Sunday, April 1, 2012

Risk: Info Overload in Series

Round two of my thoughts on series. As I mentioned in the last "Series" post, I really wanted to veer into the topic of keeping the continuation of the story without overloading the reader with large info dumps.

This aspect has really been the hardest for me to overcome. When it comes down to it, the previous books in your series become back story to the current book. I personally have problems with back story and try to keep it at a minimum. But you can't do that in a series. All the back story is important and the reader has to be "caught up" on what's happened.

I mean, come on, there's no break in the characters "lives", yet there's months between the release of each book. That means that my characters don't need caught up, but the reader does.

In my first drafts, I'm usually too scarce with back story. Through my first couple revisions I have to figure out where to remind the reader what's happened, why the character is reacting or feeling a certain way, why a decision was made or not made, or why someone likes or dislikes someone else. All this without allowing the previous story to take over the current book's storyline.

It can be tedious to say the least.

What I usually find is that the first couple of chapters end up with heavy info drops...I'm not going to say info dumps, because I think there's a difference between drops and dumps. Don't ask me how, I just do...

...Where was I? Oh yes...

At least heavy from my perspective. Now, like with book 2, my beta readers felt the information was fine and actually asked for more in some parts, as my background info didn't match the pace of all the active characters. Because, face it, in a series book 2 and on has all the characters already actively engaged. There's no time to slowly introduce them and bring them "into the fold" so to speak.

It makes this doubly hard when book 1 has different main characters than in book 2 and so on, because you have to get this information across from people who were secondary to the situation in the previous book.

But, I think in the end I relied on my beta readers and the end result came out fantastic. I just had to stretch my comfort zone in my writing style a bit.

That's what we writers want, right? Right??

I did learn that a series with a single set, or group, of characters is not for me. This new series I'm working on has the same world, but each book is a different agent on a different case, and at different periods of time (backward or forward). So, I have enough leeway on where I take the story depending on the science I learn each time. Plus, I don't need to rely on the characters or back story of previous books.

All in all, I think I found the right framework that fits my writing style, and I enjoyed the challenging journey into series writing. The Telomere Trilogy was a fantastic adventure, and I'm oh so found of those group of characters. I know they'll do well on their continued fictional journey away from my laptop.

What obstacles have you all faced in series writing? How did you overcome the dreaded info drops (no, not that)?


  1. "When it comes down to it, the previous books in your series become back story to the current book."

    Totally agree. That's exactly how I look at series writing. In addition, the back stories should be peppered throughout the novel, not bunched up in the front. Readers don't need or want to know everything right away. A little mystery keeps reader interest. And those who never read the first novels in the series can still enjoy an element of surprise.

  2. Series definitely present their own set of challenges. Getting the necessary background information across in a subtle, entertaining way isn't easy. It helps to spread that info out and to work it into dialogue as well as description whenever possible.

  3. Thanks for stopping by!

    It is so true. It's hard to pepper in, but so necessary. The hardest part is having all those characters already active in the storyline in books 2 and on while still holding onto the balance of the "peppering" method.

  4. Yes, last book may be part of back story, but POV is usually different or can be. Sounds like you have a good handle of things, A.R.


  5. I agree previous books in a series are back story, and you need to pepper some of that information through the sequel. Of course, you also want the reader to go buy the first book especially if they didn't read it yet. But it is important to offer up some information that leaves them wanting more.

    the latest example of peppering I read was from the Hunger Games, and I felt she did a good job.

    It is something I certainly need to work on.

  6. Thanks Jude! (Now, tell my mind that, because I don't always believe I have a handle on things.)

    Hmm...good point Tina. I never really looked at it that way. Very...tantalizing thought! (heehee)

  7. A series of any kind seems to work really well for most authors, don't you think? There are different kinds of series--seems like there's a different name, too, but cannot recall it right now.
    The kind I like to read best and certainly write, is one with a H/H and their story. Then take two sub- characters, and write their story--a little later in time, usually.
    So far, I've done a family series, which is easy because I have a geneaological chart made out with a lot of characters.
    Excellent post--something to really think about.

  8. As a reader, if I'm reading a series, I don't want any info from a previous book refreshed for me. I read the book, I don't need you to tell me again. My perspective is sort of that if people want to know the info from the prvious books, they should go read those themselves.

  9. True Celia. I think you're right, a writer just has to find the right series format for them.

    That's interesting Andrew. Tina kind of brought up the same point. I wonder if the reader perspective of series depends on the genre. I don't know enough about that angle of seires to speak to the possibility.

    Thank you both for dropping by.

  10. Yeah, I don't know. Sci-fi and fantasy tend to lean more toward series.
    However, I'll say this, none of the series I've ever been really into info dumped about previous books in the series. Jim Butcher only mentions events from previous Dresden books if they have to do with the story in the current book, so it makes sense and doesn't happen a lot. Tom Clancy never info dumped in the Jack Ryan books. Neither did Piers Anthony in any of the series I read by him. Or David Eddings.

    When I read books that feel like they have to catch you up all the time, I lose my patience. Like with Turtledove. The last series I read by him, he was constantly "reminding" me about things that happened in previous books. I hated the series by the end of it and dreaded picking it up.

  11. Yeah, I'm not into Turtledove, but I think that's more because I'm not really into alternative history, which I think is his main focus, if I remember right.

    The one series I can say I loved was the Willow series, but then again Claremont spent more time on scene description and world building than anything else. Usually not my type of book, but for some reason the fantasy caught my interest.

    And I love Asimov's Robot/Foundation stories, but not sure if it is technically a series. I think it was just a constant world he wrote about. (I read a lot of books but don't pay attention to the politics or marketing/promotional ploys very much so am weak on these topic details and opinions.)

  12. Asimov's are actually several interwoven series. The robot series, the Foundation series, and the Galactic Empire series. The all work together to form his overarching series that starts with The Caves of Steel and ends with (at least with him, because other people have written more since he died) Foundation and Earth.
    But he never info dumped about previous books, either.

    And, yes, you're right about Turtledove.

  13. Ah, that's probably why I didn't connect it to a formal series.