How to Create Your Own Book Universe: Reoccurring Characters


At age eleven, I began writing my first ever novel and somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered whether I’d ever get it published. I worked nearly two years on the first draft and seemed this 300,000 word monstrosity “The next Harry Potter.” Not only to friends, teachers, and pedestrians who would listen, but to literary agents too. Yes, at age thirteen, I confidently typed “How to write a query letter” into Google and began to look for representation for this fantasy book which I intended, which the smugness only a preteen intellectual can have, that the agent would sing me a multi-book deal that would earn me millions.

If you’re interested in such past projects of which there have been several, feel free to read a post I wrote more than a year ago about my writing history.


Part 1

Part 2

I spent nearly a year revising the draft (which was obviously already perfect) while simultaneously querying every single agent out there, regardless of what genres they preferred. Five years later, I’m not at all embarrassed by these attempts, but actually a tad impressed with my ambition. At least through this long process of writing “soon-to-be bestsellers” and querying them, I learned a lot about the publishing process. I have even been able to publish a few short stories and poems.

I began writing poetry at age 16 as a means of making fast cash through contests; though I think my strength lies in storytelling, I found


quicker success in the world of poetry. I began juggling a lot of different projects, some of them to do with writing, some with history, some with photography. I am a multi-tasker stretched to his limits.

But as I finish writing the second draft of my newest novel-in-progress In Lickskillet, I feel that familiar pride and unwarranted smugness. I feel that this is by far my proudest, best work, which is how I feel about every single project I can complete. With only a few thousand words to go before completion, I feel satisfied that this will be not only a good story that deserves telling, but also a marketable, publish-able book.

So, the question arises: I plan to publish this as my first novel, now that I have nonfiction articles and short story creds under my belt. But once that ends, what’s next? That’s when my mind goes into serious overdrive.

Obviously, I have plenty ideas for future stories. Maybe one day I will blog about all the crazy ideas I’ve had for novels which I think would actually work (like a retired boxer who tries to time travel to escape a Mexican cartel) (or maybe that idea about a political conspiracy theory set in the inside of a single plant cell.) But most of all, I am wondering whether I will continue the stories of the characters in this particular novel In Lickskillet.

Having written about them for over a year, I have formed an attachment with them; they are teenagers, so when the story ends, their stories do not. Not really. They will grow to become adults and maybe have families and jobs. Each heads in a different direction, markedly changed from who they were at the beginning of the story, but of course, they are still only high school graduates. They will grow up further and do other things beyond what I write.


If you have ever read the works of either William Faulkner or David Mitchell, they both employ this idea of all of their novels existing within the same universe. Characters who appear minor-ly in one work may re-appear as major characters in another. Sometimes, even characters only mentioned or simple waiters will come back with their own books, their characters fully-fledged. I would like to perhaps do this, showing glimpses of characters from past (already published) or future (planned) books I intend to write.

It lends a certain dramatic irony for those who have already read your work and for those who have not, they don’t miss out on anything. Instead, the inclusion acts as a nod to more fervid fans. For example, while reading Cloud Atlas (about which a new movie is coming out starring Tom Hanks and which I’m still unsure about) when a certain character finds himself trying to escape a nursing home by calling his brother, any reader of David Mitchell who has previously read Ghostwritten knows that the character’s rich brother has died and cannot help him at all.

Of course this sort of thing exists within a series, like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire when different, previously inconsequential characters take center stage. But these books will be more self-contained and will not in any way act as a series. The idea exists quite commonly within comic book canons as well.

So maybe that is overly ambitious, to create a network of stories which in fact interact. But I think this is a grand idea, though implementing the idea might take years and would require me to first publish my novel. If you’d like to check it out, you can read about In Lickskillet here or here!

How do you feel about world-building between non-series books?


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