The other day, I posted a random tweet about how I wished there was a synopsis at the beginning of new books in a series. Based on the response I got, I’d say quite a few people agreed with me.
Why is it that TV producers don’t expect us to remember what happened last week without “Previously on” reminders, and yet book publishers expect us to remember the details of a story for a whole year or more? Can’t we have a “Previously in” in our books? Pretty please?
— Nicole Hewitt (@NicoleMHewitt) August 25, 2018
First off, I was excited for the fact that my tweet went mini-viral (well, at least, it’s by far the most attention one of my tweets has ever gotten). But I was also both amused and educated by the responses.
But what did I mean by these 280 little characters? Some people misunderstood my intent. There were quite a few responses like this one from @BedCraib:
They do have it – well good writers do – they work in the *previously* to the text of the new book – they remind the reader of what happened in the first over the first few chapters of the second, or where appropriate and if they do it skillfully you don’t notice.
I realize that most authors embed background info into the first few chapters of a book. My problem is that I’ve often forgotten so much that I spend those chapters puzzling through them, trying to put it all together, trying desperately to remember who Joe is and why he no longer works for Monster Hunters Inc. It tends to ruin my enjoyment of the beginning of the book because I’m so focused on figuring out what the heck is going on.
PLUS, having a quick synopsis at the beginning of the book that’s well-marked and easily skippable would be a win for binge readers as well. No more slogging through a bunch of exposition out of fear of missing something new. And no more awkward recaps. I thought @kalbzayn said it best with this hilarious reply to my tweet:
It would also minimize the amount of backstory infodumps authors would have to awkwardly do to catch the reader up on the previous books by saying things like, “I know you passed that class with a C last year because the werewolf kidnapped you the night before finals, but…”
Of course, there were plenty of people who told me I should just read the previous books again. (Some people were nicer about it than others—some people seemed downright insulted that I’d want a synopsis instead of just rereading. Others implied that if I didn’t remember the details of a book I’d read, I must not have liked it very much. They obviously have superior brains to mine.) While rereading sounds great in theory, I know from experience that it doesn’t happen. I have the best of intentions, but inevitably new books crowd out any room for rereads. Plus, I think I could spend a year just rereading books from all the series I still need to finish!!
Where to Look for Recaps
Several people pointed out places you can go to look for recaps. Here are a few that were mentioned to me or that I found, in case you’re looking:
- Recaptains – This has always been my go-to. I really should submit my own recaps to them for series I don’t want to forget!
- Book Series Recaps – I hadn’t heard of this one, and it’s a GREAT resource for YA series recaps.
- SERIESous Book Reviews – Both reviews and recaps!
- Fantasy Book Recaps – This looks to be mostly YA and hasn’t been updated since May, but still seems like a great resource.
- SparkNotes – This site seems to have mostly classics on it, but there are some other books on it too. (Especially if they might end up in a curriculum. For instance, I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower in their list, which isn’t a series, but there might be others that are.)
- Wikis – Lots of series have wikis that have been created for them. Unfortunately, fandom.wikia.com doesn’t have an easy to click category for books like it does for movies and TV, but you can just search for the series name in the search bar. You can also just do a Google search for the name of the series and “wiki” (AKA “Game of Thrones wiki”) and you might find others!
And lots of people gave me names of authors that do recap the books in their series. I can’t confirm that all of these are true synopses (rather than just reminders built into the narratives) because I haven’t read them all, but here are the books that were mentioned to me, if you’re looking for a recap-friendly series!
- Jay Kristoff recaps in his Stormdancer and Nevernight Series.
- Rachel Caine says she recaps in some of her series. (And she told me she’d make a video recap of Honor Among Thieves before Honor Bound comes out. How cool is that?)
- S.J. Pajonas does them in her Nogiku Series.
- Tad Williams was mentioned A LOT, so I think he does it with all of his series.
- Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series.
- David Weber, author of the Honor Harrington space opera series.
- Gini Koch.
- Brent Weeks’ The Lightbringer Series.
- Mark Lawrence’s The Grey Sister Series
- CJ Cherryh does this in some (but not all) of her series.
- Raymond E. Feist included an “Our story so far” in his initial Riftwar series.
- The Saga of Darren Shan has them.
- Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Series.
- R. Scott Bakker.
- Jim Butcher did it a lot with the first books of the Dresden Files.
- Victoria Dannan does this in her Knights of Black Swan Series.
- The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon) by Christopher Paolini.
- The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin … best recap ever at the start of book 2!
- The ILLUMINATUS! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.
- Stephen Donaldson did amazing recaps in his Thomas Covenant books.
- James Islington did this in his sequel to The Shadow Of What Was Lost.
- Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator seems to have a nice recap of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the beginning.
- Lots of people mentioned the Harry Potter books too (though I’m not sure that these have an easily skippable synopsis right at the top).
A couple of people also mentioned these creative ways authors included recaps:
- Jasper Fforde once had the main character go onto a tv chat show to talk about the events of the book previous in the opening chapters
- David Eddings’ novels would have a prologue pretending to be an in-universe history textbook covering the basics of the previous books
And here are a couple of other fun replies that I just want to share because they made me laugh:
“Previously on Lord of the Rings: Frodo and Sam hung out with a guy under a waterfall. Trees talked for seventy five chapters. Then they killed Saruman and Merry spent fifteen pages looking for pipeweed. Let’s hope nobody turns Faramir into an asshole in the film!”
And @KWilsonAuthor said (I think I actually know what book she’s talking about here.):
I just started book 3 of a series & the MC has amnesia, so neither of us remembers what happened in the last book
And I’ll end on that fun note.
Do you wish that series books had synopses in them? Do you know of books that do (besides the ones I’ve listed)? Or any other recap sites I missed? I want to know!