This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tromping on Your Backstory

            One of the problems with writing a series of books with the same running character or characters is keeping the stories straight. You might, for instance, have a character who appeared in Book 1 and is now coming back in Book 4, but you can’t remember if in the first book he was selling insurance or real estate.
            If you’re lucky, you’ll remember where you put that information in Book 1 and be able to look it up fairly quickly. Or, perhaps, you can slide around the question of the character’s occupation. If not, well, nobody ever said the writer’s lot is an easy one.
            There’s also a question of dealing with backstory. In the early books of a series, you can make up the backstory as you go along and, if you’re smart, which I wasn’t, make notes on it as you go along in case it comes up again. But another serious issue plagues the writer of serial books. At some point you get into a situation where you need to rely on some backstory that was in an earlier book.

Teasing Without Spoiling

            I’m encountering that situation now, in the fourth book of my Quill Gordon mystery series. I’m trying to create a situation where Gordon, my protagonist, is letting go of some issues created in the first book, The McHenry Inheritance, and writing those sequences is a case of threading an extremely fine needle.
            If everyone who reads the fourth book has already read the first three, there would be no problem. But that’s never the case. Some readers are scrupulous about reading a series of books in the order written. Others, like me, read whatever books in the series we can get at the time and come back to the others later.
            I try to write my books in such a way that each one will stand alone, but also in a way such that a reader who takes them in order will see some growth and development. But there’s one other consideration that looms large in writing these types of backstory scenes.

Oh, No! You Spoiled It!

            For readers who haven’t yet read the earlier books, you don’t want to spoil the surprises in them. So if you’re mentioning something in a past book, you need to do it in such a way that the reader who read the earlier book will understand, while the reader who hasn’t read the book can at least get the general picture without missing out on some of the surprises if and when he or she does get to the earlier book.
            How, exactly, does the author do this? I don’t know of any magic way. It basically becomes a situation where the author has to say, “I’ve read enough books and written enough words that I think I know more or less how to finesse this.”
            Then you do it the best you can. Then you show it to a couple of friends and get their feedback. Then, after all that, you click “Publish” and unloose the book on a waiting and sometimes cruel world. If you’re good, lucky, or both, the stratagem will work well enough and no one will complain. If you didn’t get it right, maybe the readers will let you know, and you’ll have another chance to do it better the next time.