Writing Excuses 8.36: Transitioning Characters in Prominence

After a quick, two-and-a-half-minute announcement about Writing Excuses winning the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Related Work, we get on with the topic at hand…

How do you go about transitioning characters in relative prominence during the course of a series? This might include fading a main character into the background, or drawing a side character into focus as the protagonist.

Howard talks about doing this in Schlock Mercenary, and how readers have reacted. Dan discusses doing this in the John Cleaver books, and what was required to make that work. Brandon tells us about Spook in the Mistborn trilogy, and why it was critical to the story for him to come to prominence. Mary explains that this shift is something that happens anytime there’s a POV shift.


Take a minor character from a story you’ve already completed, and tell their story.

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

5 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.36: Transitioning Characters in Prominence”

  1. Cool podcast. I’m glad you mentioned GRRM at the end because he is definitely a master of bringing smaller characters to the fore in his later works. He has to be since he is so brutal in killing off characters so you can’t go back and say let’s revisit this character and maybe try a different arc on them. His style of ending a character arc at the chopping block works but I think there is diminishing returns being so rough. I think I’ve reached my threshold on cutting character arcs short and making up for it by introducing new and cool characters to keep your attention. It’s like I really like this Eddard Stark guy oh wait you can’t just do that *pouts* but reads the next and then you’re like I really like his son taking up his banner oh wait, well I really like Renly oh wait well I really like this Prince Oberyn fellow oh wait and on and on. I have enjoyed it so far but after reading the last book it’s starting to feel like dirty tricks (which it has been all along to an extent but I think my personal threshold has been reached). I guess this falls into the ‘making a promise to the reader and following through on that promise’ can only be cheated so many times that you start to feel betrayed. Cutting arcs short is good fun but it has a shelf life and it pales in comparison to a really good arc i.e. Jaime.

  2. I actually did this. In “Unthinkable”, I had a minor character, a neighbor, who was there just so my detective could look at the hedge in her back yard. Then in “Seen Sean?”, she was upped to a major witness. In the WIP ([title redacted]), she will suffer a major illness (non-fatal). In M&P #4, she may become a main character (or be close to one).

  3. “There are no small parts, just small actors.” Konstantin Stanislavsky

    “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players:
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts,” As You Like It, William Shakespeare

    And, for your reading pleasure, a transcript of our merry podcasters considering just who shall come to the front of the stage under the proscenium and bright lights, and who shall tarry in the background. As the curtains rise and the lights come up…


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