In honor of the greatest show on earth, Game of Thrones, and its season 7 return, its time to address a major issue that many authors struggle with. A large ensemble cast! How does one manage to well…manage so many different characters? George R.R. Martin shows us how!
Don’t Introduce Everyone at Once
Ever been to a party where you only knew the host? Ever walked around with them by the arm as they introduced you to Lord knows who? How many of their names did you remember? Heck, do you even remember their face? No, probably not. So, how in the world can you expect your reader to remember a gaggle of characters introduced all willy nilly?
Instead, slowly introduce your key characters, flesh them out in their own personal bubble as you build their characterizations. Show us who each character is as an individual and make us care about them or at least like them. They become more memorable, and once your reader starts getting to know one or two of them at a time, it’ll be easier to remember them further into the story when new characters are being introduced.
If you give your readers a reason to care about the people populating your story, they’ll remember them. Remember that caring about the character is not necessarily the same as liking the character. Villains aren’t usually the most likable characters, but they are often the most memorable because they serve a very specific role in the story. Purpose makes a character more memorable.
Who can forget when Daenerys stormed into Mereen? Or when she rode out with the Unsullied at her back?
When you bring in a character who will play a big part in coming story events, do it with fire and embers raining down from the smokey sky! (Note my flair for the dramatic!). LOL. The first glimpse of this person should accomplish two things:
1.) it should make it completely impossible to forget this person or confuse them with another character.
2.) it should give us a solid idea as to what kind of person they are.
Give Each Character a Distinct Role
Good guy A and Bad guy B, are not solid roles for a character. They should serve a very specific purpose. Each character’s job should be defined by their own unique skill set; the thief, the beggar, the songstress, the guy who punches people, the smart ass, the comic relief etc.
There is one major caveat to this however, and that is, if they aren’t furthering the story in some way, either find a way for them to do that, or say your goodbyes and drop them into a smoking vent of a smoldering volcano. Beyond all things, furthering the story is paramount.
Be Careful with Names
We as authors love to play on words and names are not an exception to this. In my current WIP I have two characters, one named Tuya and one named Tiya. My betas had a fit! And rightfully so, who can really remember the difference? Look out for names beginning with the same letter, especially if they are around the same length. Also, names that sound similar like Meri and Mary or Sherri and Cheri.
Careful with View Points
I am guilty of this. Oh, so guilty. And I love it to be honest, but enough about me. Authors tend to dispense POV like the church does alms to the poor. Adjusting to a new character voice every few pages can be a tiring for the reader. Pssst…its distracting, too. It takes away from the main arcs of the story. Before giving another character a POV scene, ask yourself if they are really the best narrator for this occasion. For example, in Game of Thrones, Season 2 episode 2, at the Battle of Black Water Bay, could Daenerys have narrated it? What about the three-eyed ravens?
Daenerys wasn’t even there and even though the three eyed ravens could be seen as an omnipotent force, but what real connection do they have to the scene? Neither option is a compelling enough narrator. Tyrion, on the other hand, is there, he has a connection to the scene, he has reason enough to care and we would be better connected to him in this scene.
Focus on Few Characters
Hand in hand with this, choose a central crop of protagonists and focus on them. For example, Game of Thrones, is notorious for having a disgustingly huge range of characters. There are over 2,000 by rough estimates, yet we know almost every single one by name and attribute. Even as wide and varied as they are however, the entire story can be condensed to a few major characters: John Snow (duh!), Arya Stark, Daenerys Stormborn, Tyrion Lannister, Cersei and Jaime Lannister etc. These are our pillar characters, on whom the entire story basically hinges.
Each of these characters get about the same stage time and they are by far the most developed characters of the entire series and everyone else serves as a boost or foil to them.
The main characters should be seen more often than any of the other characters.
Develop Your Characters
1.) Every person is unique with their own set of goals and passions. Make sure you map out your characters the same way. What drives them? Often what drives them influences how they react to certain situations and pressures.
2.) No one speaks the same. Not even if they are close friends, with the same background and education, everyone has their own style of speech. Some are ones of few words while others are grand and expressive. Your characters must be so unique in their speaking styles that the reader should be able to identify them without you even having to confirm its them speaking. One of my favorite examples of this the Faceless Men of Bravos.
“A girl is no one.” Classic, man! Classic, I tell you! Classic!
3.) Give them issues, arcs, and goals. (I think this is S.E.).
An Opportunity for Diversity:
Who doesn’t love Missande and Grey Worm? They’re so cute!
A large cast is a golden opportunity to introduce characters with diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Its an opportunity to have a wide range of ages, talents, and disabilities. Don’t waste that opportunity, and utilize it to the maximum effect.
Well…that’s all I have for you today. Can you think of any more ways to handle a large cast of characters? I’d love to hear from you; drop me a line below in the comments. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Until next time G-NATION!