Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Hi, Gang. Craig with you again today. I’ve been struggling with what to post. This comes from having been here since day one. I’ve already posted a lot of stuff for your consideration. This time, I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind.

As of this writing, I have nineteen publications, plus a selection of anthologies I’ve appeared in. My goal was to offer something for everyone, as long as they wanted speculative fiction. There are short stories, novellas, novels, and series. At some point, I’ve created a lot of characters.

I always try to avoid low hanging fruit and twist things up into something new and different not only for my readers, but for myself. I’ve reached a point where I’m starting to notice a few similarities. Some of this is author voice, but I want to be cognizant of it.

To explain I need to mention some of my work. Not in a promotional way, but for context. I’m currently writing a Space Opera that I’d ultimately like to work as a trilogy. It’s sort of traditional to come in at that length. (Now that Gwen taught us we have the attention span of goldfish, it might be a mistake. Ha ha!)

My main character is Percy the Space Chimp. He’s kind of caustic and paranoid, because Space Chimps are mistreated in larger society. However, I’m seeing a resemblance to one of my other characters known as The Hat. I don’t see this as a huge problem, because the hat really can’t have a character arc. His ongoing series requires him to remain the same to keep the series going.

Percy offers me some relief, in that he can arc before the end. As his story wraps up, he can be a better person than he was in the first book. Still, I’m trying to be aware of the similarities and include small differences. I gave Percy a digestive problem that required him to face one of his phobias. He now eats bananas for the fiber, even though he was mercilessly persecuted for being an ape prior to the story. I’m also working up a near-love interest for him in the form of a disabled veteran woman. Something the hat hasn’t been involved in… yet.

I’ve reached the point where Percy is about to visit a warehouse on a space station. One of my goals here was to include an entire society of aliens that run the warehouse. I want them to be comedic, and give readers a chuckle as Percy gains what he needs.

In all my thoughts about this society, the aliens keep coming out like root monsters in space. These were some uber-popular characters of mine, but their story is over. I haven’t written a word about the aliens yet, but I’m concerned.

Is it enough to be cognizant of these issues, or is there a good way to avoid writing the same characters with different names? This might be a place where character bibles or something could really help me.

Am I putting too much thought into this? Hallmark makes a fortune by recycling the same characters and stories in different environments.

I suppose I could take characters down a completely different path, but I’m not the one to tell those stories. Speculative fiction is a big field, and I have no desire to dive into romance or other genres.

I’m letting it slow my progress, but have no lamentations about that. The last couple of years were tough. Goals and deadlines added to my stress. This story will get told when it’s time, but I’d like to tame my own demons on this front.

Do those of you with a lot of publications ever have this worry? Am I needlessly concerning myself with this. Does this post make you think about your own work in a new way?

45 thoughts on “Lather, Rinse, Repeat

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  2. Being aware of it is good. Worrying about it is pointless (though obviously going to happen). The key is to be aware of it enough yourself that you make sure there are some differences, because then the reader will focus on those and enjoying the story and miss the similarity. After all, when it boils down to it, there are only so many types of character and story out there, and the way we make new ones is by adding in those small differences that turn our stories from an imitation of a previous work to something new and exciting.

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  3. Sorry I’m late, Craig. (I typed “latte.” Just in case you’re wondering, I am NOT “latte.” EVER. 😁) Anyway, I’m here now to get all caught up, and I must say you’ve given me a lot to think about. Somehow, coming into writing at such a late age and completely unschooled, I’ve never given any consideration at all to these kinds of worries. I just figure out what the main drama/event/crime/romance will be, and let the characters tell me what happens and what theythink of it all. I’ve apparently been doing it totally wrong in many ways, but I’m afraid to mess with my approach at this late date. If I were expecting to write for much longer, I’d definitely worry more about the type of things you’re going through. But for now, I’m thinking I’ll just continue letting Rabbit tell me what’s happening on the Ridge and what he plans to do about it. (Riverbend is on hold currently, so I’ll worry about that one later. Maybe.)

    One thing’s for sure: between you and the rest of the good folks here at Story Empire, the importance of keeping a Character Bible has finally gotten through to me. I’ve actually started putting mine together for each series, and as I work on it, I’m pretty sure I’ll be asking myself some of the same questions you’ve raised above.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post! Who knows? I may end up writing for another twenty years or so, and find myself troubled by the very issues you’ve described. I might even start approaching the whole process like a serious writer, and learn how to do it all better. It could happen! 😊

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      • Good point, Craig. Nothing keeps us going longer than learning new things every day. I hope I can write another 20 years, too, but being a fairly realistic person–about some things at least–I somehow have trouble picturing myself still doing this at 98. 😁 It would be wonderful, though, and I promise, if I can continue writing, I will! You, too, my friend! Write on! 😊

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  4. I think it comes down to early character development. What I mean here is, developing your characters before you begin the story (regardless if the writer is a plotter or a pantser). This is the time to play around with quirks, habits, defects, fears, dreams, secrets. These are all traits that set one character apart from another. If you draw inspiration from real people, you’re all set (yes, even for space chimps). Real life offers limitless inspiration for fictional lives. Many of my characters possess traits of people I know or knew at some point in life. It’s a good way (for me, at least) to not recycle the same characters. Just don’t let this bog you down and keep you from writing. You can always go back and make changes in the second draft.

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    • I really like that rewriting concept here. That second pass could correct anything I feel needs a tweak. I’m not slowing down, and can rethink it later. I dwell on characters sometimes for years before I write them, so I know what you’re getting at on that point, too.

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  5. Sorry I didn’t comment yesterday. I was down and out with a nasty migraine.

    I love the thought process on this topic. I think writers (well, diligent ones) always think about their work—is it true to their message while catering to reader expectations, is it a fresh take on an old theme, is it different enough from the rest of my catalog while still being “me” enough to appease fans? Thinking about these things is great. Obsessing over them can cripple you. There’s a happy medium on that spectrum. At least, I think so.

    Consider famous directors. You always hear critics saying, “It looks like a Michael Bey film” or “Another twist ending from M. Night Shyamalon” or “Mel Brooks is always hilarious” etc. The greats make a name for themselves by delivering on a promise, even when the subject matter varies. I think it’s great that you’re considering this aspect in your own work, but I hate to think you’re getting too bogged down by it. If people (like me) liked the root monsters on the high seas, we’re going to like another version of them in outer space. If your reviews ever get to the point where people are saying “been there, done that” then you have to worry. And I have a hard time picturing that problem in your library.

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  6. One of my favorite things in your stories is the humor, but its different in different situations. Great thing to be aware of but I think there is a style but each story had it’s own vibe. Good post and and something to consider!

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  7. Sounds like you wrote yourself into a great topic, Craig! 😛 I haven’t written enough books to offer any advice. Every time I think I’m done with my Diasodz series, I come up with something to write about. I am writing one last novel and then hoping to move into my other ideas. I guess the one thing I’ll say is that there are so real people who have similar traits, so it would make sense that the characters we create might have things in common. Just listen to their voices and go with it. 🙂

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  8. What an interesting post, Craig. I have about the same number of publications as you and occasionally think about this problem. There are only so many plots and only so many character archetypes and story themes, etc. It’s amazing that books can still be “original” with billions published every year. So on some level, I think you might be overthinking. If root monsters are uber-popular, use the archetype in your new story, especially if it feels right. BUT do lots of creative remodeling too. Think about the ways they’re different from root monsters – lanky, picky eaters, obsessed with anything colorful…whatever. That’s my two cents. I know you’ll figure it out.

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  9. Love your topic, because I DO worry about characters being too much the same, but the thing is, if you look at other writers, I think that’s the way it usually is. Maybe because our main characters have a lot of our way of thinking in them. I have favorite authors who write two or more series, and the main characters are a lot alike–and I like that. Because that’s part of what creates the writer’s voice. When I wrote A CUT ABOVE with Karnie instead of Jazzi, I worked harder than usual to make Karnie grumpier than Jazzi, and one of the reviews I got was that the reader loved Jazzi and wasn’t as happy with Karnie, she needed to mellow out:) There are authors, though, that I read one of their books and it feels like I’ve read ALL of them there’s so little difference between one book and another. But I think that has to do with the authors using the same formula and rhythm over and over again, not because of the characters.

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  10. Great post, Craig. You bring up concerns that probably haunt most writers. I don’t see what you see in your books, because your approach is so novel that the characters forever surprise and delight me. Now you’ve got me thinking about some of mine… 😊

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  11. Your discussion is why I stopped writing about John Cannon after the first three. Instead, I try to come up with different stories with different characters. This is why the sequel to Eternal Road has become so hard. It breaks the brain to consciously try to be different. This was also a nice intro to your space ape story.

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  12. This is a great topic, Craig! It’s definitely a concern I have. Thankfully, a lot of my stories are unpublished so I have time to rehash some things. For me, though, it’s more of a combination between the characters and the small town vibes. In my defense, I know small towns. I’ve lived in one my entire life and haven’t ventured out very often. So it goes back to the common saying, write what you know. On the character side of things, I tend to put a portion of myself into my main characters. It’s usually not intentional but just how the story falls onto the paper. I’m such an emotional person, an empath, that my personality bleeds into the story. If that makes sense. Similar to what you’ve mentioned about Percy and the Hat, I try to find something “new” to add in. Something to set the characters apart. With all of that being said, you’re right about things such as Hallmark movies. Sometimes, the similar aspect works.

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  13. I write a lot of ghost fiction and set a number of my stories in the 19th century. I also use a lot of old homes with history. For me, I don’t worry about my characters being too similar as much as I worry about people growing tired of my settings. I guess it’s our nature as writers to always question whether we’re our audience will enjoy what we deliver.

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  14. This post provides a lot of food for thought. I will never tire of Lizzie and The Hat just because you take them down so many different paths. At some point with that many publications and characters who pop up in new stories, you will begin to see similarities. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You’ve branded yourself. I don’t have enough publications or series yet to have this worry. But it does make me think in a different way about future work. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading Percy’s story!

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  15. That’s a hard one! The books that I’ve read by you are distinctive and refreshingly different. We all share characteristics to a greater or lesser extent with others and I don’t think it matters if there’s echoes there – the way they’re presented and the situations in which they find themselves will lead them down very different routes from each other. Just do what you do so well, and write!

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  16. Personally speaking, I would LOVE to see a space alien version of the root monsters! 😉 And I totally get where you’re coming from. I believe if you’re done with them, the aliens will end up surprising you with their own unique traits as the story and characters unfold. Great questions and post, Craig, that are helpful to us all. Thanks for sharing 💕🙂

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  17. First of all, every time I see the word space chimp, I think of the opening line of Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker.” 🙂 I haven’t given thought to duplicating characters. I do keep a list of all character names, major and minor, so as not to duplicate names.

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  18. Your idea of character bibles is a good one, Craig. When I finished my first novel, I put all of the notes away in a drawer before I started the next. Four books later that pile of notes had grown and were invaluable in keeping track. I really should save them on file, or at least notebook them one of these days, for I would hate to lose them…

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