Despite what my summary of last year’s reading habits might suggest, I don’t generally read books that lend themselves to sequels. I tend to lean more towards literary fiction, where a character grows and changes over the course of the story, and then at the end there’s nothing more left to add, compared to genre fiction where it’s more about the plot and quite often the character is the same in each book.
That being said, I think it’s possible to find a balance between the two with a recurring character threading his way through multiple stories.
The first example that comes to mind is Stephen King’s Flagg character. If you’re not familiar with King’s work, Flagg is a villain who thrives on chaos. He shows up in numerous stories, almost as if he can actually climb out of one book and into another:
- a leader of the “bad” guys in The Stand
- a wizard in The Eye of the Dragon (which is the first book I read by King, way back in junior high)
- the man in black that Roland chases in The Dark Tower series, a series which crosses through several worlds including ours and that of The Stand
- an activist in Hearts in Atlantis
Sometimes Flagg has a different name, but if you know to look, he’s always there, with the same characteristics and end goal, namely of gaining power through destruction.
A second example is by creating an architype that may or may not be given the same name. This would include Charlaine Harris and her multiple series revolving around twenty-something-year-old women with paranormal abilities living in the South. Same main characters, different names, different adventures.
As a short story writer, I like the idea of having recurring characters and archetypes in my stories. Often there’s not enough room to get to know a character completely, and many of my stories don’t lend themselves to novels. Having that character come back, in a different setting, unites my stories and hopefully keeps my readers wanting to come back to know them more deeply.
One of my goals for 2013 is to put out a collection of short stories, and in it, I plan to have a recurring character somewhat along the lines as King’s Flagg. He’s a vaguely paranormal guy on a quest, who thrives on chaos while attempting to reach his goal. He’s already shown up in “The Kindness of Strangers,” which was published in the 2011 Indiana Horror Anthology, and again in a short story I’ve almost finished and will be submitting soon. He also apparently had a huge hand in Sara going crazy (crazier) during the events leading up to “Tim and Sara.”
What’s your opinion on recurring characters? Do you like them traditionally in series, or are you a fan of them popping up in various stories? As a writer, do you use them, and why or why not?