Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Borrowing Bits of Your Novels

When you're writing, sometimes certain ideas cling to you. It's possible that you even recycle these ideas into a different work of writing. It's not (necessarily) that you're being lazy; it's just that sometimes you have a hankering to explore these things in more detail, revisiting them and seeing what else they can do.

Obviously you do this if you're writing a series, but some writers do it with entirely unrelated novels. I've done it. Hey, even if no one notices, at least I'm amusing myself with this form of self-plagiarism.

After all, it's totally acceptable to borrow ideas from yourself. I'm pretty sure you won't squawk about copyright infringement!

1. Taking a minor character and making him/her the star of an entirely new novel
2. Taking a concept or idea, such as a unique creature or setting, and fleshing it out in more detail in another novel
3. Revisiting an ongoing theme, joke, or thread in other novels
4. Including an ongoing minor character, such as always writing in one named Joe or Lila, or always having a character who loves to play tennis or who collects pig figurines.
5. Recycling a favorite metaphor or simile from a novel that has been shelved…or not shelved


Borrowing a concept
SAVVY by Ingrid Law, deals with the main character Mibs reaching her 13th birthday, whereupon she acquires her "savvy"--the special ability that everyone in her family has. The subsequent book, SCUMBLE, is about another character who has to deal with his savvy, which has nothing to do with Mibs and her conflict/story. The savvy is the concept Ingrid Law has transferred to her new novel.

Borrowing a character…or two
In Susan Fletcher's DRAGON'S MILK, Kaeldra must fetch milk from a dragon's den in order to save her ailing sister, Lyf. In Susan's next novel, FLIGHT OF THE DRAGON KYN, the timeframe rewinds into a prequel that explores the back story of Kaeldra's grandmother, Kara. Then, the third novel in this trilogy ends up a sequel to DRAGON'S MILK that carries on Lyf's story; it is called SIGN OF THE DOVE. Great trilogy, by the way, if you haven't read the books.

Borrowing details
In one of my contemporary novels, the boyfriend of my main character liked to play a computer game called Battle Ring Seven. I borrowed that game idea, which became the seed-idea for another novel entitled BATTLE RING SEVEN. I imagined what that game world would include, and used those things to provide details for the second novel. This included winged blue witches and nargoyles, enchantresses and ogres.

I've also invented slang in one novel and carried it over into a second novel, e.g., "shrieking catguts." Laziness? Perhaps. But it seemed to fit both places. In some novels, however, such as my post-apocalyptic WIP, this expression doesn't seem natural. In my WIP cats don't even exist in my main character's home town (I know, pretty sad, huh?).

This is something to keep in mind when borrowing bits and pieces of your own work: the pieces MUST mesh with the time-period, atmosphere, and style of the transferred novel.

How About You?
Have you ever borrowed characters from one novel and developed them in another one?

Can you think of other published novels where an author has recycled ideas, characters, or tidbits of info? (apart from obvious series)

Have you ever used a detail or concept from a past novel to jumpstart an entirely new novel?

HAPPY NEW YEAR--see ya on the first Wednesday in 2011!!


  1. Stephen King does this all the time. It's very clever and fun, even if you're the only one in the know!

  2. I tend to borrow things from past work that didn't make the cut. A number of things that happen in the sequel to MONARCHY came from some of my epic fanfic that will never (nor should it ever) see the light of day. I can't say I've got minor characters that show up in different works, but I don't have enough volume to see those things yet.

    Happy New Year to you, too!

  3. I haven't borrowed characters but I've definitely been thinking about that lately with a character from my last manuscript. He is not a main character although he did steal the show so to speak. He is the very charismatic and really cute love interest of my main character. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize he's right where he belongs.

  4. I have a friend who is taking a minor character in her first book and writing her story next.

    I've taken concepts and applied them to another novel, but not characters.

  5. I have switched scenes before, sometimes one scene worked better for a different story, but thats as far as I've gone.

  6. I've have a fourth novel started that uses the daughter of my MC from my trilogy. I don't expect to use much of her family of origin in this novel, but b/c of how integrated she was in the third book, I do need to keep her in character with her new life.

    I also started my three word wednesday serial so that I could explore a bit more fully a couple of the characters that are mentioned in the trilogy.

    Yep, self-plagarism can be rewarding :)

    I like your examples here; they are concrete and useable.


  7. I haven't really borrowed characters, but I have wondered how much different my story would have been had I decided to end it in another way -- so I will start writing my next story backwards starting with an alternate ending for an existing story. As my characters make different decisions, their characteristics change and new characters develop. Soon, I end up with a completely new story and cast. Admittedly, it doesn't always work, but when it does it sure feels good.

  8. I've absolutely done this. I've even taken specific dialogue from shelved stories and placed them in newer stories -- and it works!

    I've also taken characters and sort of upgraded them (gave them new name, maybe made them older or wiser) and placed them in a new situation. I'm impressed when this works, sometimes I don't even recognize the original character.

    Excellent post, Carol! Have a happy New Year!

  9. A minor character in my first novel ended up being the main character in my second. I really liked him and he was placed perfectly to continue the narrative. :)

  10. I've never done this, but I've read other books that did. I especially like re-visiting characters from previous books. I do notice that I carry certain themes from book to book. I don't TRY for this, it just sort of happens.

    Happy new year!

  11. In my trilogy I use minor characters from the first book and expand their roles in the next ones. Of course, to avoid character clutter some of these must be killed along the way. But its fun to develop them and give them a few chapters of their own.

  12. Good idea! I've considered potential spinoffs of my current trilogy with either secondary characters or the MC in a different time period. Happy New Year!

  13. Yep, I borrow bits all the time, but I often change them enough so they fit into the current story in a snug way.
    Happy New Year!

  14. Thanks for visiting and following my blog.

    Even though I haven't yet finished my first novel, I have borrowed from my other work. My MC came to mind years ago when I attempted a book, but gave up after a few chapters. It's a totally different story line, but MC has the same characteristics and personality. There are lots of things in my WIP that I want to expand in future projects.

    Very good topic for discussion.

  15. I do the same thing, and I feel guilty about it, isn't that weird? I'll need to get over that, quick.

  16. I was just checking my contest blog... I've had several visitors and comments, but no entries! Somehow (probably operator error) my contest form disappeared. It's back now. If you tried to enter my give-away, please give it another shot.


  17. I'm developing a character from a short story I've written and putting her into a full length novel. I think we must do this alot, whilst writing one story, many ideas seem to fall out of it and another story is born so to speak. Happy New Year! ;)

  18. Great post. I think our writerly minds just want to know more about a character or scene, and so we carry it to the next level in some way. I love thinking about it!

  19. Thank you so much for visiting and following my blog, your comments are so encouraging. I have never thought about reusing characters or locations, but have seen other writers do it and felt it added alot to their stories. After all, our hope is that our readers will fall in love with our characters and settings; what better way than updating them with tidbits in our other books.


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