Many thanks to Charles E. Yallowitz for the below guest post. You can find Charles online at http://legendsofwindemere.com/author/slepsnor/.
Thank you to Kevin for giving me an opportunity to be a guest on his blog. My name is Charles E. Yallowitz and I’m the author behind the Legends of Windemere blog and fantasy adventure series. My latest book is the 7th of the series and is titled Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue. That gets the hype out of the way, so now I can get the fun topic.
I write with an ensemble cast of central heroes and several recurring allies. One such character is Kira Grasdon, who has been around since the first book. She is the fiancée of Luke Callindor, the first hero to be introduced, and they have a whole love triangle going on that is not the point of this post. Let’s just say it’s messy and it puts Kira in a difficult situation with other characters and the readers. She is in an emotional storyline, created by her own hand, while not appearing in every book. Unlike Luke, she isn’t an adventurer or much of a warrior. She starts as a merchant’s daughter and evolves over the course of the series.
Sound easy? Well, here’s the problem. How do you evolve an important character who is absent for much of the books?
The simplest way is to have the absent character get mentioned in passing while they’re not around. For a love interest, they can come up in conversation in terms of being missed or simply wondering what they’re doing. New supporting characters can have some news too, which demonstrates that the absentee isn’t really in stasis. All of this is to prove that they’re living and changing off-screen, so they can be different when they return. So it isn’t a shock when Kira returns with a little more combat training or more confidence in negotiating trade deals. The reader knows that she has been working on these two areas while away from the main story. Luke talking about her retains the connection that they have and doesn’t make her an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ character.
Keep in mind that you can’t do the first method by itself because the character has to return at some point. With limited scenes, you need every one of them to count toward development and reminding the audience that the character is important. Powerful interactions and a true purpose help as well as making sure something in the plot affects the returning ally. To keep them growing, you need to hit the characters hard and have them hit back. If not hit back then put a few cracks that may fester during their next hiatus. Leaving a recurring character broken while the heroes move on may seem like a mean thing to do, but it can lead to an unexpected, enjoyable return. After all, many readers enjoy a spiral into insanity or a good guy turning evil or anything that is a step in dark direction.
This isn’t an easy development to accomplish because you have limited time and absence doesn’t always make the heart grow stronger. These recurring characters may have an impact on the plot, but aren’t around to defend the long term effects of their actions. Having them pop up solely to give an explanation can come off as contrived, so you need to get the information in another way. My favorite method is to have another character bluntly ask about the situation. After all, the readers might not be the only ones curious about the inner thoughts of an ally.
Developing characters over the course of a series is tough and those that aren’t constantly in the spotlight have a hard time growing. The key is to make sure they’re remembered and reappear with a purpose. You’d be surprised what happens. Might even have a spin-off book or a new plot on your hands.