Today I have the awesome Tess Makovesky talking to us about Reusing characters. Please feel free to comment at the end of the post. Thanks again to Tess for taking the time to share her thoughts.
Re-using characters: skilful repackaging or excess baggage?
These days we’re encouraged to be green with almost everything. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the modern mantra, and quite right too in this age of dwindling resources and ever-increasing waste. But can the same thing apply to characters in fiction?
I’ll come clean straight away and admit I hardly ever write sequels. Partly this is because I have so many new ideas buzzing round that I don’t really have time to re-visit old stories. Partly it’s because most of my stories finish with a twist, and writing anything more would be too much like re-wrapping a Christmas present and expecting the recipient to be just as excited second time around. It doesn’t really work.
However, every now and again a character grabs me by the, um, throat. Either I develop a soft spot for them, or they would fit just as well somewhere else. Take Justine, the young car thief in ‘Wheel Man’ (published in Drag Noir from Fox Spirit). She’s feisty, go-getting, and not above taking things into her own hands, and I happen to like her. Added to which, she’d be just perfect in my latest work-in-progress, where a bag of money gets transported round Birmingham, mostly inadvertently, in the hands of a group of disparate criminals all intent on their own nefarious ends. Someone drives off with the money in their van; someone else steals the van. And Justine instantly sprang to mind.
She comes ready prepared, in a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ kind of way. I don’t have to waste time inventing her backstory or thinking up new and unique physical attributes. And it’s such a neat way of tying a published story in to a new piece of work, with all the marketing benefits that could bring.
However, like most things in life it’s never quite as simple as you think it will be. I sat down and dashed off half a chapter featuring Justine, but the more I wrote the slower I got. Something, somewhere, just didn’t feel right. It took me a couple of days to figure out what, but basically the biggest problem is that not all my readers will know who or what she is. For that reason I felt I had to stuff her entire backstory into the first chapter she appears in, and as I write in short chapters, that created all sorts of issues with the pacing. Suddenly what had been a fast-paced, pared-down piece of work became flabby, with long passages where Justine mused about what had happened to her in ‘Wheel Man’.
Of course, I could just weed all that stuff out, but there are two problems with that. Firstly, anyone who isn’t familiar with ‘Wheel Man’ won’t have a clue who Justine is and therefore her motives may not ring true. Second, there doesn’t seem to be much point re-using the character at all unless I can actually refer to past events. I could just as easily invent someone new, not a car thief necessarily but someone with a need to steal a van.
I suspect that, like most things in fiction writing, there’s no right or wrong answer, and it’s something I’m going to have to muddle through by myself. But I wonder how writers who feature the same characters in lots of different stories and/or novels cope. Is there a modern mantra for re-using characters, as well as for recycling the trash?
Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep.
Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines, including ‘Exiles: An Outsider Anthology‘ (Blackwitch Press), ‘Drag Noir‘ (Fox Spirit), and ‘Rogue‘ (Near to the Knuckle).
You can follow her ramblings (both literary and literal) at her blog: http://tessmakovesky.wordpress.com/ .