A Bit More on Writing Ensemble Casts

Good evening. I am happy to announce my treats arrived this week and I am now stocked up on my favorite goodies. Unfortunately, I must share them with the Maltese…but sacrifices must be made. Tonight, my novelist is going to elaborate a bit more on writing ensemble casts. Next week she is going to focus on analyzing the first chapter of her novel Chicane. Without further ado here’s my novelist.

So far, the lockdown for Covid-19 has been a productive time for me. I’ve gotten more writing done than usual and not found it difficult to stick to a routine. Like twenty to twenty-five percent of the population stuck at home, we’re loving this because we’re introverts. We don’t need people in the same way extroverts do. We don’t need to shake hands. We don’t need mindless chitchat. We don’t need to crush against each other at clubs with badly penned music blaring out of steroid induced electronic funnels. We embrace social distancing. If they say six feet, we say twenty-four.  If we can see you, you’re too close. This world is our oyster right now. If only there wasn’t a microscopic psychopathic Terminator at the root of it all. Why can’t the world be more like this every day without a deadly disease pulling the societal puppet strings?

On a completely different note I thought before I analyze the first chapter of Chicane, I’d talk a bit more about writing an ensemble story.  So again, unless someone is paying you to write a piece, always write the story you love. That’s how you can keep several characters in your head. You love being with them and the world they inhabit. Remember, a novel is like a marriage. If you don’t want to be with a certain story for the long haul, if you don’t want said story haunting you day and night, if you don’t want to wake up in the morning thinking about it and going to bed at night thinking about it even more, you had better find a different tale to get hitched to.

Now, if you do need something to assist you in organizing your nest of characters in your mind, a great way to curb confusion is to do character maps. Character maps are basically a list of attributes which define a character. Keep in mind the more you work with your characters the more you get to know them, and I find I refer to these lists less and less as I go along.   Here is one example.  Here is another.

Another good tool is to write out a one-page backstory.  Where was the character born, what was their inciting incident that happened to them before the curtain went up on the story and what does their closet look like? What kind of clothes do they wear, how do they arrange them, what shoes do they put on every day etc. A good book for some of these exercises is this The Weekend Novelist.

Yet another great way to familiarize yourself with your characters is to use an exercise I learned in a class once.  Provide the character three traits and then add a fourth trait which is wildly different from the other three.  Let’s say I have this guy who’s a computer programmer, he’s never had sex and lives at home with his parents. Okay, that’s three traits. But let’s add to that list that he’s moonlighting as a nude model for a college art class. That’s a little different, now isn’t it? Maybe he’s falling for one of the artists in the class who would never have anything to do with a computer programmer. Maybe his parents are ministers for a church. Maybe someone is secretly taking pictures of him naked and posting them on the internet and he’s getting a lot of hits. You see where I’m going with this.

Another option is to base your characters on someone you know.  This way you already have some of their traits committed to memory. You don’t have to make them exactly like said person but you can borrow things from them such as the way they style their hair, the color of their eyes, the type of clothes they wear, the way their voice sounds, the hobbies they love, the mannerisms they have. One thing I was taught in writing class was if you do base a character on someone you know, give that character a trait the real person would never want to have.

Also, don’t forget the location you choose is a character in the story as well. For instance, in my novel Chicane, the Colorado Rockies are integral to the plot. Without them there’s no tension, no ticking clock and no force with which to catapult the protagonist through his journey. I spent hour upon hour watching video footage online of the area where my story takes place. I had to know what the homes looked like, what the stores were like, what the roads were like to travel on, what the inhabitants were like, what type of trees grew there, etc.  In contrast, the book series I am getting ready for publication is set in Burbank, California which is a completely different type of landscape.  But it too is integral to the plot of my series.

But even after doing all these things the point is still to form a deep bond with your characters and enjoy doing it. Whether they are good or bad or somewhere in between if you couldn’t describe your character to someone without looking at a list on a screen or piece of paper you don’t know them well enough.  Be proficient in your knowledge of your characters so you can fully and enthusiastically describe them to someone you know…or don’t know.

I post every Thursday.   That’s my schedule.  In the meantime you can check out my novel Chicane on Amazon.


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