BUT I’VE TOLD YOU THIS BEFORE
by Rob Lopresti
Some time ago I wrote in this very spot about trying to write a follow-up to one of my published short stories. Actually, I said I was trying to write “a sort of companion or sequel.” That was my way of saying that these two tales were not intended to be the beginning of a series.
In the case of my original story I had been determined not to turn it into a series. I wanted it to stand on its own. But now I had come up with a plot that complemented the first one and sort of completed it.
After that blog appeared I received an email from Neil Schofield, an author of many excellent short stories. He has given me permission to share part of it with you.
Some time ago, I seem to remember, you were talking about the problem of writing a sequel to a story of yours published some time before, years, in fact. How are you doing?
No — how are you doing it?
I’m somewhat in the same case. One of my AHMM stories seems to want a second episode, or at least the main characters do.
My main difficulty is — how do you get over the back story problem? Do you vomit it all out at the outset — this seems logical because back story after all explains how the characters got to where they are now.
But having spread the story out on the dining room table — which is what I do because I am terrible at reading a sheaf of pages, and that way I can look down on the whole thing like God and it helps me spot lumps and an empty bit there, that could be better filled with a section from here — the back story looks indigestible and plonking. So try again, this time feed the back story out in spoonsful as and when. Trouble here is, the as and when sometimes doesn’t turn up until late in the story when the piece of back story seems like a late addition. . . .
Do I have to explain the whole back story? After all, if the reader remembers the first, he doesn’t need back story. If he doesn’t, then he probably doesn’t care anyway.
A really good question (and boy, do I love the part about looking down like God on your manuscript). After a lot of thought I replied in part as follows:
What I concluded was this: ignore the fact that the character appeared in an earlier story. He or she has backstory that has to be told; lots of characters do. So you figure out the best place and time to tell it. (it could be several places and times). . . . My feeling is that if I get the story published one reader in ten will say, oh yeah, I vaguely remember that earlier one. The other nine won’t feel like they are missing anything.
Which is what I am doing in the sequel. I have to reveal the ending of the first story, because it explains the behavior of my hero. But you have to assume the reader doesn’t know or remember what happened. Of course, if the story was to appear in a collection of my stories (don’t hold your breath, you’ll hurt yourself) I would change that part.
The bigger question is whether the story will ever see publication anywhere. Fingers and toes crossed. . . .
But what about you, writers of the world? Any thoughts for Neil and me?