February 22, 2020, 07:32:48 AM

Author Topic: How Frequently Should a Writer Remind Readers of what Happened Earlier?  (Read 1253 times)

Offline NedMarcus

How frequently should a writer remind readers of what happened earlier in the series? I find paragraphs that recap earlier incidents or information irritating, and I often write with the assumption that readers remember what happened before, and that they remember who the main characters of previous books were.

My editor prefers that I include reminders, and I've so far agreed to include minimal reminders.

How important do you think this is? How do you react to constant reminders as a reader?

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Frequency and prominence of reminders should probably support the reason for the reminders. Are you intending to prevent unwelcome surprise, for one example? Or are you trying to remind them WHY char X is deciding to do something?

My point is that if the reminder is about plot (equipment on hand, skills someone has, etc.) that should short and shallow probably. If it is about character (context of actions and statements, or whatever) that should be more subtle, and needing reminders could mean more characterization is needed. There are many other variances, and I advise you consider differing approaches to serve each.
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Offline ScarletBea

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I'm with Gem, but my absolute favourite is no reminders at all inside the books: add a couple of pages at the beginning with the key points of what happened in the previous book(s)!
(see Mark Lawrence or Adrian Tchaikovsky)

This way:
- If people are reading them back-to-back they can skip that
- It doesn't annoy anyone
- You never know what people remember or not, so you could be including reminders that people remember well (and so annoy them), while missing other things that you assumed no one would forget, but they did, and so something gets broken in the plot
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Offline Neveesandeh

I hate reminders. I'm usually pretty good at remembering events in a series even if I read the last one years ago. If they have to be put in, a few recap pages at the beginning might be the way to go. Or characters could mention a few things if its relevant to the conversation. But stopping the plot to explain things I already know really bugs me. It's the worst form of infodump imaginable.

Offline Peat

Once upon a time I'd have said no reminders needed.

But after reading advice from other authors... yeah, use reminders.

The trick is how.

"As you might remember Bob" recaps are not fun.

But something like the tags that Butcher uses for characters in the Dresden Files, to quickly jog our memory on who this person is, those are mostly unobtrusive and add colour - while also reminding the author.

An off-colour joke about something that happened previously can be both reminder and legitimately funny line.

The hero brooding about the killer they're chasing can be a reminder and good character insight/dramatic monologue.

Reminders and callbacks are just another form of exposition. Treat them like any other form of exposition and it'll work fine

Offline cupiscent

What Peat said. :)

The greater the delicacy of your reminders, the better they work, both in terms of not irritating readers who do remember, but also in terms of layering up the resonances for the scene at hand. Sure, I might remember that X and Y had a bitter duel at the end of book 1, but the right sort of references to it later on will make the emotional impact of their next meeting / working together / whatever even stronger.

Perhaps think of it not as "remember what happened" as "remember how you/they were feeling when it happened".

Offline NedMarcus

Thanks everyone! I'll probably stick with some minimal and subtle reminders.

Offline Peat

Cupiscent's point about layering on the resonances is a fantastic one. Those reminders can really heighten anticipation.

Also, and here is a point where you mileage will vary, but there's been times when post-feedback I've realised that in order for it to feel subtle to the reader, I've got to feel like I'm hitting them round the head with it.

Offline NedMarcus

I've realised that in order for it to feel subtle to the reader, I've got to feel like I'm hitting them round the head with it.

 ;D ;D ;D