Can characters live in different stories?

I have a new favorite show – Longmire (a new series on A&E). It popped up on Hulu one day, so I checked it out. Wyoming, cowboys, detective work…what’s not to love, right?

In watching the first episode, I saw a familiar face – Katee Sackhoff. Lou Diamond Phillips is also on the show, but he’s not who prompted this post.

Katee plays a main character on Longmire. A few years ago, she portrayed a main character in another TV series I like – Battlestar Galactica. She’s an actor, so she has a lot of credits in her career, but the one that brought this post to fruition is that she made an appearance on The Big Bang Theory as herself, but dressed as her character from Battlestar Galactica.

So, in chronological order: I enjoyed Sackhoff on Battlestar Galactica, then found it amusing when she was on The Big Bang Theory as herself but in her BG character’s uniform, and now I see her as a weekly character on Longmire.

Of course everything comes back to writing for me, so I’ve been thinking about characters I’ve created and what would happen if I picked one out of a story and randomly dropped her in another story. I couldn’t change her name (well, I could, but then the reader wouldn’t recognize her). Would I have to keep her in the same time period? Could she be living in 2012 in one novel and 1760 in another? Would a reader pick up on it? Would it matter?The Time Traveler's Wife cover

I just (finally) read The Time Traveler’s Wife and so have time travel on my mind (I love the concept).

I know crossover novels exist, where the author purposely works with another author and their main characters meet over a shared interest of some kind, but I’m going a little deeper here.

Actors take on new roles all the time. Can a character on a written page have the same opportunities?

Do you ever take one of your characters and drop him/her into a totally new story? Has a reader ever noticed?

Since character names aren’t copyrighted, wouldn’t it be fun to do a search on all published works for a character name and see how many novels the character appears in? Then see if any of the character descriptions match?

Lisa J. Jackson sometimes forgets her characters only live on the page and not in the real world. She is a New England region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter

28 thoughts on “Can characters live in different stories?

  1. I love this concept so much I have a book I’m working on where my protagonist dies and shows up in the sequel, reincarnated as a different person.
    I can’t give away details in a short response, but isn’t the idea of playing around with a character in different stories FUN? In my sequel, since she will be the same in terms of the essence of her personality, but there will be significant differences as she’s influenced by new experiences. I can change it up any way I decide is pertinent to the story line. This is a complex creative challenge. Have a feeling it’s going to take me quite a while to accomplish that goal! I have never seen Longmire. Will have to check it out, especially since I love BG!

    • Hi Laura!
      Reincarnation isn’t an aspect I’d considered, but it’s a fabulous idea!

      What you’ve shared about your project is intriguing…please keep us posted. 🙂

    • What a unusual idea. I love it. Good luck with this. If anyone can pull it off you can. I watched The Big C/Season One this past week and have visions of my book being made into a movie. Well, a person has to have a dream…

      • Dreaming is what writers do, isn’t it? That – and talk to themselves alot…
        Keep dreaming and writing saranell!

  2. Sometimes I walk at Enchanted Rock with friends, often in the places where things in my stories happen. I have realized several times that they think what I am talking about is real life, rather than inventions of my imagination. What is real? Don’t ask a writer or a physicist if you want a simple answer.

    • Very good points, Robert. 🙂 I haven’t written about a real place (or turned a real place into a fictional location) in my fiction yet, but can see what you’re saying. Actually, that’s a good tidbit for writers who use a real location – if the writing seems to be slowing down, go ‘visit’ your character in that location and have a conversation. It might shake the words loose.

      I like that!

  3. I started writing ‘Artful’ about the continuing adventures of the Artful Dodger. By the time I’d finished it several other authors had done the same. What is really odd is that one of the other books has a character with a similar name to one of my characters.

    • I’ve heard about similar tales, Martin. I know sometimes there are calls for anthologies or serial stories and the publisher will give some details (sometimes characters) about what each story *has* to include. It’s up to each other to write an original story using the stated details.

      Interesting that you’ve found a similarly named character in a similar book – I wasn’t sure they’d exist!

      Your profile mentions “The Wind in the Willows” – that’s a book title I haven’t heard in about 3 decades. I remember loving the story a lot. I have to find that book now. 🙂

  4. I loved BSG and have been recording Longmire because of Katee Sackoff, but I’ve yet to watch it yet.

    I’ve read a few books where characters from other books have shown up; In YA lit, Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins have done this. It’s a fun treat for devoted fans to see past characters show up again. Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ series tend to be about different characters in the same universe rather than multiple stories on the same character. I like that too because you can get more in depth in one book with a character who was only a supporting person in another. Very cool idea.

    • Thanks, Stephscottil for sharing the author names.

      You’ve reminded me of Sylvie Kurtz who has a romantic suspense series with a core of several characters – each book brings one character to the front of the stage and the others have supporting roles. Actually, that’s what a few of my favorite authors (JR Ward and Jessica Andersen to name two) do.

  5. The Wind in the Willows is a great book, one that I loved from an early age. I felt greatly honoured to win the competition organised by the Kenneth Grahame Society to write a sequel story.

  6. I have written about a main character that feels very alive inside of me. She is a teenager, in a YA story that I still hope to see published! Lately, I dream of her as a young woman on the go. She is not exactly the same person, though in my heart they are both ‘Rain.” If I must give her a new name…it will be very difficult to remember while I am writing!!

  7. I frequently drop my own critterly characters into new roles, totally unexpectedly, in order to reveal a surprise character trait! My readers do notice!

    • It sounds like you’re having fun to write about critterly characters. 🙂 And I think that’s where I was headed with my post – that dropping a character into a different environment would be a good way to reveal more about them. Thanks, Grandbee.

  8. One of my favorite writers, Christopher Moore, does this all the time. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about his books. The characters he uses in multiple books are always the same and they are always friendly characters. It’s like a little wave when you read the scene involving the repeat character! I say that if you can do it well, it’s great!

  9. Actually, this is a lot like my actual fiction-writing experience. I have a small group of characters who I came up with nearly six years ago who have, as I tried to find a plot that fit them, cycled from a fantasy-world setting to a modern-fantasy setting much more like the real world to thier current home, in a setting that’s more sci-fi than fantasy. The plot has changed with each rewrite, but the base aspects of thier personalities have stayed the same.

    • Very cool, Corrie. Almost sounds like your characters are ‘house shopping’ for their perfect environment. I admire folks who have a cast of characters that can move from story to story. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. I’ve honestly never thought about placing my favorite character in my other projects, but the idea is fabulous! I usually base all of my other lead characters off him, but I think I’ll have to try this, even if he just cameos. I really like the idea!

  11. Pingback: What Story Am I Writing? | The Write Stuff

  12. I am not a big comic geek as what I am about to say may imply but… I read in the paper that DC and Marvel comics created some kind of movie deal with there studios so that their hero’s can collide in different movies. So in this new deal Batman could bump into , let’s say, Iron Man or Spiderman. Your idea kinda reminded me of the concept in some small way.

    Love the concept, would love to see it Pan out.

    • Having hereos appear in other’s stories would be a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing that, Zak. That’s exactly what I was describing…except without needing permission from their creators. 🙂

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