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Sequel and repetition

Sequel and repetition

Sequel and repetition

I'm in the process of writing a sequel to a book. My question is a simple one; how much of the first book do I need to recount?

I would like to assume that the reader has read the first, in which case I could just pick up the story and continue it. If I want the second book to stand up on its own two feet however, then I would need to re-iterate much of the previous plot details, character portrayals, previous events etc.

I'm contemplating cheating a little on this. If my first book was called for example, "Joe of New York", my plan at present is to open the second book with a line such as "It had been a year since Joe of New York had moved south".

So the reader would be alerted to a previous novel. Does this sound reasonable? I'm happy to do whatever makes sense, but I don't want to clutter the sequel with a procession of past recollections.

Comments welcome.

RE: Sequel and repetition

I think "Sequel to the bestseller Joe of New York" on the cover or similar... covers it. smile

That also saves the reader spending their money on the wrong book to start with.

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RE: Sequel and repetition

Which leads me indirectly to a rant... am I in the minority with my hatred of the "coming up next time" segment that is tacked on to the end of each episode of TV series recently?

It's bad enough having to be ready to pounce like a cat on the TV remote to fast forward or mute commercial breaks without having to try and avoid those spoilers as well. Mood killers. sad

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RE: Sequel and repetition

The opening line could be "It's been a year since Joe thought about his life in New York, but recent events caused painful memories to come flooding back."

If I had picked this book up I might be interested in those past memories and you could thread a few of them in your plot making the story both a sequel and a standalone for those who might not have read the first!

So in essence I agree with your sentiment.

General Geek

RE: Sequel and repetition

>the "coming up next time" segment

And the "Previously on ..." segment. And don't get me started on the programs made for channels with advertising, where each segement summarises what you saw in the previous segments.

Basically, it seems to me that it is so they cam make shorter (and thus slightly cheaper) programs.

RE: Sequel and repetition

Depending on how much is needed to understand try an "executive summary" as a forward, and state in the book description that countinuing the adverture of Joe in New York...


The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23) - I need someone to lead me!

RE: Sequel and repetition

From my personal experience it is only necessary to repeat items that are salient to the progression of the story and then only necessary as an aside.

The most verbose repetition I've come across is in Julien May's The Saga of Pliocene Exile series. If memory serves, it had as much as 40 pages at the beginning recapping the previous novel. When reading it thru the first time, when the novels were being released years apart, I really appreciated this. When reading it thru the 2nd and 3rd times I simply skipped those sections. This worked for me.

On the flip side, contiguous stories such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Anne McCaffery's Dragon Riders of Pern, or Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, have no repetition to speak of. This works for me too. (Although I find I need to re-read from the beginning once the last book is out.

I recently read a space battle novel where the author very repetitively tried to describe and explain the relativistic effects of battle near light speed. This was bad, very bad.

What's most important is that you realise ... There is no spoon.

RE: Sequel and repetition

If you like, I could post your question on Reddit

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What's most important is that you realise ... There is no spoon.

RE: Sequel and repetition

I think it depends on whether the second book is a continuation of the first story, or a story standing on it's own. Tom Clancy, Ian Flemming, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.R.R. Tolkien, Raymond Chandler (the list goes on) use the same characters, but each story stands on its own without recapping any earlier work.

Looking at the Harry Potter series, the books were written to stand on their own, but each ones contains progression of a much bigger story line that spans the whole series. Even those, if I remember correctly, don't spend time recapping things that happened in previous books, except maybe as brief mentions to support explanations of specific events that may need it.

My suggestion is to assume that your reader is intelligent and don't hand hold them too much. If your forward, dust jacket, and cover mention that this is the exciting sequel to "Joe in New York", recapping and summarizing the previous book is unnecessary and a waste of pages.

On the other hand, if the intended audience is pre-teen and a recap supports the story, go for it.

RE: Sequel and repetition

I'm not a big fan of spending the first chapter of a book recapping what the previous book said. I tend to get bored with that style of writing. A section of "what went before" can be done so it can be skimmed or skipped would be better. I prefer reading books that either stand alone or carefully integrates previous material into the story without bogging the story-line down (I wish I could remember the author I really liked that did this so well).

James P. Cottingham
I'm number 1,229!
I'm number 1,229!

RE: Sequel and repetition

Great feedback, thank you. I think I will take note of multiple suggestions here.

To make it clear on the jacket, back page and wherever else that it is a follow up to a previous story. (I personally dont like books that carry a title such as "The Same Book Title 2").

To drop in the occasional past reference, so anyone reading it unaware of the first would understand the background and for anyone else this would act as a gentle reminder.

I also prefer books to be standalone stories, even if the characters are the same. So I want to minimize repetitious clutter than may affect the reader experience.

If I do have to recount some historical points, I think that needs to happen early in the book, to get it out of the way.

One thing I had not considered was a preface or opening piece that summarised the previous story in one chunk. I don't know why, but that just doesn't feel right to me. I think it's because anyone who has not read the first, will end up with no reason to. Without that, the readers curiousity may prompt them to read it.

RE: Sequel and repetition

Quote (kwbMitel)

Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy

And isn't it awesome.

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RE: Sequel and repetition

@Annilhilannic - yes, Hamilton is awesome
If you like that, try Neil Asher - Ian cormac novels

The Ian cormac series is another good example of stand alone novels with minimal reference between books but common characters and locations

What's most important is that you realise ... There is no spoon.

RE: Sequel and repetition


If I want the second book to stand up on its own two feet however, then I would need to re-iterate much of the previous plot details, character portrayals, previous events etc.
Are you sure that's true?

It depends on the nature of your new book. If it's a continuation of the story from the first, then it's reasonable to assume that your readers will have read it. Tolkien doesn't bother with recapping The Fellowship of the Ring in The Two Towers for this very reason.

If it's a new story that re-uses characters etc. from the first, how many "plot details, character portrayals, previous events etc" do you really need to put in the new book? How relevant is all that to the new story? I suspect you can be pretty ruthless here if you put your mind to it.

It's hard to give any more concrete advice without knowing more about the stories concerned.

-- Chris Hunt
Webmaster & Tragedian
Extra Connections Ltd

RE: Sequel and repetition

In the previous book, I introduce the main characters and a one line summary would be; they meet, they journey, they become trapped, they must escape, some do escape, some are lost, some are safe. The sequel is what happens to them next; they unexpectedly find themselves embarking on a new adventure.

I would agree that I can be ruthless on the previous plot. In terms or recounting past events, it is accounting (to the reader) why the relationships between various characters are as they are; these formed as a result of past events. I think this is where I am struggling. Having created the character profiles in the previous book, I need to somehow carry that element forward, but without describing them and their previous interactions, all over again.

The best parallel I can draw, albeit a weak one, would be to imagine that in the film "The Dirty Dozen", the majority of the dozen had survived, but are now tasked with a second mission. It would be very easy to write that around a 'new' dozen, but much harder to re-use the same dozen characters again, without referring to their history.

RE: Sequel and repetition

Quote (SamBones bigsmile)

My suggestion is to assume that your reader is intelligent and don't hand hold them too much.

I don't think you need to explain all those details. If you are describing some actions that seem strange (i.e. two characters working well together but they are very antagonistic), if it's because of some event in the previous book, I wouldn't explain it. People who have read the previous book will know, and those who haven't will wonder and come up with their own explanation. That's part of the fun of reading fiction.

Then, if those readers go back and read the first book, they will have that "aha" moment when they realize why they were acting the way they were.

Personally I don't like books that not only explain what's happening and what's being said, but also go into excruciating detail explaining why they're doing it and what they're thinking and etc, etc. I love a good story and characters with depth. I don't like being hand held through the story and told what to think and why at every turn. In my opinion, a good book has to challenge you at least a little.

RE: Sequel and repetition

SamBones, you just described why I do not like many of the stories I read. They go into so much detail that it takes away from the story.

The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23) - I need someone to lead me!

RE: Sequel and repetition

Indeed, it's trying to find that magical balance that improves the overall reader experience. I've been leafing through a few other books just to see how various authors have dealt with this. It would appear in most cases, that less is better, unless the plot does not make sense without it.

This is perhaps what I really want to hear, mainly because writing a text filled with tenuous flashbacks and recollections is just as awkward if not more so, than trying to read one.

RE: Sequel and repetition

Well, I'd take it from the famous increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy in 5 books: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless

The books don't depend on each other, though you miss some things not knowing the previous episodes. The books are for example more connected to each other than Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.

What makes this series worth mentioning is, the 4th book begins exactly the same as the first. That has a humorous effect, because you think you bought the wrong book, or they made a mistake in the print. In the first book, in a prologue, a girl was described and introduced a bit and then the author Douglas Adams ended that paragraphs in the sentence "This is not her story". In the fourth book this otherwise exactly same prologue ends in "This is her story".

Otherwise I would dislike a sequel to repeat things I already know, this rather makes you stop reading a series. You can pick up quotes, memories, continue something, which hasn't been told in detail in a previous book, that would add to the previous books, but I wouldn't go as far as a summary of "previously in Joe of New York". A page before a prologue or chapter one pointing to the previous (and perhaps next) books is not untypical and fair enough.

Bye, Olaf.

RE: Sequel and repetition

@kwbMitel - thanks for the tip, will definitely check 'em out!

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