A risk of writing a series is that the story and characters can become stale if it goes on for too long. One of the ways to combat this is the introduction of new characters throughout the series. This can be a one-time supporting character, a permanent hero, or even a new villain. By adding a new character, you create fresh subplots and relationships that can be explored. This will revitalize your series and established characters, possibly even throwing the old guys into turmoil that they will grow from.
There are many ways to introduce this new character, so I can’t list them here. It’s whatever works for your story and the character in question. For example, a thief joining the group can be introduced either robbing the heroes or they meet him/her in prison. I know this is a stereotypical example, but it gets the point across. Instead of explaining the HOW of a character introduction, I’m going to talk about the WHY.
There are many reasons to introduce a new character beyond simply wanting to keep your series fresh. That is an underlying reason for yourself and I’m talking about the plot workings. I’m going to list a few categories that full-time and one-time characters can fall into.
- Character Turmoil– If your established heroes have been going too smoothly then you might want to shake things up. This is especially true for romances that peak early in a series. Use this new character to cause friction between characters by flirting, purposely causing conflict, or simply being mischievous to the character that you want to be on the outs with the rest of the group. Think of those old cartoons where a new pet shows up and starts causing trouble to get the old pet kicked out. A new character with this purpose must disturb the status quo, but not decimate everything unless they’re really a villain. Even then, you want to retain something of the old connections so as not to undo the previous books.
- Missing Piece– With an ensemble cast, every character has a role. As a story progresses, you might find that there is an unfilled niche. Things are getting dangerous and nobody in the group has even a hint of medical training. You’re planning a trap-filled dungeon and all you have are meat-head warriors and a scantily clad sorceress. These groups would seek out someone to fill the void instead of continuing on like blind minions. Unless they’re full-blooded morons, but then I think you’re going to have other plot problems.
- The Replacement– Characters may die or leave during a series. Their stories have ended in some form, so they’re no longer around. A group can recover with the introduction of a new character, who could be either similar or entirely different than the lost ally. The lost and new characters don’t have to be connected at all, but the new one does have to bring some attention to the loss. Maybe one of the established heroes hates that the new one is replacing an old friend. Maybe the new one is curious about why everyone is so morose or standoffish. This is a type of introduction that needs to play to the reader too because they just lost a literary friend as well.
- Evil Flash in the Pan– Many times in a series, a villain will appear for one or two books. This character is either an ally of previous villains or the heroes stumble upon this distraction from the main plot. This tends to be a character development arc instead of a major plot arc. The villain can either survive the encounter to side with the original villains or be destroyed. These tend to not live as long as your standard villain.
- Recovered Character– Some heroes have a quest to rescue someone. Well, what happens when they succeed? You can end the series or introduce a continuation to make the rescued character a new ally. This is rather easy to do since this is a character that you’ve, hopefully, been working on establishing throughout conversations about them and a scene or two of them as captives. Another route is to make the rescued character the new main villain.
A key point here is to have fun with the introduction of a new character. Work to have the appeal to the reader and bond to the established characters. You need to pace it and make it believable, so everyone getting along right away might not work. Even if they’re friendly, you can put in problems with them working together. The new guy doesn’t know how the older ones function as a team, so mistakes will occur. Going by the other extreme, having a character that angers everyone and doesn’t get along with anyone can make them immediately unlikeable. For example, one game I played in introduced a new player who opted to threaten the established characters and refuse to join us. It was ‘fixed’ by a powerful wizard putting a spell on the new character to force her to travel with us or be inflicted with great pain. Never do this unless you’re planning for this character to turn villain or have no real attachment to them.