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Authors needing help > A question for readers of mystery series

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan (mysterywriter) | 201 comments Please put on your "Expert Reader" hat for this one!

In mystery series, some information is repeated from one book to the next. Character background, for example, or descriptions about locations, occupations, relationships, etc. That's very helpful when readers jump into a series somewhere after the first book.

My question to readers: what sort of details do you expect to see from one book to the next in a series? What's helpful? What's irritating?


message 2: by Heather L , Cozy Mysteries Moderator (new)

Heather L  (wordtrix) | 19656 comments Mod
Some background info from previous books in a series is helpful, but I find it irritating when that info "spoils" the plot -- and particularly the ending -- of a previous book.


message 3: by HJ (new)

HJ It's a problem authors of series find in every genre, I think - for those who know it's annoying to have a recap whereas for those who don't it's often difficult to make sense of one. I think it's important that the title makes it very clear that it's part of a series so people don't buy it by accident.

Some writers have a dramatis personae which they use to include information from previous books in a series, which I think works well. Others have a brief introduction which includes the type of information you mention. I'd much rather have one of these devices than have the author crow-barring in information via stilted conversations or long dense paragraphs in the main narrative.

Just make sure the relationships are clear - "his son-in-law", "my wife" etc..


message 4: by Feral (last edited Nov 24, 2013 12:04PM) (new)

Feral | 8 comments I only like enough information as is necessary to understand the current story. More can be implied by the way characters talk to each other, or shown by reactions with short explanations, but I'd rather get enough of a taste to make me want to read the previous books than an info dump of "the story so far".


message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan (mysterywriter) | 201 comments Hj wrote: "It's a problem authors of series find in every genre, I think - for those who know it's annoying to have a recap whereas for those who don't it's often difficult to make sense of one. I think it's..."

I agree! I recently picked up a book that was the 4th or 5th in a series and was baffled by the relationships. The characters kept referring to one another as "Mother" and "Sister" and the like, even though the "Mother" for example was the wife!


❂ Murder by Death  (murderbydeath) I just finished a series where the author filled information in only as needed, within context of the scene or situation. I found that less annoying that the info dump you sometimes see at the beginning of each books.

I think it's only at it's most irritating when I read book in a series back-to-back. If it's been a year, the recap can be helpful in reminding me about who is who and getting my head back into it.

Although even then I'm not a fan of the info dump all at once. As much as I enjoy the Stephanie Plum books, I always skip the first page or so of every book, because it's just the same old introduction again and again.


message 7: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Jarvis (screalwriter) | 154 comments I try to work in a bit about the character's past, what they do for a living , and what their relationships are soon in each book, but the most I'll say about what happened is something like, "I can understand how you feel given what happened last time." No spoilers.


message 8: by Mary C (new)

Mary C (marymaryalwayscontrary) | 110 comments Ditto what Heather said. Don't spoil the murderer of earlier books.


message 9: by JoAnne (new)

JoAnne McMaster (Any Good Book) | 55 comments What I DON'T like is when you pick up one in a series - I did this recently and I think it was book 6 or 7 - and it can't be read as a stand alone. I couldn't read more than 40 pages because it kept referring back to tactics that were in other books, but never said what they were! The author just assumed that I had read all the other books. Never assume. That is the advice I give you.


message 10: by ஐ Briansgirl (Book Queen)ஐ, Cozy Mysteries Group Owner (new)

ஐ Briansgirl (Book Queen)ஐ (briansgirlkate) | 1576 comments Mod
I agree with JoAnne. Each book should be stand alone enough to be read and understood even if you've not read the rest of the series. (Sometimes when I pick up a book, I'm unaware it even is part of a series.)

Some background info on the main character must be repeated in each book, in case you haven't read any previous books, just so you know who they are and what they do for a living. It doesn't have to be that detailed, but enough someone isn't totally in the dark. If they want all the details, they need to read the first in a series.

And especially for mystery series, if I read out of order, you cannot give away the ending, ie who-done-it from a previous book. Otherwise, I have no reason to seek out and read a book you've just spoiled the ending of.

I love when characters develop over a series, wether it be friendships, relationships, jobs, etc. However, if something so important happened in a previous book I'm unaware of as a reader, say someone got engaged, divorced, died, etc. and it's pertinent to the story, then someone needs to inform the reader of the current book somehow.


message 11: by ஐ Briansgirl (Book Queen)ஐ, Cozy Mysteries Group Owner (new)

ஐ Briansgirl (Book Queen)ஐ (briansgirlkate) | 1576 comments Mod
❂ Jennifer (reviews on BookLikes) wrote: "Although even then I'm not a fan of the info dump all at once. As much as I enjoy the Stephanie Plum books, I always skip the first page or so of every book, because it's just the same old introduction again and again."

I've just reread that entire series, back to back, and her recaps don't bother me any. One reason is that it only takes up the first page, or a couple paragraphs. Just enough to let you know her name, occupation, her employer and coworkers (only 3), and the 2 men in her life. Because it's so short, it doesn't bother me. (The holiday in-between books with Diesel drove me nuts! And hated that Plum Spooky was a full novel, without an ending!!! It kick-started her spin-off series starring Diesel. But I digress, that's another discussion entirely.)


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan (mysterywriter) | 201 comments Nancy wrote: "I try to work in a bit about the character's past, what they do for a living , and what their relationships are soon in each book, but the most I'll say about what happened is something like, "I ca..."

Nancy, as a reader, who do you think handles repeat information best in a series?


message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan (mysterywriter) | 201 comments JoAnne wrote: "What I DON'T like is when you pick up one in a series - I did this recently and I think it was book 6 or 7 - and it can't be read as a stand alone.The author just assumed that I had read all the other books. Never assume. That is the advice I give you. ..."

I agree, JoAnne! I actually started this discussion because it's come up several times in our local readers' group and there was no clear consensus. (To be fair, many of them usually read stand-alone books). I shared my own thoughts but wanted to give them more than just my own opinion as a writer. Hence my call to the GR community...


message 14: by Nancy (new)

Nancy (gr-nancy-a) | 270 comments I agree with Feral & Briansgirl. Well said.
They Have to stand alone or it is just too annoying.


message 15: by HJ (new)

HJ The first who comes to mind is Ngaio Marsh, who has the same detective (Roderick Alleyn) throughout, and he is always helped by his sidekicks Fox, Bailey and Thompson. Alleyn and Fox age over the series, and get promoted. Alleyn gets married to Troy and has a son Ricky. But each book can be read entirely in isolation from the others. The main focus is on the crime and although Alleyn is fully-rounded and very recognisable, we never get any type of info-dump. You just pick up that he has a wife when he rings to tell her that he's going to be late, etc.

Soem of the books focus more on his private relationships e.g. when he meets Troy, and when he asks her to marry him. But then another will barely mention her. She is the lead character in two: Clutch of Constables and Tied Up In Tinsel.

So Ngaio Marsh really makes no concessions for the reader in that she doesn't fill in the back-story, but then you don't need it to be able to understand the story, and each book can be read on its own and make perfect sense.


message 16: by Susan (new)

Susan (mysterywriter) | 201 comments Wonderful comments, everyone--thanks so much!

I'm compiling all the feedback to share with the local group. I know they'll appreciate your comments.

~Susan


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