Wednesday, August 7, 2013

All the world's a stage

Partly because of my job and partly because I love reading, I tend to get through a lot of books in the space of a year. Most of these I’m pleased to say that I get all the way with, while with others I just can’t make it past the first few chapters. One of the major reasons (just below lousy writing and poor grammar/spelling), is where the writer has introduced an over-preponderance of characters.

It's an understandable fault. The author wants to make their book realistic - one person doesn't equate to the cavalry and, in real life, the ‘cavalry’ doesn't operate as one being. Each individual acts individually so they must be described that way in order to accurately represent the real world.

Unfortunately this invariably makes for absolute confusion in the mind of the reader. The difference is that, in our day-to-day lives we have history with the characters; some of whom we may well have known for years therefore they aren't just names on a page. Even if we've only just encountered them (in real life), we've still seen, heard and even smelt them so, when they do something or something happens to them, we can quickly and easily relate to them as an individual.

Facing the quandary of 'do I have loads of characters whose identities confuse the heck out of the reader?' or 'do I sacrifice realism for ease of reading?' and you've really got to let the latter win. Go back to before the age of literacy and widely available reading material and what do you get? A small band of traveling players who'd go from town to town performing a few plays for the entertainment of the populace. Troupes were of a limited size, stages were small and stories had to be simple. Characters were frequently composites and always at least a bit larger than life.

On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth ...
Today's audience is undoubtedly more discerning but they’re just as easily confused by dozens of characters whom they've not really bonded with milling around the stage that is your novel. Even the most dedicated reader is not going to persevere if they can't figure out the "who's doing what to whom and why?" question and you will soon lose them, not just for the current book, but for good. A successful author has to take liberties with their writing in the same way that a playwright has to with their casting. From the early days of street theatre, the most important thing has always been the act of getting the message across through the provision of an entertaining and memorable show. If you want to join their ranks, consider their dilemma of depicting a battle scene (for example) by just using 2 to 4 participants.

Your role as a storyteller should be as unobtrusive as possible and your characters should never get in the way of that story. That way your readers will always want to stay until the final act.

Any Subject Books provides the full range of self-publishing services to independent authors. Unlike larger companies, they offer the 'personal touch', using human beings to edit and format scripts instead of throwing books to the nearest computer (to mangle).

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