Apologies all round

First, I really don’t have anything today.

Second, I said a while ago that I had got back to 2000 words/day, as long as they didn’t have to be good words. That failed as soon as I ran out of the plot in my head and had to stop and figure out what happens next. Because I know from experience that if I just write with no idea where I’m going, my characters will simply stand around exchanging witty (maybe) dialogue and doing nothing at all. Did I mention that I purely hate pantsing?

And finally, I think I owe an apology to the scriptwriters of Stargate: Atlantis for the extended rant on the show’s lack of explanium. See, I started watching this thing with no background other than the First Reader saying, “Hey, want to try another sf show after dinner?” So I kind of expected things to make sense from the beginning. Readers here pointed out to me that this was a sequel to a previous series which was itself a sequel to a movie. So it’s perfectly possible that there was any amount of handwavium and explanium that made the universality of English… well, at least marginally believable. (I still don’t get how the people from 10,000 years ago… oh, well.) Anyway, I’m enjoying the show much more now that I can tell myself, “There really is a logical explanation for all this, I just don’t know what it is.”

After all, I wouldn’t be happy if somebody reading, say, the 5th book of the Applied Technology series ripped it up and down for lack of explanation of some concept that I’d already beaten to death in the first four volumes.

It’s a general problem for series writers, isn’t it? How much background do you feed in to make the new book comprehensible, without boring to death those loyal readers who’ve been reading the series from the beginning?

Ideas?

18 comments

  1. so i got this idea and was going to pants it and … ugh. i can’t. There’s just too much stuff to do, just to keep thigns consistent.

    1. I think Lois McMaster Bujold handles the balance between moving the action forward and reminding the reader of what went before fairly well. Her characters frequently allude to events that happened in previous stories, without retelling the story. If you’ve read the previous story, you recognize the reference. If you haven’t, it’s just a bit of color.

  2. There has to be a balance. On the one hand, as someone who read 15 Harry Dresden’s in a row, I got really sick of the detailed descriptions of his car. Every. Single. Book. On the other hand, you have to figure readers forget things. Even loyal readers who have followed the whole series appreciate being reminded of who is who and what happened when it’s relevant to the current story. One of Taylor Anderson’s early Destroyermen books just started out with a massive data dump on what had gone before. I didn’t mind too much, but it was a little weird.

    My own rule of thumb is that every character gets re-introduced by a full up physical description. Previous events get thumbnails if they matter to the current story. After all, more than a thumbnail could be a spoiler, and if your reader started with book 3, you want to intrigue him enough to go read books 1 and 2.

    As for the logical explanations? That’s a tough one. It could fall into the category of Dresden’s car.

    And, agreed: Bujold does it really well.

    1. We also have to remember that trad-pub books come out a lot less frequently than do indies. So what is “oh come on, again in this book?” to binge readers can be a needed reminder in a trad-pub release schedule. *glowers at Particular Series* At least according to the editor.

      1. This is exactly why I think “preview of next book” should be removed when the next book is published. I want to press the “buy next in series” button and the author is making me page forward (and page forward and page forward) to get to it.

        No doubt some of you have benefited from that as even pressing “next” as fast as possible counts as KU pages read. It’s still annoying.

  3. Somehow I got the idea that descriptions and explanium (love it!) were clunky and to be avoided and there was all that angst about how to introduce the POV character’s appearance without disrupting immersion in the story. After all, people don’t actually think about their own appearance much and mirrors aren’t always handy.

    Now I’m starting to think that readers just want to know what everyone looks like and the sooner the better. And also that they don’t really care if it breaks strict POV limitations to just go ahead and tell the reader what the POV character looks like and what other characters look like. That descriptions or other explanations of how things worked, so long as it didn’t go on for pages, were there all along and probably won’t be noticed any more than I used to notice them.

    1. That sounds right to me. A friend told me the principle of Order of Information. It complements what you are saying. Tell us what the character looks like when she first appears, not after a little bit. Otherwise, we form our own ideas and a description in chapter 5 is jarring because it conflicts. (I experienced this myself, where I had started to picture one of the many bossy young women in Wheel of Time as a large blond. I think it was the second book where I learned she was a slim brunette. Oh, the discordance.)

      It’s probably even more important with setting. If setting matters, tell us all about it when first we go there. I regularly go back and add detailed descriptions to a first mention of a setting after I realize they matter.

  4. I tend to leave out information, and get fussed at for leaving it out. The problem of writing at white heat – I’m locked on plot and skip all the stuff I see clearly in my mind’s eye. Literally. My fingers are moving but my eyes don’t see the screen, exactly. (It’s probably yet another sign that my wiring’s not quite to code.)

  5. Oh, Atlantis is more than a sequel… thing is, Stargate is 3 films and three series all interwoven into One Huge Story, not entirely in linear order. The recommended order of viewing (some folks vary this slightly) so you know what the hell is going on:

    01- Stargate original movie
    02 – SG1 episodes 1.1 to 8.2
    03 – Atlantis eps 1.1 to 1.15
    04 – SG1 eps 8.3 to 8.20
    05 – Atlantis eps 1.16 to 2.1
    06 – SG1 eps 9.1 to 10.2
    07 – Atlantis 2.2 to 3.4
    08 – SG1 eps 10.3 to 10.12
    09 – Atlantis eps 3.5 to 3.19
    10 – SG1 eps 10.13 to 10.20
    11 – Stargate: The Ark of Truth (movie)
    12 – Atlantis eps 3.20 to 5.1
    13 – Stargate: Continuum (movie)
    14 – Atlantis eps 5.2 to end
    15 – Universe (all) — this is heavily built on what came before and won’t make much sense without it. **Unfortunately cancelled after the 2nd season, but it stopped at a reasonable point (if you know how they think) and were it ever revived, could go in several new directions.

    Out of all that, there’s only one episode (maybe two if you squint) that does not tie into other events, however indirectly; otherwise, *every* offhand remark or loose end *will* come back to haunt us. Stargate doesn’t have Chekhov’s Gun, it has Chekhov’s Whole Bloody Armory. 😀

    [**Even more unfortunately, the property was sold back to the original creators, who hate the TV series and want to retcon it out of existence, but so far nothing has come of that other than one not very good webseries.]

    If you can’t tell, it’s my favorite visual SF *ever*.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. I’m copying and saving it. I’ve never been able to make heads or tails of this universe and do want to watch it someday.

    2. Item 15 is wrong. Universe should be replaced with Infinity. Not at all the same continuity, but at least you won’t be trying to reconcile with SG1 and Atlantis.

    3. Thanks for the guide! I’d never have figured all this out for myself. Perhaps if we go back to the beginning the thing will make more sense to me.

    4. A fellow Stargate fan.

      Loved it so much that my series is inspired by the series, except I have mech suits, power armor, and the gates are work differently, but otherwise the same.

  6. Oh, there are plenty of bits that simply do not make sense in Star Gate.

    Because of how the thing was put together, some early design choices were locked in that make a consistent explanation challenging.

    The Earth side of the setting is a combination of secret history, and ‘all myths are actually aliens only pretending to be deities’. So the Asgard (good guys) are the Norse pantheon, and the Goa’uld (bad guys) are pretty much everyone else. And in the galaxy, some of the episode planets are based on Earth cultures. Except that the question arises of when, from a linguistic and cultural perspective, the colonizations would have needed to occur. How do the necessary disappearances of populations remain secret history? Why, if the Goa’uld must have have done it so recently, does the open history not have more evidence of their intervention?

    Canon secret history timeline goes basically aliens were kicked off the planet and the gate buried in Egypt thousands of years ago, and forgotten. And King Arthur was real, and Merlin was an alien. Then, in the nineties, this archeologist/linguist figured things out part way, was blacklisted by academia, then brought on board a secret military project to get the gate working. But then we start seeing the planets of the week, and there are eventually enough to start wondering.

    Atlantis worked a little bit better, because it could start the local worldbuilding with a consistent plan, with the Wraith, and more serials filed off one culture planets (or at least, single culture settled near the gate planets).

  7. I like a cafe scene, where someone is bitching to someone else about that thing that happened in the last book. Some of the Young Relatives around here love to bitch about cafe scenes in anime, so I thought I’d have some fun with it.

    Such as in current WIP, where Alice meets Kali The Destroyer at Starbucks and has to admit that yes, she did carve her initials into a Dark One’s supposedly invincible hide, and yes she did shoot him in the face too, just because.

    But it isn’t boring because right after that a werewolf shows up. ~:D

    “…my characters will simply stand around exchanging witty (maybe) dialogue and doing nothing at all.”

    Mine default to improper advances and propositioning each other. They never do anything else if they can avoid it. I’ve tried being stern with them, but they just laugh.

  8. Explainium is meant to be sprinkled a pinch at a time. If you use too much, it swells up into an InfoDump and your book looks like a Manticoran Navy torpedo manual.

    Weber buys his explainium by the skid. ~:D

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