The Many Lives of Gavin

If I’m reading a book or a series of books, I would rather be closely involved with a small group of characters than with a wide cast. The same thing happens when I’m writing a novel or series of novels… I don’t like inventing a whole bunch of characters when the ones I have already invented are perfectly good and better developed. Having too many characters in one story can also confuse a reader and can even lead to confusion for the writer.

My work-in-progress, XIII, started out with about a ton of different characters. Over time, I started to realize that some of these characters’ personalities and roles in the story were very similar, so as I wrote draft after draft, I began to remove characters, combine them, and “recycle” them.

If you’ve ever watched a soap opera, then you know how those shows “recycle” characters. Character X dies in a fiery auto wreck, then several episodes or seasons later, he returns. How he did he come back from the dead? Turns out he never really died at all. Everyone just thought he died.

I am currently using that technique in XIII, mostly so that I can avoid having to create new characters that serve much the same purpose as the old ones did. Gavin, one of my villains, has “died” or “disappeared from the story” quite a few times. In a way, the technique works because it makes the villain seem tougher and harder to destroy. But the technique fails because it can sometimes feel comical when the story is not meant to be a comedy. You know you’ve laughed at soap operas when the same character keeps reappearing after his many “deaths” or “accidents.” So I still have yet to determine how I want to handle this in my own writing.

Do you “recycle” your characters?

5 thoughts on “The Many Lives of Gavin

    1. Victoria: Just to chime in from my experience, my suggestion would be to add to your “cast” gradually. I may well have 75 characters by now (that’s a guess), but I’ve been adding them slowly for over 40 years. I think a good rule would be that if the writer has too many characters and can’t keep them organized, the readers will have the same problem.


  1. I think it’s different in different genres. Death is frequently temporary in fantasy (Gandalf, and for that matter Sauron), and in comic books resurrection is so common that it’s a joke.

    But in mysteries whoever is dead at the end of the book should probably stay dead. (This is not counting scenarios where a character is supposed to be dead but turns out to be alive at the end — and usually the murderer.)

    But I agree with not having to create new characters all the time, so I mostly write about the same ones (and I try not to kill the ones I’m going to need later):


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