Posted by: reneewildes1 | August 21, 2010

Those Recurring Characters In A Series

So someone cornered me the other day w/a comment about how bringing old characters from previous books into a new story farther into the series timeline is “lazy writing.” It “takes up word count” and “doesn’t add anything new.” Now I posted that little reality on facebook and had several interesting replies, mostly about enriching the depth of the world-building, and how nice it was to see “where they’re at now.” One person stated she looks for series for that reason – that she can stay with the same characters and watch them grow and develop over time.

My points exactly.

Now, I’ve done snippets from Duality as memories, mentioned in Hedda’s Sword (Cianan), Lycan Tides (Trystan) and Dust of Dreams (Benilo). But because each man was in a different place and played a different role in the battle and the aftermath, their memories were different, and they were affected differently. What came before affects how they react to the current situation they found themselves in when their own stories came around. Cianan was a paladin, a priest-warrior, who dealt w/the exorcisms, Trystan was a warrior and Benilo was a healer in the aftermath. But Duality started them all.

People have pasts. The best characters do, too. In my current WIP, Riever’s Heart, children are starting to play a role in their lives, healing old wounds…and creating new ones.

I’m starting to consider where to take my series next. Recurring characters, getting everyone settled and at peace over a six-book series. Then launching a new spin-off series, maybe “Children of the Guardians.” My son suggested “Guardians: The Next Generation” but the ST fan in me couldn’t quite go there! But time goes on, and so new characters must grow and emerge from the shelter of the old ones.

There’s Ioain and Braeca from Lycan Tides, Finora’s children. Ioain can see the truth of a person, both their heart and their being. Braeca inherited her mother’s ability to predict storms. Dara and Loren have a daughter, Elyria, who’s already showing signs of being a fiery independent handful. Wolf and Tzigana have twins, a boy and a girl. Their son Antal is a warrior-prince. Their daughter Piroska is fated to be the most powerful witch in ten generations. Tzigana’s little sister Jana will have to decide whether or not she wants to become a priestess of Orthia (she’d need to be merged w/a tree sprite, sacrificing her freedom for all time, to gain that power).

And what of Mog, the young goblin shaman in Dust of Dreams?

In Riever’s Heart, Prince Aryk wants peaceful relations with his neighbors. Shamar in his nearest neighbor, but he’s haunted by recurring visions of his son Joro being slain by a woman – Piroska. Which seriously strains relations between him and Wolf and Tzigana. Each trying to protect their child from the other’s…

Recurring characters allow for depth and growth over time. It’s not lazy writing, because you’re not rehashing the same old information. As long as it changes and evolves and matures, just like real people over real time, it can add an anchor or realism and plausibility and new complications and bonds. New dimensions. Added depth.

Obviously, some people disagreed with that assessment. But others embrace it. Guess there’s room for all. Would love to hear people’s thoughts  on the subject!



  1. I like reading about people I already know. And it isn’t easier to write, because you can’t make it up as you go along, your characters must be consistent from book to book, even though they may grow.

    The perception of wasted wordcount depends on how elaborate you think the backstory must be to ‘explain’ the recuring character. I let it develop naturally as the story unfolds, the way I would with any character.

  2. Lazy writing? Wow, I haven’t heard that one before. I love revisiting characters in other books. I have reoccuring characters in my Middlemarch series. I tend to use older characters to help drive the plot forward or provide some sort of complication for the current hero and heroine.

    A lot of readers have told me they like revisiting characters. I love reading series so maybe that’s why I sit on this side of the fence. 🙂

  3. I don’t think it’s lazy writing. I enjoy meeting familiar characters again. It’s like reuniting with friends I haven’t seen for years.

  4. I go both ways on recurring characters in series. But I don’t by any means consider it lazy writing or just taking up word count. Those older characters often have something valuable to add to the current storyline.


  5. I like series, and I like knowing a bit about the previous characters’ lives. It doesn’t have to be a lot or a major part of the book, but the opportunity for additional development exists. eg, just how HEA are the couple of the previous book?

  6. That really surprises me, too! I love series for that very reason–a chance to see how favorite characters have changed or progressed, to have a deeper and richer world-building experience, etc. Otherwise, why not only read single-title books? I have never read a series that didn’t bring in characters from previous books, at least in some tangential way. I think the commenter just didn’t like series…or wanted to start an argument 🙂

  7. I love recurring characters. I enjoy hearing more about them, seeing how they’ve changed and what they’re up to. I think it adds a sense of continuity to a world, and I’m nosy enough to want to know what went on after a previous book’s ending.

  8. Hi. I agree with you. There’s nothing wrong with having characters reappear in our books. It’s not lazy writing. In fact, it makes the world more real.

    I don’t have a published series yet, but I have two pairs of books that are related and if I didn’t allow secondary characters from the previous book to appear in the second, it would be odd, because they are a part of the main character’s life.


  9. I mean, think about it. People aren’t islands in vacuums. They have parents, siblings, children, best friends, classmates, coworkers, annoying neighbors and outright enemies. Everything you do affects them and everything they do affects you.

  10. I fall for characters and am so happy to see them pop up again! I look for a spinoff series for that very reason. 🙂

  11. Hard to believe that accusation. The idea of recurring characters is the joy of reading and writing a series. There is time and enough variety of scenes to show the characters in a more three-dimensional way. I’m currently enrolled in a fabulous workshop with Susan Sipal, A writers’ guide to Harry Potter. The intricacy of how JKR interwove secondary characters across seven books in a grand scheme filled with clues and misclues to spiral down to the finale is nothing short of incredible. If I could do half as much with recurring characters, I’d be thrilled!

  12. Where would Mercedes Lackey, Suzanne Brockmann, Lori Foster, Angela Knight, Pamela Palmer or JR Ward BE without it? Each character/book part of a cohesive WHOLE?
    (Okay, now everyone knows what I have on MY bookshelves!)

  13. Lazy writing? No! I recently discovered your writing and was instantly drawn in to the richness of the stories. In Dust of Dreams I was particularly thrilled to learn how the previous characters had evolved into their new roles. You’ve created a delicious world that entices me to hangout and get to know the characters. Thank you for creating a wondrous world of hope, passion, and love.

  14. LOL. I, too, wonder if someone just wanted to start a discussion. Pretty much everyone seems to like secondary characters. As a reader who almost always reads series out of order, I like coming across secondary characters whose stories are already out there (but which I haven’t read yet). There’s no waiting for the next book. 🙂 And if I have read about them before, of course I want to know what’s going on in their lives!

  15. I’ve noticed a trend among some writers (and I think I saw someone saying the same thing about series elsewhere) to sneer at any sort of story they don’t like. I’m guilty of that to a degree–I tend to steer clear of vampire stories and inspirationals and books that use designer brands as shortcut characterization–but I’ve tried to explain why I don’t care for ’em, and when one comes along that I thought was outstanding, I’ve said so. What one enjoys is a matter of taste–everyone’s allowed to dislike what simply doesn’t suit them.

    But to put down series in general? Um… That sounds more like someone who either can’t write a series or just doesn’t care for them. In which case… duh? Don’t read them.

    Series can have problems. It’s not good if a writer assumes the reader has seen every other book in the universe–each story really should stand alone, and a good editor will make sure of that. Even worse is the writer who produces half a story and then expects the reader to pony up for the end of it. I avoid one writer’s work because I bought a highly-hyped book and found myself at the point where the protagonists each realized they’d made a big mistake and needed to talk… and that was it! Look for the sequel, coming soon! Sorry, no. A bunch of sex scenes, however steamy, don’t make a good book if the story isn’t resolved at the end. Also the editor’s job… for a satisfying read, a romance should have a coming-together, a conflict, and a resolution.

    I think there’s a grain of truth in the ‘word-count’ complaint, for some series (I’m not alone in thinking JK Rowling could have used a trim in some of the later Harry Potter books)–but to make the sweeping statement that all series are invalid because some authors can’t sustain them? The number of readers who ask for and enjoy series tells me that creating an ongoing universe is a goal worth pursuing. It’s easier for a writer to crank out a string of one-shot stories that are the same basic plot with different names and descriptions, and some do… does that make all stand-alone stories bad?

    I’m on the “series are harder” side of this discussion. Continuity is a bitch! I had to kill off a character recently, and I’d named the poor guy after my brother-in-law. No way out, he was named in book 1 and this is book 4. Sorry, Mark! If I’d known he was going to die in the line of duty, I’d have called him something else!

    A few “series hacks” and their creations (heavy on mysteries, my fave genre): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes; Dorothy L Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (not only a great set of mysteries but a thoughtful and fulfilling romance); Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot; Patrick O’Brian, the Jack Aubrey series; Joan Hess, the Ariel Hanks series, Charlotte MacLeod, Janet Evanovich, Susan Wittig Albert, Georges Simenon, Inspector Maigret … and my own current favorite series, Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge fellows.

    Lazy buggers, every one… NOT.

    • LOL – the series I have problems with can be cliffhanger books. Terry Goodkind does that. Sometimes he’ll skip certain characters for an entire book, and you can’t remember where THEY left off when it comes back around. He’s a lot of work to read. Jacqueline Carey and Elizabeth Hayden, however, work for me!

  16. I seek series and spin off books. I especially like in a trilogy where in the final book in a story arc that the main protagonist are brought back together for a final end to the storyline. Personally from a publishing pov like so many of us I often come to a series in book two or three and may not know it is such but with a reoccurrence of a past character that sends a red flag to me the reader that there are other books in the series to find and that often means sales now and in the future. Lazy writing is not telling what is new with character but re telling the past story and that usually doesn’t happen with a good writer.

    • I’m guilty of using snippets of past plots as current memories, but hopefully not too much for too long. Trystan had to use it to explain his current quest, and Benilo to explain how he’d lost his powers. Cianan became Loren’s replacement as “Lady’s Champion” based on his actions in Duality. If judicious and to propel the current situation, I think it works.

  17. I don’t think you’ll find many people who think the way that particular reader thinks.

    In real life all people interconnect in some way, and that’s the way it has to be for your characters. If they don’t then it’s not realistic.

    I wouldn’t worry about it.

  18. I sure don’t call that lazy writing at all. And never heard anyone say that before. Maybe it was a lazy reader. LOL. I go for series that have some of the same characters. You feel like you know them and are growing with them. And it connects the books together. That’s why it’s a series: isn’t it? Renee I think you are a wonderful writing and I wouldn’t let one bad apple spoil your fun.

  19. My published series is about the members of a large Hispanic family, so of course the characters revisit in each subsequent book. That way the reader can see how their relationship is progressing past the “and they lived happily ever after” stuff at the end of the book that showed their romance, but someone else’s romance is the focus. I also like to show that, as one of the readers commented above, no one lives totally alone: we are all surrounded by the “bit players, if you will”, who are a part of our life story. Some are big contributors, some are only acquaintances, but all are a part of the tapestry that makes up your life. Why should our fictional characters have any less complex of a life?

  20. I agree with you 100%, Renee! Im a Reader as well as an Author, and I really enjoy finding out what happens to the characters in a Series later. There’s nothing worse than to be left wondering! In fact, I had hundreds of Readers ask for stories on the Secondary characters of my book “Temptation Unleashed”. I finally had to write two Shorts explaining what happened to them and how they got “their happy-ever-after”.

    I can see other Reader’s views too, that they dont like the extra word count about characters from the past, BUT in a Series it’s almost a necessity.

    Anyhoo! Keep writing those great books and we’ll keep reading!

    Kari Thomas

  21. I love recurring characters. It’s like catching up with old friends and finding out where their lives are now. Keep up the great writing and don’t change a thing! 🙂

  22. Recurring characters and their growth are a major reason people love series fiction. But some don’t. The person who made the comment doesn’t he/she is envious about not being able to do something like that.

    It’s like that with food, too. My hubby and I love each other to death, but when he’s into a sauerkraut meal/ I’m out of here. Same way with some TV. I wouldn’t watch some of his shows if my life depended on it, nor would he watch a few of mine. Now we both love each other, food, reading and TV, but not everything in the same way. 🙂

    Great topic.

  23. LAZY?!! I don’t see that at all. As both a reader who loves reoccurring characters (they make it “real” since I already know them ;)). And an author who writes ongoing series- using already established characters is not lazy. In fact it could be argued that it’s harder- you have remember EVERYTHING that character did or said in the previous book!

    Lazy indeed! I say that person who said that has a few issues…

  24. Recurring characters help enrich novels, I believe. It’s why series novels and single title novels that happen to be part of a trilogy are sooooooo popular! People grow fond of certain characters, and they want more! Sometimes they want to see a supporting character go through their own story, and it’s so enriching to carry characters through various arcs and still make them interesting to the reader, IMO.

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