Tag Archive for: Confessions of A Dirty Blonde

Backstory – how much is too much? Confessions of a Dirty Blonde

This week’s question comes from a client. And it’s a damn good one.

Sequels: do you assume the reader has read the first book and launch right in? Or provide extensive recap for those new to the party? Or strike a happy medium?

My main man Mark Twain started what I believe to be the best American novel with, “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”

We could argue whether Huck Finn is actually a sequel to Tom Sawyer, but let’s acknowledge these central characters only exist in these two novels. Plus, Twain’s the shit.

His point? People were picking up this novel without reading the prequel. Acknowledging this possibility was all the time he spent rehashing Tom Sawyer’s story, yet Tom contributed quite a bit to Huck Finn.

Did it matter Huck was introduced in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? Not really. The characters were reintroduced throughout the novel, personality traits and habits written in where necessary. And Twain didn’t rehash the plot because it was insignificant to the movement of the second story. So done and done.

But some stories do need the background. For example, The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire wouldn’t make sense without the referencing the plot of the first book. Rehashing the previous plot too much will lead to boredom for returning readers. But avoiding an explanation may lead to confusion for new readers. Tough call.

Or is it?

Maybe the difference is in your storyline.

A good question to ask yourself:

Does the sequel build off of the plot of the previous book?

If not, you’re in luck. You can choose to play with redeveloping your characters in the second story, maybe even reinventing them.

In Huck Finn the answer is no, it doesn’t. So Twain didn’t include the recap, except for his tiny shout out.

If your story does build off of the previous plot, you probably need to consider how much retelling needs to happen. Yes, YOU love your characters so much you want to give away all the details. But is it necessary? In most cases, a chapter is enough to bring characters back to life. And, as always, showing is far more important than telling.

In Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins spends the first chapter reminding her audience of previous events and her heroine’s feelings without saying, “Katniss remembered the arena and the terrors of winning the Hunger Games.” She puts her instead on the verge of a victory tour, moving forward with the action and reminding us the protagonist is unhappy about something.

I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air. My muscles are clenched tight against the cold. If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor. I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods. I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.

The first paragraph could work for both audiences because she puts you in the middle of the action. Sure, the rest of the chapter describes important characters and events, but only raving fans would say you must read the first book to understand. Regardless, those fans are going to continue reading whether or not they appreciate the homage to the first book.

What’s important to note, however, is the similarity between these books. (Yes, between a classic American author and a contemporary young adult author). The writers chose to forgo a lot of review and simply thrust the reader into the middle of the action. While it’s true some recap is included, it’s thrown in throughout the books.

Harry Potter books are the same (although a chapter recap is usually included). So are memoirs like A Child Called It and its sequel, The Lost Boy.

So if we’re analyzing famous sequels, I think the pattern is for less.

Give me action. Give me the bare bones of what I need to know if I’m picking up your sophomore book as my first. But you don’t need to waste a lot of space on detailed background. It’s unnecessary and it leaves more room for fresh, engaging content.


Got writing questions for Capo? Email capo@rebeccatdickson.com. Confessions of a Dirty Blonde goes out every Thursday.

Why writing prompts are bringing sexy back

I got married two weeks ago (June 20th) to the love of my life. It’s important for you to know for a few reasons. First, because I’m saving all my lovey-dovey for him (the sass is in high gear) and second, because if you’re looking for me on Facebook my last name has changed. Instead, hit me up here and I’ll find you on the Interwebz. Don’t worry, you can keep calling me Capo. The guy understands I’m keeping my name for writing purposes, because it’s so much cooler.

With Word Sparks being released Tuesday, today is the perfect time to talk about the benefits of writing prompts.

While we’re busy making excuses about why we don’t answer writing prompts, we’re also wasting time we could be using to write our responses. Duh. Stick around if you need a few more reasons why writing prompts are bringing sexy back.

Beat writer’s block

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a writer say, “I always have ideas for the next book,” I’d be starving. And still envious of the five or six people I’ve actually seen write those words in a discussion of why they choose not to use prompts.

I think, though, even the writers who said they’re full of ideas can probably agree they still go through rough patches and still search for inspiration. Otherwise they’re full of shit. Maybe writing prompts aren’t their go-to source for creativity, but they shouldn’t be overruled.

A writing prompt can simply help you get words flowing again. If you’re struggling with a scene or chapter, with a blog post or content ideas, writing prompts will help you get past it. The worst thing a struggling writer can do is force themselves to stop writing until they’ve worked out whatever is challenging them.

Force yourself to step away from chaos and step toward another assignment, one to prove you are capable of writing. A prompt, maybe. Because they aren’t intimidating and you don’t have to show anyone your work. If you use a prompt and it gets words out, it’s done its job.

Hone your craft

Don’t think about using a literary device. Just use one. You might have a favorite, a trick you’re comfortable with throughout your work. But it’s probably getting old for your readers. If you practice using new ones in ‘throw away’ writing, you’re more likely to use a variety of devices. I love alliteration and I probably always will, but I’ve written enough to know I lean on it too much. So I mix it up. Repetition is effective and easy to use. So are anecdotes (like the one I just used).

Using the same devices isn’t a problem, if you’re only thinking of yourself. (Yep, there’s the sass.) When a reader devours your work, they pick up on your formula. If you continue writing in the same ways, you’re either going to become easy-to-imitate or boring. Both are not good.

Practicing using a variety of literary devices will make organically throwing them into your writing a hellavuh lot easier later on. So when it’s time to release new, fresh writing you aren’t sticking to the same tired habits.

Plus, the more you practice, and the more drills you use, the better you’ll become. It’s not likely you’ll see the effects of today’s work tomorrow, but your increase in skill will be much easier to spot if you commit to improving. Practicing different types of writing, no matter how closely related to your work, will help you.

A glass ceiling for creativity? No.

You are not the most creative you’ll ever be. Your brain has the ability to continue growing and expanding, to learn new tricks, much longer than formerly thought. If you think you’re creative enough, (The five of you who said, “Ideas aren’t the problem”) you probably need to use prompts more than those of us who can acknowledge a need for more, fresh ideas.

If you don’t want to grow, to become more creative and less snooze-worthy, I certainly hope you aren’t writing fiction. And while I sound a bit harsh here, it’s hard not to when the value of participating is so evident, yet people still refuse to help themselves. It’s like teaching high schoolers, if you will. And even that comparison isn’t exactly fair, as they LOVE the days I gave them creative writing prompts to complete. And they didn’t come up with nearly the amount of excuses some adults do.

The only downside to writing prompts is they take a little more of your time away. But, you’re in luck, because if you’ve ever made an excuse for why you don’t use them, or thought about using one but didn’t, you can simply replace the time you wasted with actually doing something. Those of you who are already on board are awesome, but you already knew that.

Go here to signup for Word Sparks writing prompts.


Got writing questions for Capo? Email capo@rebeccatdickson.com. Confessions of a Dirty Blonde goes out every Thursday.