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Adding New Characters Late

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Anonymous asked: “Out of curiosity, how do you feel about adding new characters to the middle of story?”

Unless they are a minor character, don’t do it. New characters that come in late in a book has got to be one of my biggest reading pet peeves. While there might be some examples that work, most, in my opinion, don’t work. But there another way around it… 

If you are really set on not having a character come in until half way through a book, there are ways to make it work. How I see it is that readers have two different “modes” of reading – when they’re reading from the beginning, they’re paying very close attention and trying very hard to catch every detail. They are simultaneously learning who the characters are, later on though, they know the characters, they aren’t paying as close attention to every little thing and throwing a new character in can make it very confusing. I feel like you’ll see a lot of “who is this again?”. 

The way around this I think is, if possible, introduce all characters early and if they can’t be present for the introductions try to name-drop like crazy. If there is some kind of introduction like that early on, you’re at least setting up reader’s expectations that this person’s name will come up again and have some importance, so when they do show up half way through it’s not such a big deal. 

Otherwise, if you have to bring in a new character so late into the game, I think The Book Thief by Markus Zusak does a very good job of this. The character Max comes into the story well after the beginning, and becomes a prominent character in the novel. So, how did Zusak accomplish this? I could be completely wrong, but I think it’s because he places so much weight on Max. Suddenly we get a chapter that’s just about Max after having followed Liesel for so long – even that move, he’s able to pull off because of the narrator. The narrator, a personification of death, comes into the story to show what’s happening in the world outside of Liesel’s life. We catch glimpses of the war. It isn’t such a leap that we could see a little bit of Max’s life too. He has a couple chapters that just follow him until he meets Liesel. The amount of significance placed on Max makes him especially memorable – readers as a result as less likely to forget who he is or wonder why he’s there. 

So, I won’t say it can’t be done. It can be done. These are a few strategies to help avoid confusion – because really, that’s what you run the risk of when you introduce new characters late in a novel. 

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