I do this as well. I don't think it's all that strange, I think a lot of writers have a similar process. Because of doing this I ended up writing a series (serial pulp fiction aka short stories that are all connected) which is not what I had intended to do originally. The way I do it, is probably stranger than what you're doing.
It started in 1978 when I wrote a children's book about a talking cat (Miss Citten The Eel Kat aka EelKat for short). It was only 16 pages long and didn't amount to much. The cat was an alien here on Earth to study humans. The cat had a car "with a mind of it's own" that drove her around. (I had just watch Disney's The Cat From Outer Space, and Herbie The Love Bug which where the inspiration for this.) One of the places she liked to visit was a haunted house, because she wanted to find out why the human were scared of it. And that was it. There was no real beginning, middle or end, nothing was resolved, nothing really happened. The whole thing was written in the format of a letter back to her home planet, and was along the lines of "Dear family, here's what I did today, the car drove me around, I looked at a haunted house, the end". Literally nothing happened.
However, the story kept bugging me. I wanted to know more about the cat, how did she get here, why was her car alive, and what about that house: who owned it, why did they live there and why was the house haunted?
So I wrote another 16 page story, this time about the cat and her space ship and her mission (it was very inspired by Star Trek and again read as a letter back home, this time to the tune of :"EK's Star Log, day...blah, blah, blah...went out to visit the haunted house again, there's a strange family living out there."
A few weeks later, after watching "A Year Without a Santa Claus", inspired by Heat Miser and Ice Miser, I added two warring emperors, one from a frozen ice planet, the other from a molten fire planet. Both of them ruled dieing planets, one was in danger of being pulled into it's sun's atmosphere, the other was slowly drifting farther and farther out into space, and halfway between the 2 was an earth like planet inhabited by talking cats. The 2 emperors were both attempting to over take the cats, and the queen of the cats had escaped to find a new place for her own people thus how she ended up on Earth, and the family living in the haunted house were perceived as vampires by the humans, because they were in fact a renegade family royal family from the fire planet who were in hiding and feasting on the humans. This was the first actually short story in the series, and resulted in several other stories about many characters on each of the 3 planets, focusing on the 3 rulers.
From 1978 until 1983 that's the way the stories went, but throughout that time every one would always be mentioning the haunted house, which until 1983 never made an actual appearance in the series.
Than in 1983, I was siting watching my dad (an auto mechanic) work of the car that belonged to K. Swensen a local billionaire who owned several of the hotels, motels, and bars in Old Orchard Beach, including to own The Grand Victorian (a monstrous mansion with 500 rooms) and The Pier and whose brother was in prison for murder suspected of being a serial killer. My dad was playing country music, specifically the song Hot Rod Lincoln over and over and over again (on a record). I was watching Cinema Six's Vincent Price Movie Marathon on a B&W TV, among the movies being Fall of the House of Usher, with Price playing Roderic Usher a man convinced his house was alive and hell bent on murdering him. After 12 hours straight of Vincent Price it was another 12 hours straight of Twilight Zone.
That night I wrote a new story, this one set inside the haunted house, a giant 500 room mansion named The Twighlight Manor hanging out over Old Orchard Beach, owned by billionaire Sir Roderic Lincandonia Swanzen, whose son was a car collector and farther was a serial killer. You can see how the events of that day resulted in the story I wrote that night, right?
In the stories the spelling is always INTENTIONALLY wrong. "K"s are replaced with "C"s, while "C"s are replaced with "K"s. Lots of words have "x" or "zz" added to the end for no reason at all. Names are spelt wrong: Micha instead of Micah, Roderic instead of Roderick, Liore instead of Loire, Twighlight instead of Twilight and so on and so forth. This was down because through out the series, every story is written in the form of a letter, with the letter writer being a cat, who dictates the letters (having no possible thumbs she can not write) and her machine mixes up words, spells things wrong, and over all messes stuff up, but not being an Earthling, she does not notice. The Twighlight Manor series stories are often very difficult to read due to this over use of incorrect spellings. In later stories this was toned down, but the major misspellings remain.
Next thing I knew I was writing every day, obsessed with finding out more about Roderic and his haunted house. Before I knew it, I had developed 75 new characters (all of Roderic's friends, family, enemies, and servants) and before I realized what I was doing, I was side tracked in writing a background history for every single one of them. The stories were spinning out all over the place. One day Roderic was the main character the next day his butler was the main character than it was his son, every once in a while the two emperors and the talking cat would make an appearance.
I'd write about Roderic, but than I'd wonder "So how did his butler end up working here?" Than I write side stories to answer that. But next I was asking, "So, what ever happened to the butler's family?" Than I'd write those. Next it was, "I wonder how his wife ended up with him?" Next thing I knew I had discovered Roderic's wife was the aunt of the butler's wife! Well I just had to figure out how that happened. And so on and so forth. Time period wise, I've written stories set in every era from 1500s to 2525! It covers the history of the house for a 1,000 years from the time it was built til it falls over. In actuality, it was the house itself that was really the main character, even though it wasn't really a character at all, or was it?
And genre wise...OMG! Some stories are sci-fi, some are horror, some are romance, some are erotica, some are adult only, some are for kids...it's completely all over the map!
I never plot any of it either, I just write this stuff down as it pops into my head.
There was no rhyme nor reason to any of it. It was just me randomly exploring each character in way too much depth, and writing all these weird random, not exactly connected stories. The only thing that was really holding the series together as a series at all, was the fact that every character had one thing in common: each had a some point in their lives, even for a brief moment, had lived in the haunted house.
Of course every single story is written from the POV of which ever character is the main character at that time. The whole thing was me developing side characters "off screen" and than ending up publishing all the little side stories as well.
The series went on to span 200+ stories written over the course of 35 years. It became more of a history of the house, than anything else, because I had strayed so far from my original main characters, and all the minor character ended up becoming main characters as well. If I was to take it and try to turn it into a novel, it just would never work because you are dealing with 75 main characters! Could you imaging a novel with 75 different POVs? Yikes! And if you tried to read it, one story to the next, like they continued, you'd get totally lost. But it works as a set of short stories all on a common theme (people whose lives were touched in some way by this haunted house).
When I started this 35 years ago, I never dreamed or imagined it would head off in the direction it took. All I did was write one simple little children's picture book, but than it had all these unresolved questions that keep needling at me, I had to tie up the lose ends, but in doing so I created more questions and more lose ends and tying those up created been more, and the whole thing just snowballed out of control with a life of it's own.
I can't really offer any advice on how to take your side stories and use them for your novel, but I can tell you that exploring the back stories of your secondary characters is loads of fun and worth doing, even if you don't use any of it in your final novel.
Yah, you are making more work for yourself, sure, but you got to stop and think that it's helping you to develop your characters and make your story better in the long run, so it's all good in the end. My view on it is, when it comes to writing, the important thing is to have fun and write something you enjoy even if you never plan to publish it.
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It is no secret that Sir Roderic Lincandonia Swanzen, owner of The Twighlight Manor, is my favorite character, and you don't have to read very many blog posts, articles, site pages, etc to realize, I talk about him A LOT. While you see him mentioned in passing on just about every page on this site, there are some pages where I go into vast detail about his life. I am going to make a list of them all and tack it to the end of each of those pages, to make it easier for readers to find them all. And here they are:
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