Xlibris continues with Rounding Up Your Characters — some tips and suggestions for handling a large cast of characters, such as those found in A Song of Ice and Fire or War and Peace.
- Don’t Stretch the Story: Despite A Song of Ice and Fire’s quality of writing and amazing popularity, one of the chief critiques regarding the series’ most recent books is how scattered and stretched the story is across both geography and plot. There are too many characters, following too many plotlines, in too many places. You would best be served by maintaining no more than three (four if you are confident) plotlines, with a batch of characters associated with each. While it might be possible for more plotlines to branch out, bringing certain characters along with them, you should not let those branching plotlines hang, either reconnecting them to their origin plotline or bringing them into a different one — and do so swiftly. Otherwise, you risk readers becoming confused or frustrated at keeping up with too many plotlines — thus too many groups of characters.
- Avoid Character Stagnation: Another way to mishandle a large cast is to allow for stagnation. And by stagnation we specifically mean in regard to character development. In order for readers to see characters as alive, the characters need to feel alive, and being alive involves growth or change. This growth can be a major part of your story, as in how a peasant protagonist develops into a legendary hero, or in how a cynical detective grows beyond her cynicism and acts according to moral ideals. Such growth could also be a minor thing, for a minor character, but such growth that shows a character is alive. If a character has reached a pinnacle of their growth in your writing, a point where they cannot or will not change more (for bad or good), then perhaps it is time to either move on from that character. This brings us to our last point…
Avoid Getting Attached: Sometimes characters will have to die, or failing that, will have to remove themselves from your story for character or plot purposes. Some believe George R.R. Martin is either a master or over-user of this writing practice. There are times when a point in the story, the development of another character, or even the to-be-killed character’s growth call for a character’s death or removal. Do not be afraid to do this. There have been authors moved to tears when typing a character’s death, but must do so for the story. Sometimes the character’s death can be the resultant conclusion of his or her poor decisions. Sometimes it can be the height of their growth into a hero, even if for their last moments. And sometimes a character’s death can be to illustrate just how ruthless and brutal your story is, though we warn against overusing character death in this fashion as it risks jading your readers, preventing readers’ investment into your characters and thus your story.
By Ian Smith