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A series I am working on deals with an underlying storyline that progresses through each book. I'm afraid of confusing a reader if they decide to start reading a book somewhere in the middle of the series and end up being a bit lost as to what is going on. Because of this, I was wondering if it would be a good idea to have an introduction a few paragraphs long at the beginning of every book explaining the basic plot throughout the series. For example:

With the whole world viciously fighting against them, these three teenagers do everything in their power to gradually fix the planet's reopened wounds, while never giving up hope that they may one day see their loved ones again.

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If your books are not standalone, a "previously on..." intro is probably a good idea. You want just enough information to orient the reader without spoiling or rehashing the previous book(s).

Also, if your books are that complex, a list of major characters, their relationships, and other pertinent info at the end is often helpful too.

  • Just a small follow-up question. In the case of a "previously on..." intro, would you say "previously on..." or "previously in..." since it's a book? "Previously on..." just makes it sound more like a tv show. – K. Bailey Apr 21 '17 at 17:16
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    I was deliberately using the TV show wording, but as a joke. In a book you would choose whatever wording seemed appropriate for the story. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 22 '17 at 1:16
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Agree with James and Ipsum. I'll just add that, in addition to a glossary at the end with names and terminology, which can be very helpful for complex worlds, the way to do what you are talking about is via exploration of the characters feelings and associations when you meet them in the story.

So, instead of "while never giving up hope that they may one day see their loved ones again" as told from the perspective of a third-person omniscient, you can instead start the chapter with John, of of the heros, dreaming about his lost love and waking up with a start realizing that she is not there. You get the same info as a reader, but in a more personal and real way, and as part of the flow of the story.

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There's no real need to do this. I'm currently writing a fantasy series and I don't have an introduction. Instead, I've begun by introducing an important character connected to magic (this is in the first chapter), describing only his appearance and not connecting him to mysterious doings, so as to keep the reader interested.

Instead of introducing an entire world of magic to begin, I slowly provide information related to it as the series progresses. Again, this has the reader wanting more.

The main problem with an introduction is that your reader may skip it, as this is usually little more than an information dump. If your reader skips any part of your book for this reason, they will become confused (although that will be the reader's fault, the reader will still put down your book).

But if you feel you need an introduction, then go for it. Just make sure to keep it as interesting as the rest of the book.

Also, in addition to Lauren Ipsum's answer, I advise against a 'previously' intro. Again, information dump. What you might want to do instead is, for the first chapter (in every book of your series except the first), you can talk about what's happened in the previous books and connect it to what's happening in the new book. You should only retell the most important parts of the plot, to prevent reader confusion (for those who haven't read the previous books) but at the same time keep the reader interested, which is very important.

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    I absolutely hate it when I read a first chapter which re-introduces and recaps the plot of the previous books. Recaps should not be part of the action. That's why I said that a Previously On standalone intro reads better. The protagonists know who they are and they know what happened. In real life, nobody ever says "As you know, Bob, you, the lost heir to the throne, took your dearest friends through the mines of Girzan last week to try to find the sword which would reveal your true bloodline." It's obvious and boring. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 21 '17 at 9:34
  • I thought you weren't supposed to voice your opinion on this site? While I agree with that last bit, that isn't what I was referring to. Think JK Rowling: with each Harry Potter sequel, she had the reader dive into Harry's thoughts on past events. – James Apr 22 '17 at 10:29
  • Of course you're allowed to voice your opinion. You're not allowed to slag other people's opinions. And yes, I am referring to Harry sitting and thinking about the events of the previous books. Rowling has a lighter touch than most authors so it's less painful, but my point is that for 90% of series, there is no reason for a protagonist to be sitting around mentally or verbally recapping the last six months (etc.) to the people who lived through it with him or her. It is often, but not always, clunky and obvious. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 22 '17 at 10:34
  • It would depend on how the information is provided. This is a 'show or tell' situation. Simply telling the information (e.g. 'He had lost his dad last year' or something like that) would be something clunky. But if you show (e.g. 'If father was still here, he would have a solution'), then that would not be so clunky, and another advantage is that you can withdraw some information to keep the reader guessing. – James Apr 22 '17 at 10:44

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