Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Independence

"What a good book this is going to be!" I thought. The cover was compelling; the blurb intriguing. I picked it up without a second's hesitation. But then I began reading... and just a few short chapters into the narrative I was absolutely lost. Characters were behaving as though I knew them already. It was as if I had amnesia and was waking up in a world where everything was happening but I didn't have a clue as to the context.

This wasn't a stylistic, literary choice by the writer, however; what I didn't know when I picked it up was that the book was a sequel, and not having read the first book of the series, there was an irreparable disconnect in the narrative. I felt alienated from the story and not encouraged to seek out the previous title to gain clarity on the storyline--instead it left me feeling ambivalent about this story that I had been so excited to dip into.

This book suffered from vague references to past events that greatly informed the current plot points, but the references were structured in such a way that I was made to feel like I wasn't in on some inside story that was happening. I got mad at the writer. I wondered why did the author want to alienate the reader like that?

Back up a few weeks before I picked up that title, when at a writer's conference I attended a session where the speaker encouraged us to write each book as a stand-alone product, even if it is a sequel or part of a series. I didn't really connect to what she was telling us, until I found this book that lacked that thread that held the narrative together.

But along with the title I mention above, where the narrative is not connected and I felt lost, I've also read books on the other end of the spectrum, where there is so much space and attention given to touching on events in the earlier book(s). It's an equally distracting mistake to make. Happily, the vast majority of series I've read have handled the parsing of information carefully and respectfully for the reader. And I've learned to appreciate the attention to detail that this requires.

It would seem that writing sequels is easy; you are, after all, tapping into characters that you've exercised before and it might be easier to get into their storylines. But sequels must be carefully handled; if you are revisiting your characters, you have a duty to carefully straddle that line between readers old and new. You must be careful not to provide too much of the previous story so as not to turn off your devoted readers while at the same time including enough information so that your new readers connect to your material while also being drawn to your previous stories.

1 comment:

  1. You're right about that balance. We need snippets of backstory while we fall in love with the characters again. How much can their actions tell us about their past? And when we do throw in a review-of-events, can we throw in a tomato to make it fresh?

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