aha! moment

You know the hardest thing about writing a series? The publisher would really love it if each book stood on its own. That is, somebody picks up Book Six in a bookstore and is interested enough, after reading the first few pages, to buy it.

What they don’t want is for that person to realize that there are five earlier books in the series and give up right there.

So it’s a challenge, bringing new readers up to speed without boring the loyal readers to tears. And the gymnastics required to avoid info-dumping are tiring. That’s one of the hardest things about this novel.

Then yesterday somebody said something that made a light go on.

Anybody familiar with the Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett? These are probably the best historical novels I have ever read; I love them each and every one. But they are not easy. Tremendously detailed, hundreds of characters accumulated by the end of the series, a writer who doesn’t coddle her readers.

I usually re-read the whole series just before a new novel came out, which I enjoyed doing — but which many would not. Then with the last book (maybe not every edition of the last book, but with one at least), she provided a one-page summary of each of the previous books. They were very well written, just enough background information to get somebody into the novel before them.

Lady Dunnett did this for her readers, sure. But she also did it for herself. It alleviated the need to build all the backstory into the first couple chapters, so she could concentrate on moving forward with the story.

I am not Dorothy Dunnett. Not even close. It feels like hubris to even consider following her example, but it also feels like an excellent way to resolve some issues.

It will take a chunk of time to actually write the summaries, but I think it would be a good investment.

Any thoughts on this? Would you find such summaries a good thing, or irritating, or would you just skip by blithely?