you have. Send them to the email address in the post.
Please read the first question and answer in the series here: Ask The Writing Coach –Author Bio
I get asked many interesting questions by writers and thought you may be interested in some of them. Here is a great question from Mike about what information he needs to include in his second book.
If you have any questions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to answer them.
Book Two & What The Reader Needs To Know
I’m writing a hard science fiction series and I’m starting book 2. How do I acquaint the readers with the characters and the events in book one?
Book two! Well done and thank you for a great question. Writers either think 1) everyone read book one and include NOTHING or 2) they think no one read one book and include EVERYTHING. Neither of those are ideal.
It is important that book two can stand on its own. We also have to remember that there is a book arc and a series arc. Book one’s plot has been neatly tied up, but the series arc is unresolved. You have left enough questions, crumbs, and clues for the series arc to continue. Book two will start with its own goal or the same goal as book one – if it has not been achieved.
Book one started in the middle, in medias res, if we want to get technical. Everything that happens before that is backstory. The same goes for Book two, everything that happened before that (the events of book one) is backstory. Keep that in mind when you decide what to include and treat the information the same way you would treat backstory. But there are a few fancy things we can also try.
Now, what to include and how to include it:
1. Weave It In:
Start your story. Give the reader the bare minimum, just enough to get started. You do not have to dump everything on page one. You can give them just enough and fill in as you proceed.
2. A Good Ol’ Recap:
If it’s needed, you can simply add a summary at the beginning. Give your reader a brief overview of the story. This is likely to be a lot of telling, but remember if you must tell, tell well. It’s not sexy, but it is functional.
3. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words:
Some writers use images and even maps to recap or establish the story. In Golden Son, book two of the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown he used an image with text to explain the hierarchy, which was the premise of his book.
4. A Newcomer In The Story:
A new character needs to know the backstory. Who is new in the story? Find a character who needs to know the details? When the new character learns, the reader learns.
Character lists, setting descriptions, and timelines can all serve as backstory and give the readers clues to what happened in the previous book.
Conversations can cover a lot of ground. Dialogue also speeds up the story, which you may need if you are using a lot of telling to recap. Can you find a way to make your characters talk about what happened?
7. Use The Character Arc:
Your character will have changed during book one. Use that change, to show how they have changed. This is the opposite of the new character. An old friend will ask what happened.
8. Ask A Reader
A great test is to give your story to a reader who has not read book one. They will highlight and ask the necessary questions that will help you decide what to include.
9. Learn From The Masters
Look at bestselling sci-fi. You can either go to your local bookstore and peep at the beginning of all the second books or go to Amazon. Find the Kindle version of the book and click ‘Look inside’. This way you can see what the author did and read the first few pages. A word of warning: this usually leads to several purchases. I do not regret any though. 😁
In most cases you will use a combination of these. Be careful of unnecessary repetition. It will become tedious for readers who know what happened. Don’t underestimate them.
I hope this helps.
by Mia Botha
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