More on the problem of recap…

…i.e. reminding the reader what happened in Book One, The Last Stormlord. (Yeah, I know, it hasn’t even been published yet, but as I am finishing up Book 2, I have to think about this now.)

Every writer would love their readers to be SO impressed by their book that every word remains imprinted on their mind till the day they die. Alas, it doesn’t happen like that, not even remotely.

Looking at what my beta readers forget is humbling. It is in fact easier to look at what they remember. Characters, the main ones, stay with them, but not the minor players, no matter how well you draw them – unless they are really odd or pivotal in some way. The world stays with them, especially some parts of it. Everyone retains a vague memory of the story line but how much is so variable I can’t even generalise as to the amount.

Different people remember different things with startling clarity. Particular scenes affect different people in varying ways. Some remember things that even I’ve forgotten!!

What particularly universally disappears from their memories is the magic. I don’t mean the broad outline, but the subtleties. My beta readers kept making comments like, “But can’t character A get out of this sticky situation by doing magic type B?”

Er, no, ‘fraid not. Character A is a rainlord and they can’t do that. Only a stormlord can do magic type B. (I guess it didn’t help that there is a rainlord character in Book 1 whose magic is aberrant.)

So I know that in Book 2, and probably Book 3 too, I have to somehow subtly remind the reader just what the difference is between a rainlord, a stormlord, a cloudmaster and a water reeve.

That’s one of the very important reasons that one has beta readers, bless ’em.

BTW, Marina made an interesting comment about synopses versus other forms of reminder here. In answer, I mention the possibility of using a glossary this way. I am still debating the idea of a glossary for book 2. (Book One did not have one). What do you all think?

I have added a poll on the sidebar. It allows for multiple answers. If your answer is the last choice, please feel free to give an alternative in the comments!


More on the problem of recap… — 4 Comments

  1. I voted for a synopsis at the beginning, but a glossary at the end isn’t a bad idea, so long as its referenced in the index. If there are so many different people doing different types of magic, maybe an explanation in the glossary would be a good idea.

    One thing I hate is maps that actually don’t show you where the characters are except very generally. Why bother.

  2. I’m reading Robin Hobb’s Liveship trilogy at the moment and, halfway through the third or so chapter, realised she had been subtly recapping. It was done in a way that retold what had already happened while adding little bits and pieces that happened in the meantime which meant that the reader wasnt just being told ‘here’s what happened, and then this and this and this’, but was integrating it with new information.

    I voted for both a synopsis and a glossary, but in both your other trilogies you manage to re cap seamlessly. I especially recall and appreciated the glossary in the isles of glory books – I read through it at the end and kept saying ‘Ohh, thats right!’

    I figure just keep doin’ what you’re doin’

  3. I voted both for a glossary and the subtle recapping of the narrative. I agree with Jo, that if you included a glossary at the end then you could keep a list of major and minor characters, and the magic’s/world’s terminology.

    Although, having recently finished the Mirage Makers (which I loved, by the way), I found myself remembering what had happened in previous books, despite the many months between each volume. As they did not have a glossary, you must have been subtly recapping, so just keep doing what you’re doing!

    Also, I noticed that you have recently read Fiona McIntosh’s Royal Exile. Having started it last night, I was wondering what you thought of it?


  4. PeterM – thanks!

    I quite enjoyed Royal Exile, although perhaps I enjoy a more character-driven plot than a plot-driven story. Fiona always has great ideas about the magic in her worlds, though. And lots of blood and gore.

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