Thursday, April 08, 2010

New Fantasy Novel

Amber Quill Press has just published ROGUE MAGESS, the third (and, at present, the chronologically latest planned) novel in a sword-and-sorcery series by my husband, Leslie Roy Carter, and me. Since a lot of back story has accumulated by now, we faced the problem of bringing readers up to speed after a lapse of a couple of years since the release of the last book, BESIEGED ADEPT. At first I thought we should start the novel with a straightforward “the story so far” prologue, as I’ve seen in numerous published series. I wrote one in the voice of the protagonist, sorceress Aetria. My husband didn’t care for the result, so he wrote a conversation between two secondary characters, one of them filling in the other on significant past events before they get ready to serve as escorts and guards for Aetria and her twin sister.

After a critique from our live-in first reader and a discussion among ourselves, we decided that scene was too static; it would probably bore readers who remembered the first two installments and only confuse those who’d forgotten or hadn’t read them. So we reverted to the original plan of sprinkling in bits of back story as snippets of dialogue and brief exposition, as needed to make the present events clear. That technique allowed us to start the story with tension and action—but at the risk of having new readers feel lost.

Now, realistically, because this trilogy is a true series, with each book following directly from the last, few readers are likely to buy it unless they’ve read the first two. In a case like this, is the author justified in proceeding as if she expects readers to be familiar with the previous stories and just need reminding? Should she treat events from earlier volumes like any other kind of back story—supply them on a “need to know” basis?

Or are there times when an old-fashioned, frankly expository “the story so far” introduction works best?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter’s Crypt


  1. Congratulations on your new release!

  2. I like "the story so far". I just finished the second book in a series and hated all the time spent filling in backstory. Most of that was in the first chapter and the book did not catch me as it should have. "The story so far" gives me the option of reading backstory or not.

  3. Personally, I like "the story so far," too. I will be interested to see how reviewers react to our doing it the opposite way in this book. We tried really hard to drop in the backstory in small doses as needed to understand the current action.

    In Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, I was severely put off by the way the novel about Satan was handled. Half the story or more consisted of recapping (telling, not "showing") what had happened in earlier books of the series! For someone (like me) who'd read all of them, it was tedious. I imagine that for anyone who picked up that book WITHOUT knowing the series already, all that backstory would have been simply confusing. So it didn't work for either old or new readers, IMO.