It’s been two weeks since I posted (I’ve been busy, okay) but when I don’t post here I miss it so I decided, along with my morning coffee (yes, my coffee makes my decisions for me. Your point) to break the silence for Pete’s sake and write something that will hopefully help you out.
There are several reasons to write a big cast.
1. You might have a lot of characters and literally all of them are doing important things.
2. You enjoy confusing your readers.
3. You get bored with small casts.
4. You just really like it.
5. All of the above
I’m 1, 3, and 4. I love writing large casts. They range from large-ish (Dark is the Night) to Megacast (The Fading of the Light. What? It used to be The Dying of the Light? Shhh. Stay tuned). But nobody wants to confuse their readers, because readers drop confusing books. I thought I would have every beta reader on the list sending me annoyed messages like ‘What’s up with all these characters? I can’t keep them straight, please cut them down.’ Or, ‘Do you REALLY have to focus on X character for a whole chapter? Can you not?’
I was surprised when nobody did. Ever. I wrote sixty-seven chapters and 167K+ words, and not once was anybody annoyed enough with the multiple POVs to tell me about it. Which is what beta-reading is for, so I assume someone would have done it if they’d felt the urge.
I don’t know how others balance their multiple POVs, but here’s how I do it.
KEEP THE NAMES DIVERSE
It becomes tricky to handle twelve different viewpoints if six of the names sound similar. One way to do this is to begin each name with a different letter, but I find if you keep each name different from the next, that doesn’t really matter. I have Saizou, Shi, and Shotgun – all of whom are main characters – and nobody’s complained about them. Yet. I also have Kirikizu, Haka, Matahachi, Oscar, Winter, Tsuki, Kiba, Nix, and a host of other characters with very different-sounding names.
MAKE SURE THE POVS FLOW CHRONOLOGICALLY
When head-hopping, it’s important the reader knows exactly what each character is doing/where they are at each point. It’s like editing cut-and-switch scenes for a TV show – you see one person doing X thing, another doing Y, and another doing Z, all to the same song in the soundtrack. Keep things moving forward so the reader doesn’t feel displaced. I have a few (three, I think) longish flashbacks in The Fading of the Light, but each flashback fades back into the present moment so the reader isn’t confused about where they are.
INTRODUCE THE CHARACTERS IN IMPACTFUL WAYS
You want your characters to be memorable if they’re going to co-exist. You don’t want your reader to wonder ‘Wait…who is this again?’ when your character shows up, so make sure their entrance packs some sort of punch. While punching, make sure to state your character’s name. When the reader knows the name + is invested in what the character is doing, they’re far more likely to remember who that character is when they show up next.
MAKE SURE EACH CHARACTER SOUNDS DIFFERENT
Of course you want to tell your reader who’s speaking, but you also want your character to know who’s speaking without you telling them. Shi sounds different from Haka who sounds different from the Prince-Regent who sounds different from Oscar. You get the picture. Make sure everyone has a distinct voice, and it will keep the POVs from blurring together.