Characters: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

There are several novels I’ve had to quit working on because they just weren’t working out for me. I no longer had the incentive to revise them or make them better because I felt my time would be better spent on other projects. Some might argue that it was a waste of time, effort, and energy to take a novel through three or four revisions, then just give up on it.

For me, it wasn’t a waste of time at all. I got some writing experience under my belt and I have a better sense of what works and doesn’t work in stories. Also, I have some awesome characters that can be given a new lease on life in a different novel.

There are some characters I’ve grown very attached to over the course of writing novels I’ve given up on, so why not reuse them in other stories, even if it’s just a small cameo appearance? And since many of the novels I’ve written take place in the same small town, it only makes sense that certain characters would show up repeatedly throughout a series or throughout a sequence of related books.

Including characters from previous works also reduces the amount of time you have to spend coming up with even more characters to remember and develop. It saves energy, basically.

So the moral of the story is… no novel is ever wasted, even if it never sees the light of day. Take the good parts of it and use them in other projects. Put your characters in new situations and see how they react. They may turn out to be a lot better in a new story than in the one you had them in.

10 thoughts on “Characters: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  1. Maggie! This is a post I could have written (and I’m sorry I didn’t). I’m right there with you on the notion of betting fed-up with a novel, and moving on, and of reusing characters, even plot pieces.

    In fact, one of the reasons I was glad for NaNoWriMo to come around this year was that I wanted to stop on the rewrite (for me a boring and difficult task, because I know how it all comes out), and do something different. And THAT has been scads of fun.

    Building characters, devising plots, working out the logic, adding foreshadowing, all of the craft skills developed in the writing of a novel are positive experiences. Even if the particular book doesn’t go anywhere, your education does.


    • NaNoWriMo has kept my mind from dwelling on my revisions, too. It’s good to have something else to think about so you don’t get hung up and frustrated over one project. 🙂


  2. I think you’re very accomplished – very inspiring!.

    I have left a few things behind at about 35,000 words. I’m disppointed that I don’t complete one thing ever. But I also think it just wasn’t working. Do I regret the time put in? No. Because its all practice. The ironic thing about writing is that its almost a torturous thing when you think about it: you could spend months/years on something and then have to move on from it and abandon it. So it could literally be years and years before getting that “right” thing. Or maybe I’m being too exaggerated (I don’t know).

    I recently read elsewhere someone say they wanted to write because they wanted to be acknowledged and to get success. To be fair, I don’t know their full story, and I mean, honestly I think everyone wants this (I guess its natural in some ways). But the comment also irritated me (or maybe I’m just insecure? jealous? lack of self-confidence?) but I don’t know I guess I understand that it is a matter of discipline, etc…but shouldn’t passion and love be priority? Or am I being melodramatic I wonder? I guess a bit of both.


    • The point of writing is to write because you love it. If you happen to get rich and famous, that’s just a perk. And it’s true – you should never regret the time you spent on any project because what you learned will be valuable to you in the future.

      It is human nature to want fame, fortune, and success, but that’s not the real reason we should be writing, since fame and fortune only come to a few.


  3. Becoming a writer because you want to get rich is like becoming a writer because you want a lot of groupies. It’s not impossible, but it’s not real likely. 🙂

    I agree completely about it not being wasted time. I have a closet full of stuff I wrote before my first novel. It’s mostly junk, but it’s what got me to be able to write — and complete — the novels I have written.

    What would have been a real waste of time would have been to feel that I had to complete any of those other projects, just because I’d started them.

    Oh, and as you know, I always use the same characters. I add new ones for each project, but the core ones are always there.


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