I'm currently drafting the second book in the Tanzy Hightower series. As I have it now, the sequel picks up twelve hours after the first book concludes. The writing is easier in some ways and harder in others. The characters' voices are strong and their opinions are solely their own, leaving me to do what they tell me. And they've driven the plot forward at warp speed. I took the time to reread the first 100 pages, and for a first draft, I found the structure to be sound. Until I had this thought: what if I never read the first one? Would this story make any sense? Heck no.
Here's my hang-up: one of my reader pet-peeves is when an author recaps the previous book in the first couple of chapters. The rhythm is usually sluggish and passive. I scan these parts as fast as I can until I find a tempo I recognize. Sometimes this means I've missed some gem of new information buried in the rehash, and I pay for my skimming ways later on. But it's very unlikely that all readers feel this way. So I asked a couple of writer friends if they had any words of wisdom as per how to weave the first book into the second - is it even necessary? Their answers were so fantastic that I wanted to do this blog post just to spread their very generous knowledge. Here's what they said:
From Mel Smith (www.mlfalconer.blogspot.com): We have to assume that there will be a significant amount of time between readers finishing the first book and beginning the sequel. In that light, I think you would have to do some physical description of the reintroduced characters but not as in depth as what would have been covered in the first book. A third book in the series could stand to have even less physical description because your fans would, by now, have a strong mental image of your characters. On one hand we assume our readers have read our first book, but on the other we have to make the sequel able to stand on it's own somewhat in the case a reader picks it up first. Many times I’ll start a second or third book in a series just because the first or second wasn't available at the time; that one, in turn, will urge me to seek out the earlier books.
I realize there are a lot of assumptions going on there. It's redundant, though I think we have to write for contingencies. The largest bane in my writing is that I assume my reader knows what I know of the story or sees what I see in my mind and due to this it may be best to purposely be heavy handed on the descriptions when reintroducing characters and plot points. (there is a fine line to do that for aesthetics and not insult our readers intelligence. This falls to craft and how we present the description.) For me I want to have a good balance. Authors like Stephen King take pages to describe something while others do so piece meal in small paragraphs throughout the novel. Something between those extremes is what I strive for. And I think you can lighten the descriptions for each subsequent book in the series.
A wonderful series to research ways of doing this is Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series and Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series.
From Justus Stone (www.justusstone.com) I wouldn't duplicate, but whatever happened in the first book is going to influence the 2nd, so some recap is probably not a bad thing. Unless it's a tongue in cheek thing that becomes a trope of your series (like there's always a new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher, etc)
Thanks again, Mel and Justus! I'm inspired, and I have a plan. A dangerous combination for my characters...