Writer’s Corner: To Recap or Not to Recap?
I’ve heard that writers should never, ever look at Amazon reader reviews of their novels. This is probably good advice. Still, every once in a while, I can’t help myself.
In my last post, I talked about polar opposite reactions to our female characters. Today, I’m thinking about the aspect of “re-capping” in a long running series. This, too, draws some polar opposite reactions…
J.C. and I are often thanked by our readers for including a bit of explanation regarding “where we are” and “how we got here” in the many volumes of the Noble Dead Saga. Numerous readers have said they appreciate this because a year passes between books, and J.C. and I throw a lot of detail into each novel.
Today, I read one review that stayed with me in which someone used exclamation points in expressing, “Enough with the recaps!” His main point was that everyone following the series had already read the previous books, and we were wasting quality time by even briefly catching up anyone.
The Noble Dead Saga is not like the other series that I write solo. Both the Vampire Memories and the Mist-Torn Witches series consist of encapsulated novels, where a specific challenge or mystery is set up and solved by the end of one book. Each book could easily function as a stand-alone novel and not much re-cap is necessary.
The saga is a completely different animal—to the occasional frustration of our long-suffering editor. It is a very episodic (phase oriented) series, and we are currently working on book fourteen (or Series 3, Book 5).
Think about that, book fourteen… really!?
So, regarding the review I mentioned above, I actually wished I could explain to this reader why some recap is unavoidable. For one reason, our publisher fully expects that every novel we write should be able to stand on its own. This is simply something that professional writers understand and have to address.
In almost every revision letter our editor has sent us on a first draft, she has said…
“You need to clarify the ‘set up’ much better. Explain what the orbs are and what the goals of the characters are in this novel pertaining to the orbs. For God’s sake, explain the difference between an an’Cróan and the Anmaglâhk, etc.”
There is normally a lot more that she wants clarified, but you get the idea. And she is absolutely right.
At any point in the series, new readers can stumble across the newest book in a Barnes & Noble, buy it, and begin reading. I had a man contact me to let me know that he started the series with Between Their Worlds. That’s book ten, or Series 3, Book 1. Can you imagine?
That one begins literally thirty second after the ending Of Truth and Beasts. It was the toughest novel we ever had to start. Magiere, Leesil, Wynn, Chap, and Shade all had to be (re)introduced with brand new readers in mind. Oh, yes. The situation had to be clearly set up without J.C. and I falling into writing an info dump. No easy feat.
No matter how far into a series you have written, you have to begin each book in the mindset that you are writing it for a brand new reader. This isn’t easy… but there’s no way around it. This simply goes with the territory of writing an episodic series.