After reading “Establishing Important characters”, I have a question. My work is a zombie apocalypse series and has one protagonist. In each book, I introduce some important characters assisting the protagonist. However, they are total strangers the protagonist hasn’t known before, many of whom have character arcs. Some may stay with the protagonist or leave or die. Therefore, is it violating the audience’s expectation, especially the ones arriving late in the series? I have foreshadowed them before their appearance and mentioned them if they’re absent. And one more question: is the villain counted as an important character?
Hey James, thanks for writing in!
When it comes to side characters, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. It’s expected that new books will add new characters, especially in a zombie story where lots of characters die. In most cases, the clock to introduce new characters is reset when a new book starts, so you should be able to introduce new survivors without much trouble.
This is generally true of villains, though the downside to having a new villain each book is that you may have trouble escalating the conflict, since each bad guy has to start from scratch. It’s still doable though, especially if a new villain is part of an existing organization that the protagonist has tangled with before.
The main thing to be careful of is situations where it really feels like we should have heard of this character before. This is most common with villains, but it could happen with particularly badass side characters too. For example, in book five of The Expanse, a new villain named Marcos Inaros is introduced.
The Expanse had introduced new villains before without a problem, but this guy was apparently a strategic and tactical genius on the level of Alexander the Great. He’d been a leader among the Belters for years, attacking government forces and generally causing mayhem. Within a single book, Marcos brings the major military powers to their knees and is within striking distance of taking over the entire system.
The problem was that if he’s that much of a badass, it really feels like the heroes should have heard of him before. No one develops that kind of skill overnight, so it seems like he should have been a big deal before the author introduced him in book five. Fortunately, zombie apocalypse settings generally don’t have a lot of mass communication, so you have more leeway, but it’s still something to keep in mind. If a new villain rolls with tanks from their base that’s just a town or two over, readers will get a bit suspicious.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!