Previously, on Princess Trek…

So I’m working on book four of a series, and I’m struggling with is how to provide all of the background information.  I’ve now got 300,000 words worth of “what came before.”  Not all of that information is relevant to the current book, but some of it is.  So how do you work that in?

There’s the “Our story so far…” approach, where the author presents a prologue that sums up the previous books.  I can see where that might be useful in an ongoing story, like book four of Lord of the Rings or part two of a Star Trek episode.

But personally, I’m not too fond of the Prologue of Summarized Backstory, and my books are a bit more episodic, meaning I don’t think there’s a need to sum up everything that’s come before.

With the goblin books, I went for the silly.  Book two had a song to the tune of Sweet Home Alabama, which summed up the events of Goblin Quest.  Book three opened with “The Recitation of the Deeds of Jig Dragonslayer,” a quasi-religious goblin-style list of events.

That doesn’t really work for the princess series, which doesn’t have the same kind of goofy humor.  So I’ve been taking the approach that I’ll just write the story and include background info when and if it becomes important, just as I would with any other information.  Even with a brand new story, there’s always “what came before,” and the author has to work that in.

But how much do I have to tell?  Do I assume most everyone has read the first books, and I don’t have to explain — again — where Danielle’s sword came from, or what happened to Charlotte, or who Captain Hephyra is?  Or do I assume there will be new readers which each book, meaning it’s important to add a paragraph or two to explain various details to the new readers … even though people who’ve read the rest of the series might roll their eyes and say, “I know this already.  Get to the good part!”

The latter is a complaint I’ve seen in a few reviews lately.  Not a major criticism, but a minor annoyance, especially for people who picked up all three books and read them at once.

I don’t know.  It’s important to me that the books stand alone as much as possible, so that anyone can pick up any of my books and start reading.  For that reason, I’m thinking it’s important to include some explanation for things from prior books that come up in this one.

Maybe the trick is to find a new way to present the same old information, so that even people who know the background will be entertained, or at least not bored.  Or maybe I shouldn’t worry about explaining, trusting that those gaps won’t throw new readers out of the story.  That they’ll either figure it out from context, or if they’re worried, that they’ll go back and get the earlier books.

What do you think?  Examples, both good and bad, are more than welcome.