What Do You Think About Pre-Existing Character Connections?

I’ll say it now to get it out of the way:  ‘Luke, I am your father! Let us be the standard of this overused tradition!’  Best if you imagine Darth Vader saying that.  Still, the surprise parent thing happens a lot.  Gets really weird when you read a story where a mother is surprised that someone is their child.  If anything, I would think a mother would be the parent to remember such an event.

Let me define what I mean.  There are two types of connections you can have between characters.  At least for the sake of this post.  One is the story-developed ones that occur within the confines of the story.  For example, two characters have a child in a series or they go through the same traumatic event.  The other is a pre-existing connection that was around prior to the story beginning.  This is useful more in later books of a series or later chapters of a book.  The uses for this are that new characters can be integrated into the group with more ease or there is a thicker plot between hero and villain.

I do find it interesting when there is a connection between characters and not just blood relations.  You can have former students, former friends, neighbors, and a ton of threads to weave.  I’ve been thinking about this lately ever since I realized one of my heroes shares an unexpected thread with one of the villains.  I’m playing with it and it makes sense that strings are being pulled a lot more.  That’s for my story, but it can still be handy outside of a series where destiny vs free will is a subplot.  In fact, I tend to prefer a connection beyond ‘me villain, you hero, we fight’.

You tend to find character connections in a lot of what you read.  Trying to find a non-spoiler example that isn’t in my line of sight is tough.  Anyway, it might not even be between heroes and villains.  One of the connections in my series is that Nyx and Sari were childhood friends for a year or so.  It’s a bridge that helps me fit Sari into the group dynamic and can bring some of young Nyx into the older one.  Their former relationship continuing as adults will be a catalyst for change.  It doesn’t even have to be this solid.  Two characters can bond over learning from the same teacher or enjoying the same beer.

So, what do you think of characters having a history together?  Do you enjoy it?  Is it cliche?  Do you use it yourself?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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34 Responses to What Do You Think About Pre-Existing Character Connections?

  1. sknicholls says:

    Free will and destiny will be underlying themes in my new work…the relationship of two sisters brought up in the same household, but with completely different personalities…yet they share some common threads. The pre-existing character connections have to do with childhood friends whom they are later reintroduced to as adults. I believe it will bring some understanding of their adult behaviors that might otherwise be misunderstood.

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    • I think it’s really interesting to see this happen in an Earth setting instead of fantasy. It brings home the fact that such things can really happen. When fantasy gods aren’t involved, the destiny part tends to be a lot more subtle.

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      • sknicholls says:

        Aside from concepts like deus ex machina, the Gods are rooted in the real life experience. I can recall many relatives expecting prayer to suddenly solve everything. No one was supposed to have any control over their outcomes…just pray about it. I am not saying prayer doesn’t work and God isn’t real. I am just saying that people put their faith in the hands of some omnipotent entity they could not see, rather than taking action steps to control outcomes in their lives. For many, they accepted their destinies, as God’s plan, rather than exercising any free will to change their circumstances. To do otherwise was practically unacceptable. (eg. divorce, education, medical care/science). They accepted their destiny without question. Marry a farmer and milk cows.

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      • I was kind of talking about the gods in fantasy, which tend to be visible entities that you can’t really disprove the existence of. So I think you lost me.

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      • sknicholls says:

        I gotcha, more like the mythical creature type. I was mainly focused on destiny versus free will from an emotional point of view.

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      • Emotional is a tough one in any world. My personal belief is that it’s a combination. One is destined to get the opportunity to do something, but they need their free will to choose the right path. Kind of like life is one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. In fantasy, one has gods that alter destiny of mortals, but I’m trying to balance it with there being a free will factor that the gods accept. The one in charge says at least once that he can build the path, but even he isn’t sure how things will end.

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      • sknicholls says:

        I am fascinated by the psychology behind your fantasy characters. They have their own world rules but not without constructs of human nature or the natural order of things in their world.

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      • It’s a different mode of thinking, which seems to be big in fantasy. Many times it requires a reader to step out of the rules they know and accept that things work differently. This kind of goes back to the morality issue people had with the Kira Grasdon’s culture.

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      • sknicholls says:

        Being the daughter of a merchant she already had a culture of sorts, but she was witty and cunning and stepped out of her traditions to some extent. She violated some of her culture’s rules, but developed her own character in doing so. I actually liked that character.

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      • I’m hoping she evolves nicely. She’s a tough character to plot out since she isn’t in every book.

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  2. MishaBurnett says:

    I revealed a character connection in the middle of my second book. Oddly, I found it had less of an impact on the connected characters than on those around them who became aware of it.

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    • I remember you mentioning that before. Some times the connection might have a stronger impact for the reader and others than the target character. If the character has established a mindset of apathy or one where such an event wouldn’t phase them then their mild reaction makes sense.

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  3. Darth Vader, say it isn’t so. 🙂

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  4. I like the idea. I think that it enhances the story in many cases as long as it is done correctly, especially in the case of hero / villain.

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  5. L. Marie says:

    I love the preexisting connections and how they provide bits of history. Dickens used them a lot in his novels. I’m thinking especially of Bleak House. I use a preexisting connection in my novel. It’s not as close as the “Luke, I am your father” connection, but I mention it early in the book as a bit of foreshadowing.

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  6. LindaGHill says:

    I love a surprise connection when it shows up as a good twist. If it’s obviously done for the sake of convenience though, it sucks. I think there’s a fine line there with what one can get away with.

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    • I agree. Though, I’ve also learned that some readers are more observant than others. If one reacts too much to the highly observant ones then they can do the sudden connection with no clear evidence of it. Definitely a tightrope situation.

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  7. tyroper says:

    I liked the Sari/Nyx tie in.

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  8. Jae says:

    I like them because they show up in my stuff all the time. Just not with a Darth Vader reveal. I think events aren’t necessarily cliche, just the way we present them. There will always be romance novels about how boy met girl, but boy meeting girl isn’t the cliche, just HOW it happens. And sometimes I’ve seen things bust through a cliche by interpreting it in a new way.

    Oh, and hi! Nice to see you again! 😀

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  9. Jerry B. says:

    I remember when the Darth Vader relationship was unveiled. It was mind-blowing at the time. Now, that type of revelation, to that level, is almost cliche. However, you bring a great point that the connection does bring the story together and helps to understand the character’s connection to each other. In the manner you have discussed, I think it adds to the depth of the book and is not cliche.

    Though, Charles, I have an announcement, I am not your father but might be your second cousin, three times removed, by marriage if you look at the family tree in a skewed view only on the second moon of the month. I hope that wasn’t easily foreshadowed in my previous comments.

    jerry b

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    • Damn. I was guessing four times removed on my mother’s side when viewed upside down on the midday of the Ides of April. So close. 🙂

      The sad thing is that the parent vs child is a great bit of storytelling. Unintentional like Luke and Vader makes it more tragic. I think it can still be done depending on the method of reveal. Such dramatics might be what dooms it these days.

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      • Jerry B. says:

        I agree. It could still be done. Many of thes tragic or comedy stories of modern literature are just tips of the hats of tales from the past. Was it Shakespeare that said there are only seven types of stories. I wonder what he would say about plot revelation in modern literature. I think he would have been tickled by the Vader revelation.

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      • I think he’d be amused by it. I wonder if he could connect it to anything from his days. I want to say Oedipus, but there’s the mother issue and the reveal never happened until after his dad was killed.

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  10. this plays onmy mind a great deal and i sometimes lose all the threads by overcomplicating connections, it isstill a lot of funt to tie everything together if possible and there is somuch more exploration and depth by giving some slight connection. readers like hints and references to characters or even places they loved inprevious stories so connections(regardless of how slight) often have a positive and enjoyable feel to them. this is an interesting topic, Charles, much to think on.

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