Reader Friday: How far do you develop your fictional world?

Our friend Basil Sands posed a question for today: How deeply do you develop the characters in your fictional world, and do you write about them beyond the primary works?

“I just put up a novella and a couple shorts that flesh out some of my main characters from the past four books with details that had been alluded to in those books,” Basil writes. “Do you guys & gals do stuff like that? And when you do, do you keep it to yourself or put it up for the world to see?”

Tell us in the Comments!


11 thoughts on “Reader Friday: How far do you develop your fictional world?

  1. My brain automatically seems to think in terms of book series for my historicals. Very rarely does a concept for a stand alone novel come to mind.

    So while I’ve never thought about a novella or other short fiction to further draw out the characters, I end up milking the characters for all they’re worth through successive stories, though the same character may not necessarily be the lead character in each book.

  2. BK, I think the world is really opening up to support your way of creating fiction– instead of depending exclusively on traditional publishers to approve and release related works, writers are freer to develop their own collections.

  3. I haven’t gotten far enough in my writing to think in those terms, but I do like the idea.

    Basil, I bought your collection and loved it. This was the first of your works that I read and I like your style.

    Now I need to start reading your novels. Any tips on which one to read first?

  4. I like to know more backstory than I’ll use in a novel. Sort of like the iceberg principle.

    The late Harry Harrison, who wrote numerous novels featuring The Stainless Steel Rat, did a backstory novel only after his series was a big hit, and growing. That might be a good model.

  5. I just signed to write a novella that dramatizes how two of the major characters in the Grave series first met. It will come out in late 2013.

    When I was writing NO MERCY, I knew that it would be the first book in a series, so I intentionally laid as much foundation as I could for future books. I think that’s what readers are looking for these days.

    John Gilstrap

  6. On the subject of world development I’m currently working on a new novel that is not based on the characters of any of my older works. That being said I am considering putting one of my primary characters, a fella by the name of Kharzai Ghiassi, into this story even though it is more of a serious dramatic thriller versus my previous military/espionage stories.

    Kharzai is a character I’ve spent quite a bit of time developing and feel like I know him better than most of my characters and so am considering bringing him into this “real-world” novel with the new cast.

    Steven Pressfield does something like that in all of his historical fiction works that span centuries. In every one of them there is a character named Telemon who is like an uncle, sergeant, guide, to the main protagonist. With Kharzai growing into such a developed character over the past four books and a couple of shorts he may just be with me forever.

  7. By the way John, I remember you also laid out some of the Jonathan Grave backstory in one of the shorts you put in Fresh Kills. A pretty dark moment in the boy’s childhood that i remember every time I record one of the Grave novels. That story sticks in my mind and informs part of how I do the character, almost like Jonathan has flashbacks to that moment as he’s meting out justice and not sure how close to get to the border his father crossed.

    That’s what I like about back story, helps me see into the character’s mind.

  8. Like Jim, I always know more about my characters than ends up in my books. I often plant seeds of sequel ideas within each book and deliberately build a large world that has spinoff potential. In my book proposals, I detail my thoughts on spinoff ideas too.

    Creating memorable secondary characters is another way to create spinoffs.

  9. My brain works in series. I can’t have one character just have one adventure–I want to follow the character around and see what they do next. Or throw other characters into the mix and see what happens. Or what if I introduce a new antagonist? Or what if antagonist A joins the heroes to take down antagonist B?

    So yeah, series. Right now I have three series planned–the main series, a spinoff with a side character, and a middle-grade series with the kids of the heroes of the other series.

  10. I’m with Kessie, I think of my characters in series. In one novel “B” mentors “A,” who is the hero. In a later novel, “A” is the villain, and “B” ends up distracting “A” enough that the hero of the later novel can succeed.

    Beyond that, I bulid the characters in my mind for quite a long time before I ever jot down notes. As I write Sci-Fi, I have maps, tech, etc. all figured out, but the setting still tricks me, just like my characters.

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