Whoa! Late post today! Don’t worry, it wasn’t because I was slacking off. The opposite, actually. See, during that month-long burn to get Colony published and into eager reader’s hands (many of whom are now enjoying it immensely, going by the high-quality reviews that have already rolled in), I skipped a lot of sleep. Quite a lot. We’re talking 10-12 hours spent a day working on Colony regularly, plus everything else my life had. So I was, for almost a month, getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night.
Now I’m catching up. Fighting off a cold, letting the web-eyed feeling go away. The like. So today I slept pretty late. I’m not going to apologize for it; I needed it.
But since I’ve touched on the topic, here’s my shameless plug reminder to go buy a copy of Colony! It’s currently collecting a nice set of 5-star ratings and reviews across Amazon and Goodreads! Not only does it help support yours truly, but you’ll be getting an awesome Sci-Fi read to enjoy!
Right, enough plugs, as I’m sure you’re all off to buy Colony now. Once you’ve done that, you can come back and read today’s Being a Better Writer post. Which starts in the next paragraph (but first, as a quick aside, if you’re a long-time reader of BaBW but not of my books, consider being one who reads both. After all, if I can write this much good advice on writing, wouldn’t it be worth your time to see if I’ve delivered on that?).
So, balancing a returning character. Many of you are probably wondering what exactly I’m referring to when I say that. It could be taken a couple of ways, I’ll admit. So let me explain in a bit more detail. Today’s topic comes as a response to a reader question from long ago, one given in response to a post on dealing with overpowered and underpowered characters. This reader had a curious thought with regards to both that subject and the idea of continual, advancing character development: Considering that characters do (or at least should) continue to advance, develop, and grow, how does a writer keep them from becoming overpowered if they use them in a sequel work? Or, as they phrased it, how do you keep legacy characters (or characters from earlier in a series) from becoming too much for the story to take and overwhelming it?
Okay, some of you are nodding, but for those of you who are nodding but only halfway certain of what I just said, let me explain in a bit more depth through use of an example. Say you write a book. You’ve got a cool protagonist that starts out fairly inexperienced against whatever foe you’ve got, but by the end of the story they’ve “leveled up” and gained enough skills and talents to be able to defeat the antagonist.
Cool. Edit it, print it, sell it.
Then you decide you want to work on a sequel. Except … you can’t write the same book twice. Why? Because if you throw that character into the same scenario as the last one, or even a similar one … guess what, you’ll have a pretty short book. Because they’ve already overcome those trials and struggles. They know how to succeed.
So, now the obvious answer is to escalate the threat/antagonist the same way you’ve escalated the protagonist, right? Well … maybe. You can only do this for so long before the story starts to hit DragonBall Z-levels of ridiculously competent/overpowered characters. Endless escalation makes for … Well, it makes things start to become ridiculous fairly quickly.
And that’s the query that was proposed by the reader. They wanted to know how they could use these “Legacy Characters” without breaking the flow of their sequel. How they could keep things tough and difficult for their protagonists while still using the same protagonists in some manner (even having them as a side character can still enable them to solve a lot of problems).
So today, that’s our topic. How to bring back a character in a later work with all their skills and talents … but not have them break our story.