Ensemble Casts And When To Cut Those Characters
I love an ensemble cast. West Wing. The Wheel of Time Series. Inglourious Bastards. The Breakfast Club. Not only in film but Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love is also a lovely novel told in vignettes. A type of storytelling I am still planning on using. Somehow.
Ensemble casts don’t always equate to woven plot lines, but I do love it when it happens. The Night Circus is still one of the most sumptuous and leisurely of books that brings it all round in the end.
If you’ve read The Esau Continuum (if you haven’t, go do that NOW), you know I like me some meaty supporting characters. Point of fact, I expanded the role of a supporting character in book two after hordes of people (okay, maybe twenty) demanded to know more about him.
It can surprise a writer which characters people respond to emotionally.
The downside of multiple characters is the juggling act of keeping them all straight, not only plot lines, but who is actually in the scene. My current series is Science Thriller. There is a lot of traveling, a lot of planning, and a lot of fighting.
My scene plans often look like a strategic incursion on a foreign actor.
I’m steadily working on book three and at thirty-five thousand words, I’m just shy of halfway. I realized last night, as we often do when we’re trying to sleep, I need to cut my character list. There are too many by half. As much as I love them, some of them have got to go.
Ensemble casts shouldn’t only be cannon fodder for an author.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not killing anyone off. Mostly. I think it’s a bullshit move to have a cast of thousands simply so you can casually kill a character off to create agony for your readers. A la Martin. It’s a cheap way of upping the anty for the reader.
A character’s death, if it isn’t a Red Shirt, should be meaningful. It needs to serve a purpose for the greater plot rather than being a blatant show of how important the stakes are. Though loathe to use it, Dobby’s sacrifice cut to the heart. Whereas the Red Wedding was more of a WTAF moment.
As much as I pretend it didn’t happen (yes, I rewrote that ending in my brain), Wash’s death opens a place for River Tam and shakes Zoe to her core in a way she hasn’t been. Meaningful death.
It might mean sidelining a favorite or two, but it will serve the story better, tighten up the pacing, and keep things from getting more complicated.