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.

Character Creation: Random Element and Character Interaction

(what am i actually doing this okay here we go)

CHARACTER CREATION! For most, this is no mere hypothetical. The Latin Alphabet is composed of 27 characters… or is it 26? 14?? I don’t know. But this is irrelevant. I am referring to characters in a story. Most stories have them. Stories that don’t exist may even have them. Stories that don’t exist as well. These two sentences are saying different things. Where am I going with this? WELL. Even the shortest, saddest story has characters, even if some of them are dead. Do baby shoes count as characters? Well, that depends on what kind of story you’re writing. Has anyone ever written from the POV of the baby shoes?

Longer, more involved stories, novels particularly, have a lot more characters, some of them even named! These characters are usually dealt with for so long that some backstory is in order. Sometimes it’s as simple as where they were raised; other times it’s a dark and brooding history of death and loss and that’s why they have this scar and this edgy haircut and wear a mask.

But in my case, I don’t just don’t have involved stories, I have an involved figgin universe. Lord of the Rings had a lot of history and only a few books. Discworld had over 40 novels and quite a bit of backstory, but I’m not sure how much. I forget if Rincewind’s parents are ever mentioned. But many writers, especially of a series with multiple books, write more backstory than ever gets mentioned in books. Having all this solidified lets the writing be more consistent; you won’t have a character mention their childhood on the farm and then in a later book we meet their high-profile business consultant parents. No, you decide early on their parents are owners of a taco stand, and you stick to that. Well, unless you come up with something better later, but then you have to make sure it doesn’t contradict what you have written into books, unless you just don’t care, because honestly, are we sure most readers are gonna care?

Anyhoo, how does character creation work? Well, you start out with a setting and generally have an idea of what kind of character you need. Meek accountant? Beefy accountant? Clownish accountant? Someone who’s not an accountant?? Maybe a small business owner who shows kindness to the protagonist, or a small business owner whose churlish attitude just shows them further how dismal the city they’ve arrived at is. A military general to fight in a war, or a cool kid friend to balance the nerdy friend. There’s lots of characters to choose from, and the general idea isn’t that hard to start from. Then you do a whole bunch of stuff like names and design that I don’t want to talk about today. I am going to touch on it, though. Because:

RANDOM DECISIONS: So the thing is that in real life a lot of peoples’ information is arbitrary. Not always–names might change based on who their parents are, date of birth might make when events in their life happen different, gender probably changes stuff. But for the most part a character can have any number of these things and still basically be the same. How do you decide? Um I just pull up a random number generator and let it decide for me. Names I’ll usually look at a list of names and choose one at random but like, date of birth? Random number. Gender? Random number (and yes, that’s on a spectrum–depending on the number, this character may be trans!) Do you need glasses? WELL YOU DON’T GET TO CHOOSE IN LIFE IF YOU NEED GLASSES, SO I WON’T CHOOSE FOR THESE CHARACTERS. Maybe. I have different species and some have naturally better eyesight. Maybe better eyecare is available for the affluent? You know, I use random number generation but still pull things in various directions.

And then there’s character interactions. Characters interact with other characters, usually, and having a backstory means they meet other characters. Once again I use a random number generator to go through my list of existing characters and find out–have they met in the past? If so, when? From this I get a clearer idea of a character’s history. (And in one case got a potential short story idea for the future!) Once I know who they’ve met I determine who they’ve met long enough to get an opinion or history with, and then–you guessed it–RANDOM NUMBER GENERATION. I get a random number, and the better the number, the better their relationship.

So for example, a group of senior generals for a kingdom’s military. Get a variety of personalities, some good, some bad. Maybe use RNG for this, maybe not. One of the generals is a nice guy, very jovial, everyone loves them and they’re one of the most personable generals. They have a family, they’re well-known and respected, and then as you’re grabbing random numbers to determine their relationship to characters they’ve met their spouse rolls a ONE. This loved character has the worst possible relationship with their spouse.

And so that’s how a well-respected, noble, adored general is secretly beating their spouse.

Not all is well in random number generation land. Sometimes it makes characters and settings harder–harder to figure out, harder to write. But realistically? I think adding the random element makes it more real. And it adds another dimension to a character and their history that wasn’t there before.

I mentioned characters meeting other characters in their past, and I’m actually going to talk about that more next week. After all, once you’ve put all this work into a character, why only use them once?

New Species Profile for Cappipoto

Today’s (and this month’s) species profile details one of the biggest ones you’ll see around here, the cappipoto. They’ve got a gut like a bowling ball and a snout big enough to eat one. In Wandering Fortunes see see them throughout New Zhopolis, but they have a quite different culture at their homelands on the opposite side of the planet. Take a read here!

You can also see these profiles half a month early if you give to my Patreon. I just posted next month’s excitingly depressing chapter there, which you can also see if you give to my Ko-fi.

Wikify the Encyclopedia

I’ve spoken before about the creation of an encyclopedia to keep track of your novel or novel series’ world. I had an entire series about it on some website, Obscure Authors Alliance I think, the website itself is even more obscure than the authors now so whatever. My own encyclopedia for the Cloudy Cuckoo Cosmos was all put in a Word document. I started with a rather random assortment of information, moved on to entries for species, organizations, characters, and locations, then ended with some random lists. The document became like 200 pages long or something and it was nigh-impossible to efficiently look through it.

I needed a better way to do it.

What about a wiki?

I mentioned I was putting everything on a private wiki earlier and that I would make this post so now I am. I actually have some weird wiki experience, having made one with some friends a while ago for our fan universe. This new one is private and not for a fan universe. It’s for my universe. And it helps immensely with organization. I fully recommend anyone creating their own universe put it all into a private wiki for easy access and organization of information. You might even find it easier to come up with new details when it’s so easy to find existing ones.

When I was trying to find a good program to use I checked Wikipedia’s personal wiki article. I probably should’ve tried all of them before going with one for sure but I didn’t feel like it and am always too busy so I just went with Dokuwiki on a Stick which is apparently its real name. It’s worked fine so far. Some of the syntax is different than what I’m used to (but apparently it’s the syntax MediaWiki uses so whatever) and it needs some extensions added for things that should be pretty obvious like categories, and also it has a bit of the problem of public programs made by coders which is that it can be obtuse to anyone who doesn’t code (like me) but it’s not too bad. I mean, I figured it out! See?

Okay. Okay. Okay. So on the Word document I just basically had one chunk of text with a few paragraphs smushed together with each paragraph being a different section (history, appearance, etc.) This was terrible, and for longer things, such as species with an actually notable history, it was terrible to look at because it was just one paragraph per section. It was… you know how dinosaur is like “terrible lizard” or something? What would be the name for “terrible paragraph”?

Anyway, having actual sections sectioned off for each section means I can use actual paragraphs now. It’s readable. And whereas before I could really see no more than one or two entries at a time and had to scroll the giant document to find them, now related articles can be reached right from a link. I know this is basic wiki information but I mean come on it’s really figgin useful!

So far the most time-consuming thing in transferring all this information onto the wiki is the formatting, but as I go I’m finding there are things that I never really detailed on, things that are easier to notice I never wrote down now that I can easily look at it all. Species culture, including any possible common religion, is but one of these. Eating habits is another. There is also a lot of information that I would put in lists, such as blood color, that I probably should have mentioned in the species entries. So now I do. Characters of a certain species is another example.

Honestly the Word document also got incredibly disorganized. At the start was a lot of information that should have gone elsewhere, such as planet histories, and for some reason I tucked a list of planet flora off near the bottom instead of actually in the entries for those planets.

With all this information in the wiki, I’ll be able to see a list of everyone who lives somewhere and simply click their name to see who they are. Before I’d have to like, put their name and then probably what species they are or some other identifying characteristic because honestly I just wouldn’t know, that’s why I write this stuff down so I can look it up, but I couldn’t effectively look stuff up in that document!

AAA

The character articles are probably the biggest relief of these. There was a lot of information I packed into places that it didn’t really fit in an effort to reduce the size of those terrible paragraphs on the Word document. Now they get their own section! I also never was really able to detail a character’s family in their sections because it was about them, but again, now a specific section for that can exist.

Being able to have specific sections also helps in looking up those specific things—before I’d have to scour their history for where they lived, but now I can just check the actual section for it. I’ve also started work on a properly-organized timeline article, which set me into determining just what the birthdates for all the characters are, so I’m not sure I can stress enough that having this be organized goads me to actually get more information made. Now I can tell when Ropak’s birthday is in Wandering Fortunes! Er, not that he can.

There is actually something of a timeline for a couple kingdoms in the CCC that haven’t appeared yet in the old Word document. They’re both too long to look through well and have a giant line of the kings and queens that is confusing to look at. This will, again, now only be vastly improved in the wiki format, but I can make the names of all these rulers link to pages that don’t exist, and when I find I don’t have anything important to make articles for, I can start really detailing that history. The red links to nowhere significantly help me see what parts of the CCC I still need expand on.

So I reiterate at this point in this post that I recommend organizing any world you’re creating for something into a wiki, especially if it spans for more than one something. Especially do it before you have more than 100,000 words worth of information to transfer over to it like I do…

New Character Profile page: Ropak

There’s a new character profile up for the character introduced in this month’s Wandering Fortunes chapter, Ropak! He is of mysterious origins with unknown parents and is sometimes lazy. Those things are apparently not mutually exclusive. Ropak is the third main character of WF and sticks with Alden and Top throughout the story. He’s also 13 years old, but that’s okay because wrallots mature at like age 10.

As usual, let me tell you about Patreon. You can give creators money at Patreon. You can give me money at Patreon. If you give $3 per month you get to read chapters half a month early! The next chapter is going up for that level in a few moments!

Character Profile for Alden

The character profile for Alden is now available to read. He’s basically the protagonist of Wandering Fortunes, being the focus character in pretty much twice as many chapters as the other main characters. He’s also a bookworm. Yaaay. This means is is guaranteed relatable because you are also reading at the same time. This is how relatability works right. Relatable and other related words are actual words right.

In other CCC news, I’ve spent the last week working hard on Darmenzi and I’m only 60% through editing from the editor’s notes. Still I should finish in a few days and then spend a week reading through it for a final scan and if things go according to plan this book will be released in April or May so the Nottle Crystal series is almost complete in final book form yaaay! FINALLY, THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN THE CHAPTERS I POSTED OVER THE LAST COUPLE YEARS WILL HAPPEN FOR REAL. For a certain definition of “real”.

Also, don’t forget my Patreon, where $3+ patrons this very day get to read chapter 3 of Wandering Fortunes. Everyone else has to wait a couple more weeks.

Finally, I have CCCalling cards now. This is not really something of interest for the internet but LOOK AT THEM

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Top Character Profile and Patreon Video

The character profile for Top is now available to read. A bit of this information is that which is pertinent later, but most of it is general or made clear in the first chapter. Top has kind of a weird relationship to me–Numer and the other slubes were created before Top, but I wrote stories with Top a lot more in the latter half of the previous decade, so I have some attachment to the little oddball.

There is also a new Patreon intro video for my Patreon page! Take a look, IT HAS ME HUMMING A LOT:

As it turns out, starting today $3+ patrons can read chapter 2 of Wandering Fortunes before anyone else.

One more thing to make note: I’ve gotten Darmenzi back from the editor! It’s time to pull that open and get to work on finishing this second book. I’ll keep you posted on the updates.

Apparently there’s a presidential debate tonight, so let’s look at the candidates as VIDEO GAME CHARACTERS

On one side, we have Donald Trump. He’s a default character available from the beginning. He hits really hard, but he’s slow. He has a degree of unpredictability that, somehow, just makes him really predictable. A lot of rookies play as him because, against another rookie or easy CPUs he often is easy to win with.

Then we have Hillary Clinton. She’s another default character available from the start, and she has a lot of skills and strength that makes her a strong character, but all her moves are difficult to pull off and require a lot of practice. Like, a really lot of practice. You doing anything else with your life? You won’t be able to use her very well. You need a lot of money time to get good with her, and those who do are usually able to beat everyone else easily. A novice can hardly beat anyone.

We also have Jill Stein! She’s a hidden, unlockable, hidden character who is really difficult to unlock. However, she’s easy to use and strong, so a novice is able to use her well, as is someone who has practiced with her a lot. She’s high in the tier list. Not top tier, though. That’s Diddy Kong, who was removed from the race for throwing mud. Or maybe it was poop. Either way, she does have some weaknesses, such as an inability to use items well.

Gary Johnson is also a hidden, unlockable character, but he’s the joke character. He’s not very good. At all. Though he’s also difficult to unlock.

Also, Bernie Sanders has been found in the game’s coding. He was cut from the final version, but he’s still in the game’s files in incomplete form. There’s some really specific and complex glitches that can let you play as him, and for the most part he works without much trouble. For the most part it’s just that a match with him and Clinton leads to some game crashes. He generally plays like a stronger Jill Stein but has his own set of weaknesses.

I hope you enjoyed this complete turnaround of my previous statement about being unable to social media anymore because I started my dayjob today.

Random chance in writing

I actually randomize a…n almost bizarre amount of stuff in the Cloudy Cuckoo Cosmos. Some events I randomize–I’m pretty sure the initial setup of the four battles in chapter 17 of Darmenzi had the participants of the four fights randomized, and from there I just wrote how it would naturally play out. I hadn’t planned how they would turn out (though the orb then got nabbed by someone else anyway so it wasn’t that critical, I guess).

But that’s not all. Every time I develop a new character, whether premeditated for a future book or someone written in as I’m writing, I’ll open up a random number generator and randomly determine a number of features for the character, gender/sex being a big one. Regardless of any preconceived notions I have about a character, I’ll randomize what sex they are. (A lot of older characters I didn’t do this for because they’ve existed in such a way for so long.) Another datapoint: glasses. It turns out a lot of people nowadays need corrective eyewear. It’s not really such a nerd accessory anymore, and you can’t remove the need for vision correctiveness by just being cool (although you can just wear contact lenses, I guess).

Oh yeah, and sexual orientation. That’s randomized.

(Not all of these things are fully randomized, and some of them could be subject to change as I get to know a character. One character just had to have eyeglasses. Another character I simply realized, as I worked out the plot for a future story, was certainly homosexual.)

Anyway, my point here is that I randomly determine so much in writing that why don’t I try to use it to help me write blog posts? TO WIKIPEDIA’S RANDOM ARTICLE FEATURE

ong what if someone wrote a story with wikipedia’s articles as the characters, and there’s a group of article characters that are orphans ong

Er… there are a lot. Like, more than the population of a big town. More than the population of the town I used to live in.

And they’re all on a deserted island alone. There’s a Wikipedia war or something, probably like an edit war, and the orphaned articles get stranded on an island filled with pies, and only one of them can be Lord of the Pies, coming this fall to Reality Show TVision.

New Character Profile: Darmenzi

Another new character profile is up, this one for the title character of Darmenzi, er, Darmenzi. There’s not a lot of certainty I can give related to him at this time because spoilers, but someday more will be revealed.

In Slubes news, I’ve basically finished the final edits, and soon I will begin working on the formatting. I probably won’t have solid information at the end of January, but surely by the middle of February. Stay tuned, whoever!

As always, Patreon, where I reveal things first. Um, no more information on Darmenzi, though, although the next chapter is up there.

See you in February, where maybe I can start getting things cooking. Or at least radioactivating.