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Writing—how to introduce a new character in a series

Having written several ongoing series’ (Maudelayne is entering its fifth season for example) there inevitably comes up how to introduce a new character. This can also come up when writing a series of books or short stories. Sometimes a new character is there to fulfill a purpose—love interests for example—so how can they be integrated without being a cardboard cutout that is obviously “oh look Jane Doe has a boyfriend now”. When I added Krinaia to the Maudelayne cast, I gave her a few episodes right away that showcased her unique talents that were needed by the ensemble. I wanted to make sure the listeners could connect with her as a strong individual character apart from the fact she ends up marrying Atherton. Doing another random hitjob on my Netflix queue I looked up how some tv series’ added in new characters to their ensemble casts.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer—Tara

Sometimes a minor character turns out so fascinating that they slowly build and one day you blink and there they are a regular cast member. That’s what happened with Tara—she is introduced as an acquaintance of Willow who also has an interest in magic, is thrown into the episode Hush to help with tension and plot building, and slowly shows up more and more with Willow as the plot line of magic is needed. Originally she was a character of convenience, but her incredible chemistry with Willow and just how “right” the two of them looked together ended up slowly building into the two of them beginning a serious relationship. By the next season, Tara was just naturally a member of the cast, and that was highlighted when she finally got an episode with a storyline all about who Tara was, and where the main ensemble demonstrates how much they care about her. It is one of Joss Whedon’s famous moments as a group of disparate characters come together as a tight-nit family. Adding a character isn’t always about planning—sometimes a minor character blossoms into a main cast member and it is up to the writers to recognize that and give the character room to grow.

Legend of the Seeker—Cara

In season two, a major new character joins the ensemble, but she was hinted at beginning with the climax of season one. They took the episode a lot of people would be paying attention to—the season finale—and threw her into the mix. The writer did not waste any time and introduces Cara in the first scene. Her first lines are to contradict the most feared character in the series who actually accepts her advice, demonstrating she is fearless and intelligent. The biggest question would be why such a strong character was not in most of the season, which is answered in the same scene as Cara demands to know why she was not summoned earlier. She moves straight into the acting without hesitation and she becomes the primary person driving the plot of the finale. When she arrives as a regular character in season two, it is difficult to question her since she basically burst in fully formed as a formidable character.

Stargate SG-1—Vala & Mitchell

With several main cast members leaving the show, SG-1 faced the challenge of trying to recast them or bring on entirely new characters. They chose the latter (which I agree with after the fiasco of recasting Teal’c's wife several times).

Mitchell was a totally new character pulled out of nowhere and set to lead the team. Replacing the main hero on a show is extremely difficult, and rather than bringing someone up out of the ranks, Stargate inserted a new creation. He had some things in common—air force officer inclined to be snarky—but he was younger and more naive than the character who proceeded him as team leader. They used the empathy tactic to introduce him—he was apparently wounded when trying to protect SG-1 in a previous episode. They used insert shots into old footage to add to the storyline along with using the character he was replacing giving him the thumbs up for commanding SG-1. Furthering a viewer’s empathy, Mitchell was thrown into the episode as trying to put the team back together and failing miserably. Viewers loved SG-1 and wanted to see the team again just as much as Mitchell did, so it was a good tactic to get viewers to like and accept him.

Vala was a minor episodic character from the previous season. She was a lot of fun and had some great chemistry with the cast, which is probably why they chose to bring her in as a regular. In the episode she was used as the reason SG-1 ends up getting back together. Her comedic timing is excellent, and her flirty light style fit well with Stargate’s writing that is a combination of serious and cheeky. Using a semi-familiar character as the means for introducing a totally new character was an interesting choice that put viewers a bit at ease that they were not going to get force fed a totally new cast. Her specific character traits (or flaws depending on how you look at it) come in handy during the first few episodes, although they also get her into trouble. She added a new dynamic to the show and let viewers have a good laugh which helped with the bit of nervousness that Mitchell’s character introduction created, putting people at ease with the show.

Charmed—Chris

I know what you’re thinking…why am I not commenting on Paige? I wanted to look at different types of new characters added, and just covered replacing a character via Stargate so I wanted to look at a different situation. Chris presents a great example of a character added in order to spice up a show. On a superficial level, Charmed needed some young eye candy and Chris provides that perfectly, on another level he brought in a whole season-long story arc. Another unique aspect of the character was how incredibly mysterious he was for such a long time. You never knew what side he was on or what his ultimate motives were and it made his character’s story that much more compelling. When the truth is finally revealed, I think everyone watching did a massive squeal or at least blinked in shock several times. When rewatching the season knowing that key bit of info (not to be revealed here) all the odd things Chris did suddenly make sense. Basically it was great storytelling. Like Cara in Legend of the Seeker, Chris was introduced during the season finale of the season right before the one he became a regular in. That seems to be a popular way of introducing new characters on a show.

As for the moment in which he is introduced, several of the characters are in grave danger—one of them has literally just been turned to stone, and viewers are on edge hoping nothing worse happens. Right in the nick of time a handsome young man appears out of thin air and saves the day, followed by a quite humorous scene in which he acts like an insufferable know-it-all but also obviously caring about what has happened. He is kept somewhat mysterious right from the first entrance and stays that way through most of the season, but with enough empathetic moments that viewers cannot hate him.

Notes that I learned from looking at character introductions:
— Use the season finale to introduce incoming characters for the next season
— Chose to either gradually introduce someone, or throw them right into the thick of the action, not in between
— It is okay to use an existing minor character and bring them into the main ensemble
— Be sure to cause strong empathy with the new person when replacing a well loved existing character
— Let the new character drive the plot in some way, not be standing on the sidelines




Easter Island—new Maudelayne audio drama

Maudelayne Series 4
“Birdman”

Listen to episode: BrokenSea Audio Productions

Worsley is chosen in a dream from another realm, to be one of the contestants in the annual race on an ancient island. Of course the rules didn’t mention the plummeting cliff dive and shark infested waters.

This is a crossroads episode where nothing explosive happens, but many characters take a turn to go in another direction—a pause and reorientation. I think it is important to have these sorts of episodes every now and then both to keep a series fresh and to challenge the characters to grow just like we do as people. There are three main changes this episode. If you have not listened yet, do not read further because there are spoilers.

Worsley has been slowly getting up his nerve in the last few episodes, and I believe Atherton’s near death experience also shook him to the core. He is now ready to “take the plunge” and start facing who he is. As a result of this experiment, Worsley goes to new levels of courage and faces things he would never have dreamed of doing in Series 1. It is an important step forward for him as a character, which is crucial to Series 5 (yes I have written that far).

The second change is Atherton taking a position at Maudelayne School. It was a logical step because he is both honourable and madly in love (or as close as Atherton will ever come to that). It being the 1930s, he feels responsible to provide a household for his wife, so his character had to leave the college and being his own life. It needed to be nearby for the story, and so I sent him off as a teacher (will the children understand a word he says?). I had planned this for quite some time, which is the very reason I introduced the Edmund character as a potential student to come wandering in and out of stories.

The third change is of course the marriage itself. This is one story I had never planned—Krinaia was not supposed to return as a character, but Atherton had other ideas (he usually does) so I had to bring his one true love back. There will be a wedding episode but it is not what is to be expected, since this is Maudelayne and nothing can ever go normally, and it will not be the next episode. The series happens in real time, so each monthly episode represents a month having passed. As a result, the wedding being several months away means the episode is several months away, also!

Coming up are more classic Maud episodes with a main storyline, rather than this one which has several going on. Let me know if you liked this format—I know it can be hard to follow several stories in different places in Audio Drama.

The mythology featured in the episode comes from Easter Island and was an actual ceremony that was performed to choose the new Birdman. Stevie K. Farnaby created the fantastic artwork and also brought in actual sound effects recorded on the island—amazing!




More than a naiad—new Maudelayne audio drama

Maudelayne Series 4
“Well of Doom”

Listen to episode: BrokenSea Audio Productions

Krinaia senses evil water nearby, and sure enough a terrible horned serpent arises from a mysterious well, bent on drowning all humans it finds. But not all is as it seems. What secret is Colchester hiding?

The naiads were introduced early on in the Maudelayne series, along with the concept that no mythical creature or object can stay in our world longer than a few minutes after the rift closes.

When I happened upon a story referenced in Phantastes about a maiden trapped in a magical mirror that only her true love could smash I knew that would be a dramatic way to bring Krinaia’s character back. There was just one catch to the story—whomever broke the mirror would die. My first thought was, “that wouldn’t stop Atherton,” my second thought was “I think sacrificing your life would open the rift more permanently,” and my third conclusion was, “perfect, but I’ll need a counter tale to bring him back to life again.”

The storyline fit perfectly with the traditional Maudelayne series finale on a cliffhanger, which I borrowed from my years growing up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, so at the end of Series 3 Atherton died saving the naiad and the opening of Series 4 saw them both alive and well again. That is when I decided to take the character of Krinaia in a different direction.

I did not want the naiad to become simply a love interest character—she needed to be strong and have a purpose for being there as herself, not based on her relationship with Atherton. I hunted through ancient tales of sea monsters and water related legends to chose one where she could take charge of the situation. I also wanted to pick a story from the Pacific waters, since I had just done two from Europe. The legend I chose is that of the Atunkai creatures from the wells of Amhuluk—a tale from what is now the state of Oregon in the United States. Anything that falls into the water turns into a horrible sea dragon.

Having now written through Series 5, I know looking back that I made the right decision, because her character is ultimately powerful, but she does not fully realize it due to being treated like a useless toy for so many years. In the company of Atherton, who cherishes her as an intelligent person, she blossoms into quite a remarkable woman and naiad.





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