Tag Archives: major characters

Fantasy Literature: Many Characters, One Thread

As most (or all) of you know, I recently wrote and published a book entitled “Drasmyr.” It is a dark fantasy novel featuring a vampire named Lucian val Drasmyr. I have previously written about the difficulties that arise when you write novels featuring multiple major characters. However, upon reflection, I think I have had something of a revelation. I think I discovered that you can write about more characters, if you have fewer story-lines. To be honest, I wasn’t aware of this when I wrote the novel, but upon looking back at it, it appears to be true.

 

In my novel Drasmyr, there is really just one vaguely defined main story-line: namely the conflict between Lucian val Drasmyr and the wizards guild. There are a couple other lesser threads in the background (the rise of Korina, to name just one, and the fall of Clarissa, to name another), but each of those fits into the main thread in some fashion. Everything in the story relates to the main thread. And yet, I tell the story from a number of different perspectives. Sometimes, the perspectives are limited to just one or two sections, but throughout the book I bring you in to a number of different characters’ minds. Just to name a few: Lucian (of course), Clarissa, Korina, Coragan, Galladrin, Borak, Regecon, Ambrisia, Toreg, and Mathagarr. That’s ten different perspectives throughout a book that is only 360 pages (according to the kindle stats—450 if you go by the hardcopy in my binder) long. It shouldn’t work (And to be honest, there were a couple complaints, but most of them said that once you adapted, everything clicked into place). But I think it does work because there is only one real story line. It’s like ten different windows looking into the same room. Each has its own unique perspective, but the contents are largely the same and, therefore, do not entail the amount of confusion so many different perspectives would normally engender. There is a cohesive thrust to the story that you can follow regardless of who’s mind you are currently in.

 

Anyway, this brings me to my point: namely, a story needs focus. It needs direction. To that end, there is a balance between story threads and characters that a writer must strive for. I think many “literary” novels have a single main character and a single main thread; this gives you an extremely focused and compelling read. A lot of more modern fiction has a handful of characters, each one with its own story thread. It all makes sense, because the reader only has to juggle a few characters/threads at a time, and this gives you a less-focused, but more complex, and I think equally compelling read. Drasmyr, however, is different from both these patterns. I don’t know if anyone else has written anything with a similar pattern (like I said it was kind of a subconscious thing), but I think it is kind of intriguing to note that. It’s a unique mix of focus and complexity.

 

Anyway, those are my thoughts today.

Fantasy Literature: One Main Character or Many

The fantasy literature genre, like any other genre, evolves over time. The standards of good fiction of yesteryear are not necessarily the standards of today. One of the elements of fantasy literature that has evolved through the years, and one that I’ve touched on, if only slightly, in other posts, is the number of characters. No, I’m not talking about the tendency of characters to multiply as you write—I’ve written about that directly before—instead I want to explore the issue of whether or not there should be just one main character or many. Of course, I say that, but I think in most pieces of fiction there is just one main character, but there may also be a whole bevy of support characters with very detailed backgrounds and interactions.

 

Take Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time,” for example. The main character is unquestionably Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn. However, there is a whole host of “lesser” characters (Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve, Egwene, Elayne, Aviendha… just to name a few). Most of these “lesser” characters warrant an entire story thread all to themselves. And, at a certain level, it seems these “lesser” characters are almost as important as the main character. We come to care about them as much as we do the main one, and we learn much of their stories. In fact, I don’t feel comfortable calling them “minor” characters, because there is just too much time and development devoted to each one individually. I don’t know what to call them. Maybe “major” characters? That seems to work. And I have used that term elsewhere: actually I’ve gone further, and distinguished between major major characters and just major characters. I think, in the above, Perrin, Mat, and Egwene would be major major, and the others merely major (are you confused yet?). Basically, there are more shades than just “main,” “major,” and “minor,” so those can serve as general groupings, not discrete categories.

 

Anyway, every writer must make a decision about how many main/major characters he or she is going to write about. As I’ve said elsewhere, there is an upper limit here. One cannot write an intelligible piece of fiction featuring fifty major characters. It just won’t work. “The Wheel of Time,” as noted above, has somewhere around seven major characters. I think that is pretty close to the max. The problem is, of course, the resulting story is invariably incredibly long. “The Wheel of Time” is currently on the fourteenth (or is it the fifteenth) and last book. So, I guess the point of this post is to warn starting writers about the critical decision that they must make concerning the number of characters. And I’ve found, through my own experience, that it is best to answer this question sooner rather than later.