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Writer’s Craft # 50 – Stand alone read until … ?

December 12, 2011
Eler Nersal Okal Rel Saga

Eler Nersal from Misfit on Gelion with cover art by Michelle Milburn

Your host, Lynda Williams, is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT. For a list of Okal Rel titles see: Lynda Williams on Amazon.com.


Meet Eler. I’ve been working on edits for Part 8: Gathering Storm in which Eler puts on a play to flush out how his laconic brother, Horth, feels about the family cataclysm of their youth, back in Part 2: Righteous Anger. Here’s Eler’s perspective on the crucial moment:

At first, Eler didn’t understand when he saw Horth rocket onto the stage with sword drawn. Then, in a flash of fatal insight, he realized his success was his damnation. For Horth, to recreate the past was literally to make it real for him, and he was acting on the feelings it inspired, just as he had done so many years before.

Integration of threads across the Okal Rel Saga, from beginning to end, is one of its strengths. So far, however, I’ve told people they could start with any book from one through seven because each tells one story in the larger tapestry. But I’m thinking this will be less true of books eight through ten, as the last set of series-wide tensions emerge from the background to be confronted and resolves. And why not? Does it really make sense to expect every book in a series to stand alone?

Speaking from your own experience, either as an author or a reader of longer series like Harry Potter, Game of Swords or Lord of the Rings — at what point can one reasonably expect the reader to have some prior experience with your world?

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2011 9:02 am

    I find it tedious when an author goes over everything that’s happened in previous books–if you’re reading a series I think with just a few reminders you can assume your audience is keyed in–

    • February 8, 2012 5:11 pm

      This is the way I worked in my Chaaas series. I only give a few brushstrokes, the info my reader needs, no more. For the full picture, they can go to the other books!

  2. krysia permalink
    December 12, 2011 12:03 pm

    I think it’s fair to assume that if a reader has picked up the 8th book to a series he/she has read at least one of the previous books. Nice picture btw. XD

  3. December 12, 2011 12:59 pm

    (Lynda, I just wanted to hop on and say my heart was racing after reading that excerpt…)

    But on to your ?. Hmm… my instinct would be to start a series at the beginning. But from an author’s perspective, a new release might be the only option on the shelf for the reader, so I would think they would have to include some back story/explanation in case the reader was unable to buy the previous books on the spot.

    • December 16, 2011 8:02 am

      Don’t tell Eler he makes your heart race! He’ll never leave you alone. :-)

      And thanks. Some backstory but the minimal is looking like the concensus.

  4. December 13, 2011 9:18 am

    As a reader, I prefer series in which each successive book builds on the previous ones, creating a great, rich mythos. Books in a series which don’t do this, seem into fall into two general camps: either they need to stick in reiterations of past events and character development in each book, which can get very, very tedious after awhile, or they rely on a whopping good stand-alone story which does not depend on what was previously done to make use of the established world. This latter is much more challenging, and I salute and appreciate authors who can do it.

    As a writer, my nine-volume opus magnus “Elder Light” is essentially one enormous saga. Each book has a sense of beginning and satisfying conclusion, but they are embedded in a greater history in which understanding past events is well-nigh essential. I include subtle memory prompts, to remind the reader of what happened in the past, but not enough to really fill in the gaps if the reader hasn’t been with me from the beginning. Of course, the downside to this is that with every revision, I have to make it consistent. If I think of a cracking good plot twist to add to Book Three, I must then go through all the subsequent books in minute detail to make sure I haven’t generated any inconsistencies.

  5. December 13, 2011 12:15 pm

    I’m the kind of person who re-reads all the previous books in a series before I read the latest addition. There’s nothing more tedious than having to read a summary of the previous book when I just finished that book an hour ago.

    There was one series that did it really well, though. Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars trilogy (set about 5 years after the movies). At the beginning of one of the books, Han Solo is testifying to before a government committee about the events of the previous book. The scene not only explains past events for the reader but also establishes a new conflict between Solo and the politician grilling him on the stand.

    • December 18, 2011 11:27 am

      That is a clever device. The well versed can skip and the needy can get “just the facts, mam”. :-) I love people who re-read series from the beginning when each new books comes out! I re-read series myself. I think the well loved ones play a role in my life that is disturbingly close to having a religious anchor to rely on as a “home base” and anchor.

  6. JohnP permalink
    December 15, 2011 11:06 am

    I have found that with the “best” series (which definition changes with time), each install can be read on its own without having to go back to square one.

    With the “very best” series, the same applies but they make you want to go start from square one.
    :)

  7. December 16, 2011 8:04 am

    The best of both worlds! Indeed. Thanks John.

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