Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 13, 2013

Backstory for Sequels and Series

While working on the second book in a new trilogy—the book to follow Warrior’s Psalm, I carefully considered how much backstory should be included.  A product of those thoughts follows:

As an author begins work on the second (or third book) featuring the same protagonists and maybe even some of the same antagonists, a question that must be answered is; how much backstory.

A couple of thoughts: First, is the new book a sequel or is it an inextricable part of a larger story? If that is the case,  the amount of backstory on the principal characters can be minimal.  The author can assume that readers have already been introduced to the main actors and need only a reminder to strengthen the narrative flow. For example, in Suzanne Collins’ second book of The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, the author deftly reminds readers of the principal protagonists and antagonists and the setting in which the tale takes place.  She does this lightly enough, interspersing background information into the current story, that a person who went immediately from reading the first book wouldn’t become bored when beginning the second.

Another instance in which the author is writing an ongoing series featuring the same character(s) is what may be called a series. Two of my favorites are the Travis McGee series by the late, great, John D. MacDonald. The series started in 1964 and concluded in 1985. Although McGee is the protagonist in all the books, each story can stand alone.  There are a couple of secondary characters, such as Meyer—the intellectual sidekick—who, along with a woman named, “Chookie,” show up in more than one of the books. In each case, the masterful MacDonald introduces, or reintroduces, the character without redundancy.

If the second book is to be a vital component of a specified grouping, such as a trilogy, backstory of characters—other than the principal protagonist—can be handled lightly.

If the second book in a series is simply continuing the adventures (or misadventures) of one individual, the author must be aware that the reader may not have read the first tale. More backstory is required for all the characters.

An author who has found a protagonist whose exploits demand a second book, owes it to his or her readers to be certain to maintain their interest and loyalty.

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