I have so many different projects, I hear voices in my head – the characters talking all at once – and I have to write to make them stop.
– Eli Roth
When transitioning series characters between novels and short stories, you need to keep the timeline and events straight. We touched on this issue two blog posts back. Remember that your mind will carry all the information to date about your characters, including their actions, including relationships. Your readers’ minds don’t.
Especially if your reader is not reading your short stories and novels in chronological order. As readers we (and I count myself in here) don’t always read series books in order. So, in the first novel in the series you read Alice is having a baby with Jack. Later you get to the first novel where Alice meets Jack. I’m doing this with the Deborah Crombie mystery series. I still haven’t read the book where the main character and her boss change their relationship from just business to personal but I’ve read books where they are living together and ironing out the kinks with a blended family, plus dealing with their respective outlaws, I mean in-laws, although sometimes they may act like the former.
Take this a step further with your series characters hopping in and out of short stories and novels. Which came first? And if you write a novel, then some short stories, then another novel, etc. with the same series characters, be careful. A character in a short story set in 2000 would not know what will happen in the following years, unless you want him or her to be psychic.
A character in a story set in an earlier time would not be as fully developed as in a later story. This can get a little confusing if you are back and forth in time with your story. Sometimes taking your character’s traits outline (remember that suggestion from last week’s post?) a little deeper by listing how they were then and later can help. Also listing the trigger (another character’s actions, something they experienced, etc.) that changed them after the first story, can help.
Again, you may not use all of this in your stories, but after writing out all the information, it is embedded in your mind – somewhere. The trick is to pull out the right characteristic for the right story.
This brings up another question. How much do you reveal about your main characters (and plot for that matter) in novels and short stories that has occurred in a previous novel or short story? You don’t want to give away character and plot from the previous. Yet you don’t want your reader kept wondering if your characters seem to appear out of the blue. Or family and friends and situations are mentioned briefly and in a way that leaves your readers scratching their heads and muttering, “Huh?”
With two of the linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012) I am right upfront about what happened to David, Dana’s son in the prequel novel Beyond Blood (to be published by Blue Denim Press in the fall of 2014). I have to be, because in those short stories David is psychologically mute. Otherwise the reader will wonder why and if he has always been like that. So I state it but blend it into the main plot of the short story. Here’s an example from the beginning of “Gone Missing.”
The police can’t find her, Ms Bowman,” Robin Morgrave says.
Rosemary Morgrave has gone missing and I’m putting on a brave smile for her twin brother. Robin sits on the other side of the desk in The Attic Agency’s third floor office. Only my twin brother, Bast, nodding, stops me from losing it. Ever since David, my seven-year-old son, was abducted last August, I’ve been living in Panicville. Sure, we got David back, but how much of him returned? He follows Bast around like an investigator-in-training. His brown eyes stare right through my soul. I wish he’d just say how he feels. But since his return, David hasn’t opened his mouth except to swallow liquids and food. He doesn’t even cry. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012, copyright Sharon A. Crawford).
Next week we will talk more about plot consistency and how much to reveal without giving it all away.
Meantime, read any of the mystery series novels by Peter Robinson and see how he handles continuity and consistency in character and plot.
Also, you can read more about the characters and their stories in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html
Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.
Sharon A. Crawford