I'm writing the second Nicholas Colt thriller, and the storyline in book #1 is very much pertinent to the storyline in book #2. I don't want to assume that everyone who reads book #2 will have already read book #1, so I'm trying to incorporate all the back story into the first few chapters. I'm using some exposition, and some dialogue, and trying to avoid the dreaded "info dump."

For those of you writing a series, how do you generally handle back story?

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Quickly, as briefly as possible, in dialog. My sequel doesn't rely much on what happened in book #1, so it was easier to refer to previous events in short bits of dialog or a passing thought. I took a cue from Robert Parker and Sue Grafton on this - make each book a stand-alone of sorts, where knowing the earlier books isn't critical. Knowing them is helpful, to follow the overall character arc. But each book (for me) should have its own story and arc.
Thanks, John. I agree, but my #2 is a true sequel, so it's crucial for the reader to know what happened before.
A tough one! If at all possible, feed the information in gradually while carrying the action forward. You may have to create an incident where someone asks about past events.
Thanks, I.J. That's pretty much what I've done. Colt has let his P.I. license lapse, and he's drawn to an incident in another state where he's going to be working as a "trainee" under another P.I.'s license. They meet, and he tells the other P.I. what led him to this point. I've also tried to create some tension in the current scene, so it won't seem like so much of an info dump. Hope it works.
Also, of course, this information doesn't have to come at the beginning of the book.
It's spread out over parts of chapters four and five, John.
Yes. I 've seen previous-book backstory appear well past the halfway point in sequels. (In some situations that's not possible, of course.)
Just remember that you don't have to retell the entire story in your recap. Pick the necessary information, and feed it in a bit at a time, as needed. Maybe a bit in conversation, maybe a bit here or there as your protag is driving or riding the bus or waiting for an elevator, when he has nothing much to do but think. Maybe something he sees on the street triggers a memory. Just keep it brief.
Thanks, Pepper. I start out with some exposition as he's lying in a motel bed staring at the ceiling, and carry on to the next chapter where he's talking with the other P.I.
Feed the reader what she needs only when she needs it.
Thanks, Jack. I've pretty much reduced the entire first novel to about six pages, some exposition and some dialogue, trying my best to make it compelling.
I agree with John Desjarlais.

Remember that you are writing books and not episodic television!!

In "SIlence of the Lambs" Hannibal asks Clarice how Will Graham is doing, and that's about the only thing that was carried over from "Red Dragon."

Also, don't over think it. Fans are fans. I discoverd Michael Connelly and I read his books in a completely disorderly fashion, but still enjoyed each oen for what it was.

I'm sure there are people who happened to start with book 1 and fall in love with the writer and follow in logical/sequential order. But there are probably just as many people who find an author 6-7-8-9-10 books in and go backwards. ;)


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