A new character has to appear in an existing work of fiction. Sometimes this is in a fan fiction, other times this is in a sequel or prequel. Other times, the thought comes to mind “this would be much better if we had another member of the character team”. This presents some interesting challenges, but addressing a few major concerns can make this endeavor fun, successful, and appealing to readers. Hopefully, the story moves seamlessly and no one is the wiser for the late addition!
This post is the second of two, outlining a few skills useful for integrating a new character.
Character and Story Balance
It may sound self-explanatory, but inserting a new character requires a balance between respecting the old and introducing the new. While it may be exciting to know there’s a new hero on the horizon for the sequel, or that this new character will create the most awesome fan fiction in the history of fandom, take a minute to remember the time when that original cast were the darlings.
In the case of a sequel/prequel, new characters often find better balance when the other characters they join have made some kind of change. These changes, the natural answers to the audiences’ question of “what’s new with my favorite characters?” help make the audience prepared to accept change. Consider the way the prequel series of Star Wars introduced Qui Gon Jinn, Obi-wan Kanobi’s master, and the man to discover Anakin Skywalker as a child. This character, new to the film-verse, had to hold up to the phenomenon of the first series. While Anakin is clearly the focus of the prequel series, Qui Gon was written with more flexibility. His story was not prepared for him, unlike Anakin’s. While this early master was fascinating, bad-ass, and wonderfully human, the balance of the story was preserved. No one doubted who the hero was, and his context with the already familiar characters (Anakin, Yoda, Obi-wan, etc.) was expressly defined. No upstaging, and full respect was commanded.
Fan fiction is its own beast, but one of the major elements that separates good fan fiction from bad is this balance. While not all fan work utilizes the avatar approach (for the uninitiated, this means creating a character through which the writer can live in the world and interact with the other characters), this reflects one of the driving purposes of writing a fan fiction. It’s often the first step into playing with existing worlds.
One of the things that gives away a fan fiction as the work of a mediocre author is a flawless super-character, one that can do everything better than the main character, is venerated by the secondary characters, and is completely irresistible in every way. This throws balance out the window and tears apart the things the writer actually loved about the existing story.
While some new characters have flaws, are well-constructed, and interact realistically, the balance can still be off when it comes to giving the existing characters their due attention. The talent of a fan fiction’s author is best shown in their successful imitation of the world’s style, major characters, and central conflicts. If the soul of the shows / series / books / whatever is respected and carefully preserved, added characters can earn their place.
To be fair to all levels of writers, realize that everyone has to start somewhere. Balance is a skill, something that is developed over time and through varying degrees of failure. Some people value it, others don’t. Some will say it matters, and some don’t notice or care whether it’s present or not. Other elements, for some audiences, can fully redeem a work irrespective of the balance present.