Flashbacks, Memories, and the Tricks of Telling a Series

I’ve written several “sequels” at this point. Saboteur comes after Sedition and Dead Magic is after Witch-Born and, starting next month, Dead Weight will be the sequel to Tapped.

Now, there are some tricks I’ve learned to telling a series and since I just had to implement a new one I figured it was time to start sharing. Because I also read books that come in a series, like the Glamourist series by Mary Robinnette Kowal or the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I can also see how other authors have gone about this and have sometimes used their methods.

The trick of a series is understanding that the previous book you’ve written – if, of course, you’re dealing with the same characters – is all backstory now. Readers who pick up the third book in your series may eventually go back to read the first, but they’re not aware of what happened to your characters back then.

Conversely, Readers who have been with you from the beginning know all about what’s happened and can quickly become bored if you’re putting too much of that first book into the second.

How then are we to keep things fresh while also giving important information from the first book?

Well, first let me say that this is ALL ABOUT CRAFT.

This is the moment when an author can truly shine, so don’t just hurry through this. Sit down, take a deep breath, and focus on your craft.

Here are some tricks that I’ve learned so far.

  1. Look at the former book through the eyes of a different POV. Take one scene from your previous book and tell it from the point of view of someone else who was there. This gives new perspective to that scene and will inevitably show something new to your readers about that moment.
  2. Try hard to avoid the flashback, or at least the lengthy flashback. If you’re going to use a flashback, use it in a real way. We don’t remember all of what happened three weeks ago, we only remember it in snippets. Time will cloud it, and whatever happened is going to effect us differently now as opposed to then.
  3. Let your character re-tell the story out loud to someone who hasn’t heard it yet. What they choose to say, or not say, will be just as important as the scene itself from the former book. And I don’t just mean; “She told him about how Porrex had attempted to have her son assassinated.” I mean really let them tell the story.

There are a few other ways to go about this, but I think the most important thing to remember is that your characters are different in each book. Every story needs to have them growing a little bit more, have them learning something because if they aren’t then you’re just telling the same book in a different way.

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