I am working on Volume 2 of my YA fantasy, and am encountering the problem of all Volume 2's of anything: working in the backstory from Volume 1. How much does the reader need to know of what occurred before in order to understand what is occurring now? And, most crucially, when does he need to know it?
There are four choices here, none of them really good: (1) Put the backstory in a sort of Prologue or diary entry or some such thing, (2) Start with backstory in Chapter 1, disguised as current story through conversations, (3) Start with an exciting scene in Story Time and then put the backstory in Scene 2 as a critical flashback or, if you think you can get away with it, an eloquently written expository lump redeemed by wonderful prose, and (4) Drop in the backstory in small, easily digestible lumps and hope the reader can remember them all well enough to piece together the backstory even as story-time is progressing.
I have picked Door Number 4, but it's hard to know if it's working because, of course, I already know the backstory. After several drafts of Book 1, I know it ad nauseum. Therefore it's difficult to judge if I'm including not enough, too much, or just the right amount for a new reader to also know it. Where is Goldilocks when you need her?
The answer to this is a reader who has not read Volume 1. Eventually, I'll need to find one. But not yet. Thank heavens for that, because right now I'm too busy juggling fictional people to add a live one to the mix. This is why people hesitate to commit trilogy.