Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guest Post and Giveaway from Author Heather Wardell

Joining us today is Heather Wardell who writes women's fiction and she is going to be talking to us about reoccuring characters in stories. Do you (the reader) like it? Or would you rather new characters every time.

Stay tuned to the end so you can find out more about the giveaway!

Three of my five novels feature recurring characters. A hot restaurant owner named Kegan shares male lead duties in the first one (my free download "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo"), makes a guest appearance in "Go Small or Go Home", and takes on the lead role in my newest book, "Stir Until Thoroughly Confused". In addition, several characters from the first and second books reappear in the third, some as brief guest appearances and some as fairly major characters.

I didn't intend to do this, since I don't particularly want to write a series. Nothing against them, but I've always enjoyed finding and exploring new main characters too much to want to rehash what I've done before. But as I wrote the first draft of "Go Small or Go Home", Kegan just showed up and seemed to fit. I liked how his presence added to the book, so since then I've watched for opportunities to bring in my past characters.

So far the readers who've commented on this seem to like it, but I still see both advantages and disadvantages. Let's look at a few of each and then I'll tell you what I plan to do in the future.


1. Readers can find out what their past favorite characters are up to. This is obvious, but that doesn't make it any less true. If you've read and enjoyed a novel, you've invested something of yourself in the characters and their stories. It's only natural to want to see what they're doing after the book is over. If they made a career change, do they regret it? If they fell in love, is that still working for them? Seeing them again in a future book lets you find out.

2. The world of the book can seem more real. We do often re-encounter people we've known before, so I think it can feel natural and normal to have book characters re-appear. Forrest Williams, the hockey star male lead of "Go Small or Go Home", is friends with Kegan through Kegan's brother who also plays hockey, so when I began Kegan's book it made sense to me that he would be there. Knowing that the other characters continue to live their lives makes the world seem richer.

3. Readers (and authors!) can see characters in a different light. I loved bringing Forrest back in "Stir Until Thoroughly Confused". I loved him in "his" book, and it was so much fun to see him through a new main character's eyes. Readers have mentioned they liked that too.


1. What if you hated Kegan? Now he's back again, and then AGAIN? If he did nothing for you the first time, you're unlikely to want to read my third book that's all about him.

2. Continuity becomes an issue. Keeping track of how long it's been between books in the "book world" can be difficult, and I don't want readers hung up on wondering if I've done that timeline correctly. I know sometimes when I'm reading I find myself thinking, "This doesn't seem to fit with when the author says it happened," and I would rather not make my readers think the same thing. Kegan is founding a restaurant in my first book, which Forrest and his leading lady Tess visit in the second. I had to make sure that when Tess says, "It's only been open three months" that was reasonable given the month it opened and the month she was there. (I know the vast majority of readers won't notice this, but I will and it'll bother me unless I do it right!)

3. It can feel forced. I have a cameo appearance in my current book, which is still in first draft, and I'm not at all sure I like it. It has the feel, at the moment, of a joke that's all set-up and no punchline. I like what happens during the appearance but I'm not positive the same people will still be there by the time the book is done. I definitely don't want to get into a "I have to bring someone back for every book" mindset, since sometimes it won't work.

4. Deciding how much backstory to give is a challenge. If a reader's read all of my books, they just need a refresher about the person's history. If they haven't, they probably still only need that same refresher, since the book isn't really about that person. For example, in "Go Small or Go Home", my main character's sister is an alcoholic. That sister appears in "Stir Until Thoroughly Confused" but I don't touch on her addiction. Why? Because in the scenes where she appears, it's not relevant, and the main character of that book would never know. I wanted to mention it, though, because it's part of her story. And that's the danger: that the author gives more backstory than is needed and the reader, whether new to the stories or not, gets bogged down in irrelevant information.

So, given the pros and cons, what will I do in the future? I'll continue bringing characters back into my books when it feels right and natural. I think that the depth and entertainment value it can add to a story is worth the careful attention needed to make sure it's done right.

What do you think? Do you like recurring characters? I'd love to know why, especially if you don't. :)

Heather Wardell writes women's fiction with depth, humor, and heart. She has five novels available now, one for free download and the rest for $0.99 each. You can read excerpts at http://www.heatherwardell.com/

Now For The Giveaway!

Heather is offering one print copy and three ebooks!

To enter please leave a comment on Heather's question: What do you think? Do you like recurring characters? I'd love to know why, especially if you don't. :)

+1 to new or old followers

+1 if you spread the word in any way


  1. I do like recurring characters as I like becoming attached in book series to them.

    pocokat AT gmail DOT com

  2. I follow on GFC

    pocokat AT gmail DOT com

  3. I love recurring characters. It's like meeting up with an old friend you haven't seen for a while.

    +1 old follower

    +1 Tweeted http://twitter.com/#!/ForWhlz/status/47751857044602880

    forwhlz at gmail dot com

  4. Thank you, PoCoKat and Sandy! Good to know at least some readers like seeing recurring teachers! :)

  5. My old career is apparently still haunting me... obviously I meant 'readers' not 'teachers'. :)

  6. I love recurring characters, especially when they are the lovable or best friend types. I'd hate to see if the sidekick didn't make the sequel!

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

    +1 old follower

  7. great giveaway
    I love characters that come back- makes me feel like their stories never end!

  8. Thanks, Samantha, that's good to know. :)