My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.09 – Quick Characterizations and 13.10 – Handling a Large Cast

Two reactions in one today as I struggle to catch up. One of the few eternal truths I’ve believe I’ve encountered is that I will always think I can’t be busier and yet, another month arrives to prove me wrong. Quick Characterizations and Handling a Large Cast.

Of the two, I gravitated more to the discussions of the Large Cast episode, not so much because I write sprawling stories with hundreds of characters, but because there was a lot of pristine talk of craft and process. I am a process nerd (as evidenced from my series on Productivity Methods) and so hearing how other people do things is great – it allows me to pick and choose from established methods that others have found and iterate to my heart’s content. Brandon opening up about how to handle a cast of thousands was delightful and I loved how eager and breathless both Mary and Amal were at hearing the numbers that he threw out. Seriously: 2400 characters in the Wheel of Time? Holy crap!

Of course that made me go back and start figuring out how many named characters I have in my novel – which, including the epilogue, is 12. Which is staggering! I had no idea it was that many. Granted, many of them are only in a few scenes and really are background characters that will get moments in future books in the series, but I really was surprised to find I had that many.

I also very much liked hearing how Maurice takes the time to give full characterizations to anyone he names. I don’t know that I’ll take that just yet, but I may need to in my next story because I want that story to be much more character driven.

Using spreadsheets to track character movements and wikis to coordinate continuity and character sheets so “roll play up” a character just confirms to me that no one approach is “right” for writing. If it works for you, use it. If not, look around to steal from others.

I find in my own work that I am more like Mary – I consciously think about how many characters I can handle with my “hands” on stage and not get too cluttered. As a reader, I hate scenes that have 5 or 10 characters all in room doing things because I can’t hold them all in my head at once. So, unconsciously, that’s how I write as well.

For the Quick Characterizations episode, I really enjoyed the idea of finding an verbal “silhouette test” to do with characters. In my current work which I’m revising again (line edits – joy!) I think I can safely say that all of my characters would pass a silhouette test with regards to word choice and personality. I think I even was able to make sure I described them as visually distinct too. But this wasn’t something that I arrived at by choice – another of those unconscious approaches because I’d seen it done in other fiction. I’m looking forward to using the silhouette exercise in combination with Maurice’s character sheets in my next book to see how that flows together.

The other point I like was Brandon’s “peekaboo” moments where he said he allows a side character to have a moment to pop out of the rest of the story and do something completely “them” in that moment. I personally can’t think of specific moments from his fiction that I remember off hand, but as I’m reading/re-reading, I’ll be watching for them to see how they affect my judgement/reaction to a character.

That’s all for now.

What do you do to quickly introduce characters and make them pop on the stage? Any particular differences in your approach to handling a cast – large or small – that differed from the podcasters? Drop a note in the comments below!


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