Having recently completed my own writing challenge, namely finishing a series of fantasy books that I set about commencing six years ago, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect upon the journey. Before you worry that this’ll turn into a mawkish post about what I learned about myself, and the industry, and all the wondrous people I’ve met (I have, but that’s not what I’m blogging about), console yourself with the title of the post. The Story So Far…
One of the difficulties of writing a six book series is deciding what to put into each book with regards the prior events. The problem spirals as the sheer complexity of events expands throughout the epic. Now, not being a vastly successful mainstream author, it’d be unlikely that anyone would pick up my series half way through, although possible. And the books themselves are meant to be a part of a series, not standalone with a common thread/ milieu running through. Yet, given the books came out roughly one a year, I don’t flatter myself that my readers are so obsessed with my work that they remember very last detail from the prior one… I know I don’t!
When I began editing and rewriting sections of book two to cope with the fact it had originally being the last 40% of a mega-volume one (for those that don’t know, Darkness Rising 1 and 2 were originally Dreams of Darkness Rising, and clocked in at Tolstoy length, so was split) I began considering my ‘story so far’ options. Option 1 is some slightly clunky prose between characters where they reminisce and ruminate on recent events to the degree that the reader can catch up. That’d read like…
Emelia smiled wrly at Jem. “It’s funny to think that my latent Wild-magic powers were so successfully manifested at the time you and Hunor sneaked into Lord Ebon-Farr’s rooms, fought that hidden Air-mage, and procured that darned blue crystal that turned out to be part of a prism of power.”
“And all the stranger that that would then lead to Ebon-Farr’s niece, Lady Orla pursuing us across to Azagunta and capturing us, before flying to Thetoria, fighting a demonic humour, and setting Aldred on a course of investigation that would lead him far away.”
With a flicker of nostalgia, Emelia began to recall all the events that had lead up to that fateful day…
AAaaaarrrggghh! Stop, just stop. No-one talks like that out with TV fantasy series. Yet it’s slightly preferable to the… ‘Story so Far’ info-dump that by book six would run to eight blooming pages!
It was our own literary goddess Alison DeLuca who edited Darkness Rising Book 2, and when faced with the info-dump story so far section I’d written to start the book, she got her virtual red pen, drew a big line through the forty paragraphs, and simply commented ‘we’re writers, we can find better ways of doing it than that.’
Six books, five ‘story so fars’ and because of the plotlines and structure, several disparate groups and POVs , often in ignorance to one another. How to maintain originality…?
Well, here were my top five:
1. The Dream Play (book 3: Secrets)
Emelia, whose dreams are so significant to the plotline, and who through dreaming becomes linked with the main protagonist , Vildor, recants a ‘story so far’ by dreaming she is watching a play.
I know this place. It is a hall of deception, and for this I am glad. For all here wear cloaks of secrets, which wrap around their souls with the strength of iron.
I am seated in the decayed stalls, and before me the first Act has commenced. At my side sits Emebaka. She holds my hand with her own tiny scaled one. Her eyes glitter like diamonds in the winter sun. I make to speak, but she shakes her head. The dream must command my attention. My wayward mind needs order—I need to reflect on all that has passed.
There are children on the stage, stuttering their lines like nervous suitors. The faded backdrop is of the Splintered Isles. A man is taking a sack of gold, and the children are wailing as they are carried off stage.
My father is selling me. To the Eerians.
No more spoilers!!!
2. The Prayer (book 4: Loss)
In this ‘story so far’ the knight, Sir Unhert, offers a prayer for his companion, Aldred. This allows a reflection on their actions, and the second ongoing plotline in the series.
Blessed Torik, hear my prayer.
I have never been a devout man. I placed my faith in the strength of steel and the might of griffons, yet this day I ask for your forgiveness in this matter, and your aid. There is one I hold dear who lies dying before me, every passing day taking more of his vitality away, stolen like a thief in the dark.
And though we are far away from the majestic peaks of Eeria, and your great temples in Coonor, I know that my prayer will carry on the four winds, across the ravines and gullies of the Emerald Mountains, to your omniscient ears.
3.The Crystals (book 5: Broken)
This one was quite random: the crystals, the focus of the quest and the goal of both Vildor and Jem, begin discussing the current situation. I was proud of this one, as it was fairly off the wall, and I think worked well.
That, and more. We must understand if we are to prevail. We must understand if we’re to be whole again—our four primary facets, and our newer darker aspect.
Then I shall go first, sister. For is it not the wind that drives the water, the wind that fuels the fire? I was first to be found, two centuries from when we were cast asunder by the jealousy of a son.
The emperor who bore me, whose blood is barely dry?
Hush, brother, let our sister speak. Let her tell you how she came to be here in this desert of flame.
4. Words (book 6: Redemption)
This was a tiny bit of a cheat, as I used a character from a prior book (Orla’s old flame, Muben) as a storyteller, who learns of the historic events and their precursors by meeting a goddess. Very Greek. I figured by book 6 most readers would just want a recap of key events that are relevant to the finale.
Words. Words as keen as a magnate blade, or as dull as a mace. They can freeze a man’s heart, or ignite his soul. And words… words are all I have.
When I was a young man I craved books. The intricacies of the script held such majesty, such power, that even before I could read them they made my spirit soar. Their wonder became my life, my livelihood, as I slipped the chains of my Eerian masters and took to the infinite roads of Nurolia.
The druids of Artoria, they carry their words on their flesh. Whorls and swirls of ancient scripture cover them like walking parchments. I often wonder if you took the contents of my skull and smeared it across the ground would it leak ink not blood. For words, dancing together in fables and tales, flow through me.
I sit watching as the fire peters out, my audience dwindling back to their farmsteads, I reflect upon one word. Ty Schen—that’s what they call me in Mirioth. It means ‘chronicle.’ They come from miles to hear the stories, the histories, and the legends. Yet once I had another name, one given to me by my late father, in the tongue of my homeland, the Sapphire Isles.
Oh, I know, I’m a tease… leaving you with that excerpt… of a recap! And finally, I used this device in couple of books…
5. The Journal (books 2 and 3)
Very similar to the letter idea (which I used in book 4, and turns up in a later book for someone else to read), I used the idea that some of my characters would write a journal as a recap device. It felt less contrived than the joking dialogue method I tried above, and served the purpose in earlier books where the plotline was perhaps easier to realistically summarise from a key character’s point of view.
It feels odd writing this in the pages of Livor’s journal, but it’s what he would have wanted, what he would have told me to do if we had had a chance to speak more in life.
Is there folly in conversing with the dead? Once I would have said so. Once life was simple—you lived life to the full, embracing every moment as if it were your last—and then you died. You died like my mother did, rotted by a wasting disease. You died like my father did, killed by his traitorous servant, a Dark-mage
So now I’m editing the sequel to my sci-fi/ steampunk series, The Nu-Knights, I’m toying with different ideas: files/ dossiers, diaries, confessions… The nature of the series makes it easier to do succinctly, and as a gradual dialogue in the story, so perhaps I’ll not need one for book two.
What about you other authors out there? How do you tackle it? And for the readers, is info-dump a big turn-off, or do you accept that fantasy=massive amount of summarised plot detail in first five pages?
And that length of post, probably needs a summary of its own!!!