Few things throw writing into the spotlight like revision. One of the more major changes that can be made to a story is inserting a new character into an already existing story as if they had been there from the start. Sometimes this is absolutely necessary, and sometimes this is an exercise in character creation just for fun. Whatever the reason, there’s plenty to consider and here are two of the first hurdles to consider.
Why Put in a New Character?
Just want to point out here that creating characters for already existing stories/books is one of the skills cultivated in fan fiction. Now, there will be later posts about fan fiction, its qualities, uses, and benefits, but this post isn’t one of them. One of the founding principles in this media centers on creating a character to join the original cast. It’s easy to tell who knows how to do this well and who doesn’t, and it often arises from how well they address the context of the new character.
Original creators of the work have the luxury of changing fundamental elements of the work to accommodate a new love interest for the main character, or can rewrite the memories of their characters to reveal their best friend from childhood actually has a history. However, learning to create a character to fit and enter an existing story can become extremely necessary in the case of sequels, prequels, or even the editor telling you the story needs a certain kind of character to balance out the story.
Principle number one; context! Here are some in-story contexts to check:
- Timeline: Where do the characters come in? How does their appearance affect what comes after? What triggers their appearance?
- Other Characters: What role do they fill the others don’t? Who likes them and why? Who doesn’t like them, and why? Who did they know before they enter the tale, and how does this affect their relationship?
- Theme: What aspect of the theme do they embody? What do they represent? What are their beliefs about the main conflict? What do they feel about the main conflict? What do they feel strongly about?
- Plot: Seems to go without saying, but what role to they play? How can this become crucial to the resolution? What hole will they fill that no one else can? How do they fill this gap or solve this problem? What will they have that no one else has? What solutions do they offer to other characters and situations?
Page space is precious. Material that is boring to read, repetitive, or clearly just there to be a cool scene because there are no rules will make it difficult to go back and enjoy it. Even when just writing for fun, the writer (or some heir going through their stuff) will cheapen the hours of effort that went into it by believing it isn’t good writing. Don’t let work be considered poor quality. Instead, take into account that everything going on the page should show how much it means to you, the writer. Take time to do it well!
Make the new characters meaningful, give them a responsibility, and make it so they can exist nowhere but in that work. Adapt them to the point their context is perfectly shaped to the needs of the story.
Once the context is considered, every character who has pull in the story needs to be dynamic. In some way they grow, change, or experience a challenge personal to them.
There’s a major temptation for first-time authors, or fan fiction creators, to make their characters the epitome of awesome! Alright, yes, though technically there are no rules about what can be done, dynamics and weaknesses are what make a character relatable and interesting.
So, when deciding what kind of character to introduce into the story, leave room for them to grow and integrate with the other characters through the course of the story and the conflict. Map it out just like every other character gets mapped. The trick is to incorporate the map with the existing plot, current characters, and relevant themes. Doing the context questions first can help figure out what this character’s particular challenges will be.