Series recap in romance

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
Lately, many genre writers took to writing series, three, four, five books, sometimes up to twenty or more. Some authors write series that follow the same protagonists throughout, while others, especially in the romance genre, concentrate on large families or groups of friends and produce one book per person.

Often, when you read any but the first book of the romance series, the author would go into a recap mode in the beginning. She might start a novel with some sort of a gathering, with all the previous protagonists of all the previous books in attendance, plus their growing families, and would recount what happened in all the previous stories, enumerate all the husbands and wives and children that have sprouted since book number one, even describe their clothing and eye colors.

When you get to a book number five or six, such backstory might take one quarter of the novel or even longer before the real story of the current book even starts. And the true kick is that none of those summarizations are even remotely relevant for the tale about to unfold. All the previous characters in the current story are placeholders and interchangeable.

This phenomenon – sort of The House That Jack Built in the form of a novel – is mostly present in romance series, and I wonder why and when did it become a fad. Those pages of the series synopses take away the word count from the story. They are boring for the readers familiar with the prior books and absolutely unneeded for anyone else. Why do the writers, even good writers, keep doing it?

What do you think?

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21 Responses to Series recap in romance

  1. Isn’t backstory to be sprinkled throughout? Who wants an info dump at the beginning. We’re told not to do it.

  2. Denise Covey says:

    I’m pretty much with you on this Olga. However in writing my series, I begin in the main character’s head, how they left things in the previous ending, and how they’re feeling now that such and such has happened and where they’re going from here. Like the GMC for the whole book. Not taking up much space at all. Often readers pick up Book Two or Three etc then go back to read Book One so I think authors need to drop in some backstory. But certainly no more than they deem necessary.

  3. My series, while not specifically romance, follow multiple characters, but I certainly don’t get them all together in the beginning to explain it all. That sounds really boring.

  4. Rosemary Reader and Writer says:

    That’s why publishers want books with sequels.

  5. patgarcia says:

    Happy New Year!
    I like reading a series and the ones that I do read don’t have this problem, so I’ve never given this much thought.
    Have a great start in the new decade.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  6. emaginette says:

    I’m assuming here–yeah that could be bad–that they are treating it like a standalone, instead of one of many in a series. Or was the question rhetorical? 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  7. Allie Bock says:

    I like series, but I hate the recaps. Sometimes I dont care what happened in the previous books. I like the series that build on the setting not necessarily the same characters.

  8. cleemckenzie says:

    Could this be Series Unaware Syndrome? I have no idea except TV series do that kind of recap, and that may be polluting the written romance genre.

  9. Natalie Aguirre says:

    I need reminders when reading books in a series but don’t like a recap of what we should remember in the first chapters. It is much more effective when sprinkled in.

  10. yvettecarol says:

    It feels like “author intrusion” to me. I far prefer backstory to be lightly spread across a story and even then, not overdone.

  11. Juneta says:

    I have been reading about that some and peppering the stuff you need the reader to know in an active voice, setting, dialogue, and a vehicle to move the story forward is the goal over the info dump. And sometimes I read if the reader does not lose anything in the story then better not to rehash it. They go back and read and find it out. This is just stuff I have been reading about and trying to keep in mind when writing. I’m a little late making the rounds. Happy IWSG!

  12. Rebecca Douglass says:

    Sounds like awful writing, to me! I’m with Alex–backstory is to be woven into the story, as needed and only as needed!

  13. Erika Beebe says:

    I’m not sure Olga. I have stumbled across it myself and have wondered the same thing. My best guess is a summary for those that haven’t read the previous books? Just in case they have new readers following them?

  14. I’ve wondered the same thing and I’m not sure why they do it. The only time I’d recap something is if it came up in the next story or it was important to the next story. Otherwise, it’s not worth repeating.

  15. Jemi Fraser says:

    Most of the romance series I read tend to avoid that by having different couples featured in each story. You’ll have bits of other stories dribbled throughout, but no big info dumps or long & boring synopses – thankfully!

  16. jmh says:

    That sounds like something I’d skim through. Ugh.

    I’m reading a cozy mystery series right now, and she doesn’t do any of that, thankfully. That would drive me crazy.

  17. Hi, Olga! Do you what author is rrrrreally good at series writing and sprinkles backstory along with implied history throughout the book without weighing down the story with infodumping? It’s Liz Kessler! Sure, Liz writes cute chapter books for children, but she’s gooood!

  18. I haven’t really run into this, but I don’t read a lot of romance. Has this always been this way, or is it because of how much it’s used in TV shows?

  19. Loni Townsend says:

    Huh. I hadn’t noticed, but then I don’t read many romances. Maybe the intention is so that people can jump into the middle of a series and not get lost without having read the books that came before?

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