Spin-offs – you either love or hate them. They tend to be a lot more common in television and comics than they do in other storytelling formats. Since the only proper spin-off I’ve ever made(not counting an unfinished “Jadzia Strange” comic) was a comic called “Anachrony” which was a spin-off from my “Damania” webcomic, I’ll try to write this article in a general way which covers both comics and prose fiction.
Creating a spin-off can be a good way to do new and interesting things with your series, settings and/or characters. Plus, it can also be a good way of giving more depth to a supporting character in your original story, comic or series. Not to mention that they can be very fun to write/draw too and they are a perfect way to geek out about your stories too.
Anyway, here are four basic tips which could come in handy if you are writing your first spin-off.
1) Different tone and/or settings: One of the most important things about a spin-off is that it should be significantly different from the original story in terms of tone and/or settings. This is probably fairly obvious, but your spin-off shouldn’t just look like a continuation of your original story since your readers will probably be either indifferent or disappointed if there aren’t really any significant differences between the two stories.
However, if your original story is extremely good and you have very avid fans, then they might not mind too much if they’re both very similar, but it probably isn’t a good idea to risk this.
These don’t have to be major changes (and your stories should obviously still be set in the same fictional “universe”), but they should certainly be noticeable enough to make the two things easily recognisable as different things. To use an example from TV, watch an episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and then watch an episode of “Angel” – they’re both supernatural fantasy/horror TV shows involving magic and vampires, but “Angel” has a much darker tone, film noir-style settings and more detective-style storylines.
2) New and old characters: It’s usually a good idea to include a supporting character from your original story as a main character in your spin-off, this is mainly because readers of your original story will be familiar with the supporting character and this character will also serve as a “bridge” between your original story and your spin-off. Plus, if new readers discover your spin-off first then they will at least recognise one of the characters if they then go on to read your original story.
Another way of doing this, if you want completely different characters in your spin-off, is to briefly show your new spin-off characters in your original story. For TV shows, this is apparently referred to as a “poorly-disguised pilot” and I did this in “Damania” just before I started writing/drawing “Anachrony”.
In addition to this, even if you use a supporting character from your original story, then you should still add new characters in your spin-off. This is mainly to ensure that your spin-off is distinctive and different from your original story, but it also gives you more room for creativity and new character dynamics/relationships.
3) Your spin-off must be able to stand on it’s own: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but your spin-off should also work as a self-contained story which can be easily understood and enjoyed by people who have not read your original story. One way of doing this is to make your spin-off a prequel to your original story (like with “Anachrony”) but another way is simply to just write a different self-contained story which happens to feature characters, settings and/or plot elements from your original story.
Of course, you can add references to your original story and in-jokes about it in your spin-off if you like (these can be useful “added value” for people who have read your original story), but major parts of the plot shouldn’t rely on knowledge of the original story.
4) Make sure your original story is developed enough: This, again, should probably be fairly self-explanatory. But, in short, you shouldn’t start writing a spin-off until your original story has been going for quite a while and has had time to develop properly. This is mainly because although spin-offs can run parallel to your original story, they are meant to compliment your original story rather than overshadow it (although it isn’t always a bad thing if this happens).
Plus, although your spin-off should be accessible to new readers, your main audience will possibly be fans of your original story. Of course, if your original story hasn’t built up enough momentum or hasn’t been going for long enough, then this might affect the audience for your spin-off too.
Not to mention that, since your spin-off will almost certainly be set in the same fictional “universe” as your original story, it makes sense to explore and develop that universe fairly well in your original story before you begin planning a spin-off.
Anyway, I hope that this article was useful 🙂