We’ve all been there. A new book in a series comes out, and we rush to read it, eager to return to our favorite characters. We love this book so much, picking up the sequel is just like settling down with old friends…except you meet a character and you can’t quite place who they are, you think they were a friend of the protagonist? And was Claudia Team Eric or Team Xander by the end of the last book? And how did Eileen end up sailing with pirates?? Then you remember it’s been two years between installments and maaaaybe some of the details have slipped from your brain. It’s around this time that I start yearning for a device FAR too few authors use: the recap.
(Before we get to further, I want to give a shout out to Petrik Leo for inspiring this post with his recent tweet where he highlighted some books that tell the readers exactly what went down last time!)
There are a myriad of ways an author can go about recapping their book. The simplest? Just put a summary in the front of the book! Even if it comes off dry, trust me, your readers are thanking you for reminding them that Eileen ended up with pirates because she snuck aboard while on the run from Baron Von Doom’s henchman, Sir Stabsalot. Or take a leaf from Mark Lawrence, who begins his recap in GREY SISTER with the following:
You may find yourself wondering about Keot when he is mentioned. You’re supposed to wonder. You will find out. He’s not mentioned in Book One.
THANK YOU. Strike that from my concerns column!
But if a straight forward summary is something you really truly don’t want to do, come at the recap from a different angle. Write a letter between characters, bringing someone up to speed on events in the kingdom, like the one that was done ahead of the release of THE NAME OF ALL KINGS by Jenn Lyons. Or change up your format completely, and do recap videos! Ahead of the release of A REAPER AT THE GATES, Sabaa Tahir released three videos where she recapped the events of books one and two. The twist? Each video followed one of the three protagonists. Not only did it hit the highlights of events that had transpired in the story so far, it allowed Tahir to remind audiences of motivations specific to the character, and how they perceived events and actions taken by other characters.
And of course, you can always just work in recap details into the beginning chapters of your books, either in the dialogue or in the internal thoughts of a character. Yes, it can be difficult for this approach to feel natural, but often I’d prefer an awkward aside over the alternative. Case in point, I recently read a sequel where the author kept referencing past history between characters without elaborating, leaving me banging my head against a wall as I tried to remember why the Dowager Queen hated her daughter and what the specifics were of the curse she’d put on her daughter that were still having ramifications in book two. It got to the point where I had to skim read book one to make any sense of what was happening in book two, and when that happens I personally feel like the author has failed on a certain level.
But in the event the sequel you’re reading leaves you high and dry in the recap department, all hope is not lost! There are some wonderful, dedicated people out there who are doing the work of recapping the books so you can keep on reading stress free. Sites like Book Series Recap & Reviews and Recaptains are fighting the good fight to bring you to speed on the plot so far.
So tell me – do you have a favorite author who EXCELS at making sure you’re in the loop? Or do you have a resource you love to turn to when character names are growing fuzzy in your head? Leave a comment below!