Tuesday 28 January 2014

Recapping - How to keep repetition from becoming repetitive.

One topic that's been on my mind recently as I progress on with Broken Moon is how to approach the subject of recapping. Since this is technically the second book in a series it draws pretty heavily on the events of the previous novel to inform the actions of one of the main characters, but at the same time I don't intend for the story to be a direct sequel. If I want Broken Moon to work as a standalone a certain amount of recapping is going to be necessary, but how does an author approach that without either boring readers of the previous book, or confusing newcomers to the series by not giving them enough information?

I had a few ideas in mind when I started this, but I think the most critical part of an extensive recap is this: It needs to come from a different perspective.
A series of events retold in exactly the same tone and voice as they were originally is going to become repetitive, but if the author can put a new slant on those events then they can be made fresh and interesting again even to readers who have heard it all before. This also works the other way around, giving readers of the new book a differing experience when they go back to read the old one, rather than feeling like they've already been spoiled on everything.
As a side note, I also like to keep spoilers as minimal as possible. Of course, you have to get into pretty dramatic spoiler territory when recapping critical events, but I like to keep the details vague enough that the reader only gets a general outline rather than every bit of the nitty-gritty.

So! The easiest way to do this is to recap from the perspective of a different character. Wild Instincts was told explicitly from the perspective of the protagonist Lyssa, whereas Broken Moon frequently gets inside the head of Cyan, the previous book's antagonist. While there were mild hints at Cyan's motivation scattered throughout the first novel, he was by and large a clear bad guy with very few redeeming qualities. When Broken Moon gets to the stage where Cyan retells his version of events, my plan is to go into specific detail about how and why he made those choices, and while his actions won't exactly be redeemed by this new information, they will (hopefully) at the very least seem much more understandable and sympathetic.

On top of this I'm also making sure not to reveal too much information too early on. This serves a dual purpose in the story for both new readers and people who are familiar with the previous book.
Despite being frequently pestered by the heroine April to talk about his past, Cyan is understandably reluctant. For new readers this creates an air of dark mystery around his character, and a dangling question waiting to be answered, with a whole lot of anticipation and tension behind it based on the small hints he drops about how sinister his backstory is.
For people who have read Wild Instincts, however, they know all too well what Cyan's done and what he's capable of. They realise that April's perception of him as a good and kind person may not be entirely accurate, and that the tensions between him and the other characters might well boil over into something much darker. It dangles another question in the air for this group of readers; rather than "What happened in Cyan's past?" they instead have to consider "What will happen when April finds out the truth about him?"

So that, to me, is how you should go about recapping past events in a novel. There's always a very pressing urge to just rattle off necessary information as an author; to fill the reader in as thoroughly and directly as possible so that they're all caught up and ready to enjoy the fun part coming up next.
The trick, of course, is making that catch-up period fun as well rather than it just being an expository information dump, for both old and new readers alike.

I'm sure there are other techniques that can be used to put a new shine on recapping (and I thoroughly look forward to giving them some thought in the future!), but for now this is the method I'm going to be aiming for.

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