Trilogy recaps: a thin line between boring and nonsense

First let me say this: every now and then I feel cheered by the human race. There I was, grinding my teeth and feeling loathing towards all anonymous, horrible, scummy spammers whom I would cheerfully murder if they ever dared to admit their identity – when a whole lot of people left a comment commiserating and/or giving advice. Thank you, people. Some of you I didn’t even know, yet you gave of your time to help. A little thing, but you remind me of all that is good with the world…

I loved the discussion on last Saturday’s thread. Many thanks for that too. As was mentioned there, it is always difficult to decide how to treat the question of recapping the story of the previous volumes of a trilogy for readers who have a time gap between reading the three books. A summary synopsis at the beginning? Subtle reminders scattered throughout the book?

I’ve always preferred the latter. Reading a synopsis inevitably leaves my head stuffed with information, which, out of context, seems incomprehensible in such abbreviated form.

The Mirage Makers trilogy (Book 1 Heart of the Mirage already out in Australia and due out in May in UK; book 2 The Shadow of Tyr already delivered to the publishers and Book 3 Song of the Shiver Barrens way over deadline…) offers particular difficulties for this reason:
In Book 2, apart from a few chapters, the main characters are in a different location from Book 1. So much of the mystery that was covered in Book 1 does not get resolved until Book 3, (nothing unusual in that) – the trouble being that it is only mentioned in passing in Book 2. The reader is not being constantly reminded of it.

When my beta readers (bless ’em) read the early draft of book 3, they were thoroughly confused because I didn’t have enough recap.

So now I am trying to get a balance between boring readers silly, especially the ones who remember everything about the Mirage and the Ravage from Book 1, or being totally incomprehensible to other readers who remember very little. All relevant to the discussion of whether a trilogy is best if it is one book divided arbitarily into three, or three linked books each with an ending.

What a writer aims for is a “Oh, why didn’t I see that coming?” moment, not a “Where the hell did that come from?” moment, and certainly not a “Geez, this is boring” moment. And achieving the right balance in those subtle recaps is tough.


Trilogy recaps: a thin line between boring and nonsense — 3 Comments

  1. good luck with that… it must be a really tough thing to do. The writers who just summarise everything are cheaters 😉

  2. I agree that sprinkling mentions of the most important issues from book 1 and 2 through subsequent books is best. Also agree that it is hard to do right. Too much and you annoy the reader, too little and you confuse them.

    Glenda, a question regarding beta readers…

    Do you use the same beta readers for the whole trilogy, or for books 2 and 3, do you get someone who hasn’t read the other book/s? I ask because I think if you can draw in a new reader with book 2 or 3 without confusion, then you’ve done something very very right in regards to recapping.

    Cheers, Lisa.

  3. Thanks I.p.w.!

    Lisa, I use the same beta readers. If I please someone with book 2 who hasn’t read book 1, then maybe I am doing too much recapping for people did read book 1. Can’t win!

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