Character Recurrence in Novels

Something I’ve noticed when reading old Charles Dickens novels is that many stories of his have some character who appears early but is gone after a few chapters. They’re named but they’re not really important, and they disappear and are forgotten soon after.

And then 80% of the way through the story they return, out of nowhere, and it’s mentioned they knew this one character from the beginning of the story. Does this happen in stories anymore? I’m particularly thinking of Dickens stories that take place over a character’s whole life, which is actually probably most of them, but this is something I tend to notice a lot in Dickens books but not so much in more modern tales.

It’s an interesting part of stories. I’m holding things like this in reserve for the Cloudy Cuckoo Cosmos as a series, though that’s over multiple books where a character who appeared in one might appear unexpectedly in another, and that’s more notable for full-series readers than having a character return in a single book.

What started me thinking on characters returning within a single book was a chapter I was editing recently. My original draft had the main character meeting with some unnamed characters for a conversation just for a bit of world building, but there really wasn’t anything to it. As I’ve been working on a lot of story notes regarding characters related to where this meeting took place, I realized a couple characters who’d appeared earlier could easily appear instead, connecting the world and time in the story more. These don’t appear at the beginning–not until more than halfway through, in fact–but it’s still a bit of an “oh yeah, them!” moment.

The weird thing about Wandering Fortunes as you can see with what chapters I’ve put up is the second half is a different planet. With an entirely different setting, there’s not much call for characters from the first half coming back. My fourth book will be a little like that too, in fact. But in future books this happenstancing of old character return meetings is something I might experiment with. It’s probably easier both to do and make significant if it’s planned from the outset, and I do write outlines before I write stories, but in the case of Wandering Fortunes the meeting was both added in the editing phase and spur of the moment.

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