Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Previously On... Anne Cassidy

As an avid watcher of TV I am used to hearing the words ‘Previously On…’

Watching series like ER or LA Law or The West Wing there is always a few moments at the beginning of each programme showing glimpses of past story lines which are important for the present episode. It’s quick and efficient. Little nudges to the viewer which will enrich the episode they are about to watch.

If only it were as easy as that for the novelist. When writing a series of novels it’s important to fill the reader in on what happened in previous books. One cannot simply assume that the reader has read the previous book and has all the info filed in their mind waiting for your next volume.

So you have to give the back story.

I am currently writing book two of a four book series THE MURDER NOTEBOOKS. I have to allow for the casual reader who will pick this book up WITHOUT having the read the first in the series.

It’s tricky. I don’t want to weigh the story of book two down with reminders of book one. The information has to be woven into the text in a non obvious way. How nice it would be to have a conversation between two characters at the beginning where one tells the other what happened in the last book.

“So, the murderer dressed up to look like a woman? And he escaped, saying, I’ll get you next time! How awful for you. Aren’t you afraid he will find you again?”
“And don’t forget that he took the map and my mobile phone!”
“Never mind. At least you’ve escaped from your dreadful parents.”

AND it’s not that different for a stand alone book.

My new book HEART BURN starts in the days before Christmas. An old boyfriend of Ashley’s is beaten up and left for dead. He calls for her and asks her to do him a favour. She owes him this because of things that happened a year before.

So in HEART BURN I have to weave in the back story of what happened between Tyler and Ashley one year before. It means flashbacks, memories and people dropping hints in conversations about that time. It has to be lightly done but fill in the background of a story that wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

Sigh! It would be easier to have ‘Previously On……’ No, I am only kidding.


Charlie Butler said...

I wonder if having a 'Previously On...' is such a ludicrous idea? As you say, people are well used to it from television, and it would save you many an expository headache. Apart from custom, I'm not sure what the problem is.

Having said that, writing the 'Previously On' section would be as difficult as the exposition...

adele said...

It's a knotty problem, Anne! But Heart Burn looks very good. Nice cover. I'm sure you'll work out the letting people know what they need to along the way in a very efficient fashion.

Leslie Wilson said...

well, I think I agree with Charlie. Why not try it? it might be interesting. But as he says, it would be a challenge to transfer that technique into book-form. Interesting, very thought-provoking!
I shall look forward to reading Heart Burn, anyway!

Anonymous said...

As someone who avoids jumping into the middle of a series I'd welcome a page or two with the kind of things that you'd tell a friend if they asked what a book/film/whatever was about.

Penny Dolan said...

Sounds an excellent series, Anne! I find the back story a huge problem to deal with even in one-off novels, so admire anyone who can manage it well and keep the reader reading.

Might have to mull over this "previously" idea. . .