Easy: Keep the Cast Small



Okay, so, I’m not the person to ask about managing large casts of characters — I’m shit with large casts of characters. Frankly, I get exhausted reading about a large cast of characters.

I might give you six or eight named characters who influence the story, but really, the story is only about two or three of them. Or, one or two sets of them; I love writing about relationships and interaction, be it between brothers or enemies.

For instance, I once wrote a story with ten major characters. Ten characters who all influenced this weird time-travel story, and ten characters who all needed screen time. And it was exhausting; I actually ended up cutting a couple characters, just because I couldn’t manage them all. As it stands, that story is still only really about two couples in the long run, while all the other characters of their small stories and subplots and whatnot.

There were frequently four or six people in the room, but I couldn’t choreograph them all logically, so only a couple would talk at once. A and B would get going, then A would ask C a question, and they would chat for a while. I would get stressed when I had so many dialogue tags, so few pronouns.

I ended up with a lot of small scenes, and a lot of jumping from plot-point to plot-point. I made a concerted effort to keep point-of-view characters to an absolute minimum. While head-hopping with a large cast is incredibly tempting and offers more options for telling a story, I felt that I could only realistically offer a few distinct POV characters, before a couple started sounding the same. Not to mention that too many different POVs muddles the story, unless the writer is absolutely superb about balancing plot.

I have an ego, sure, but nowhere near that much faith in myself.

As a rule, I just try to keep my casts relatively small. I might introduce characters who appear once or twice, or who disappear after completing some task. It’s not always the best solution, but it’s worked for me so far.

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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