Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Cast of Thousands

Keystone Cops
  Even in a big drama with a large cast, readers need to know who they’re dealing with. They have to know someone to care about the person.

Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many characters spoil the story. If you have many minor characters, consider combining a few.

Viola Davis in Traveler

Realistically, you may not get stopped for speeding by the same cop who comes to your door to serve a warrant and then is the first officer on the murder scene, but in a story, if the cop is always Officer Davis, readers will get to know her and not lose the story trying to keep track of Shultz, Winchell, and Chan. If the character will make several appearances, show something of her as a person. Maybe Officer Davis could be interrupted by a phone call from her child’s teacher. (But in my WIP, her name is Charlie Bone. What a great face!) Then, if something happens involving the officer, readers will have a connection and be more likely to care.

I’ve given up on books because there are too many characters, and I can’t remember who’s who. If I have to look back to see who someone is, I’m out of the story and lose the mood of the scene. The more this happens, the harder it is to get back into it.  What do you think? Have you ever put a book aside because of the huge cast?


1 comment:

Grace Topping said...

I had the same problem with Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose." Not only did he have a cast of thousands, but the names were unfamiliar Italian names. I eventually had to come up with a list of names and descriptions of the character that I could refer to. The book was a real challenge on many levels, but I finally got through it. Probably one of the few people who actually did.