You’ve Got Five Pages, #DoggoneDeadly by Deborah Blake, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST FIFTY PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Doggone Deadly by Deborah Blake

Huzzah, a book without any prologues of any kind! This week I couldn’t find any westerns, but I did try a type of mystery I’ve never read before: a pet-themed mystery. Doggone Deadly by Deborah Blake took me back to the kid mysteries like Nancy Drew, which felt nostalgic, but I also had some niggles I couldn’t shake.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

We jump right into Chapter 1 with our protagonist hiding her friend from a snob who’s throwing her weight around at a local dog show. The pacing between exposition and action is solid, and the setting is broken down in quick details readers can absorb as the scene moves along. This all works very well, especially considering I’m not in the first book of this mystery series.

Then come the characters. While the protagonist and best friend are easy to follow on the page, a third character is in the scene for conflict, and…oh, this snob is all unrealistic stereotype without any playful depth. I appreciate a writer’s use of a few “loud” traits to make characters stand out in a big cast, but detail after detail emphasizes how rich this woman is, how much she hates shelter dogs, how little she cares about other people, and did we mention how rich she is? It’s just way too much emphasis on a few traits, and it makes her act far more like a puppet for plot than a human being. If anything, it could have been far more interesting to see this snob play up the protagonist’s shelter as if it were her goodwill move for the community so the snob could garner more praise and attention. Then the protagonist wouldn’t know how to handle that saccharine sweetness hiding the snobbery from others, and more hijinks could ensue. But that’s just my picky reading self talking. 🙂

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

Author #Interview: Let’s Chat with #IndieAuthor @KentWayne108!

Featured


Welcome back, my fellow creatives! I’m thrilled to continue sharing some lovely indie authors I’ve met in our community. This month, please welcome the adventurer cosmic, Kent Wayne!

Let’s begin with your adventures as a reader. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Some early experiences with powerful language come from (now) outdated comic books, specifically Preacher by Garth Ennis, and the early run of Ultimate Spider Man by Brian Michael Bendis. Ennis was able to reinvent a bunch of 1960s and 1970s toxic Americana machismo into something heroic, inspiring, and infused with tolerance (for the 90s). He does allude to underlying problems and hypocrisy, but the parts where Jesse Custer learns what it means to be a hero no matter what the odds, then accompanies the act with a passionate monologue or iconic one-liner, made me aware of how a written story could charge my entire being with hope and purpose. Conversely, Ultimate Spider-Man (the early run) made me aware of how important silence, implication, and organic-sounding speech (even if it’s riddled with ums, dot-dot-dots, and yeahs) could make me want to stand up and cheer for a kid who—despite being saddled with terrible responsibility—is still able to seek out and experience joy. He’s one of the few characters I really felt for, to the point where I wanted him to stay naive and optimistic, and the scene where he almost kisses Mary Jane (Ultimate Spider Man #13) is burned into my brain as the best romantic scene I’ve read or seen.

What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

When I first read it, I didn’t like the seminal work Dark Knight Returns (by paradigm-shifting comic book author/artist Frank Miller). It was only later, after I realized the significance of his depiction of media, was I able to appreciate the barrage of dialogue between his news pundits.

Have you ever gotten reader’s block? That is, did you ever encounter a story that you just could not finish?

I tried to read Cloud Atlas, thinking it would be similar to the movie, but it was so much slower than I thought it would be. I think I stopped a third of the way through. Other than that, I think I’ve finished every book I’ve read.

Time to dive into your own stories! Your first book, Echo: Approaching Shatter hit virtual shelves in 2015. Please tell us what first inspired this story and motivated you to explore this world and discover the three other stories in this series.

Echo was inspired by Die Hard with a Vengeance, specifically that opening scene where John Mclane is forced to wear an offensive sign in public and it puts his life at risk. I started wondering what would happen if an entire city turned against one person, then that person had to fight their way out? I wanted it to be science fiction (because I’ve always been a fan of robo-suits), and then I had to create a backstory for a sci-fi scene where it was one guy versus an entire city. I didn’t get to the actual scene until the end of Echo 3.

Speaking of series, I’d love to hear more about your methods in discovering whether a story should be a single standalone or a series. We’re so often pushed by the gurus that series will sell over standalones. What are your thoughts on this?

I believe writing is one of the worst ways to make money (if you’re looking to make money), and that it should feed your soul before anything else. That being said, I would say write in a way that brings you the utmost joy and allows you to feel like you’ve honored the characters. Whether that’s a standalone book or a multi-volume series is up to you and your muse. If writing becomes a chore because I’m forcing a series, I’m not sure that I would want to keep doing it.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

I’m not too knowledgeable about traditional publishing, but from what I understand, things have vastly changed since Stephen King’s earlier days, where they’d work with you if you showed potential. Nowadays, they might arrange for your book to be turned frontwards instead of sideways for a few weeks at Barnes and Nobles, and possibly arrange some readings or a book tour. That’s not unethical, but I wish publishers would be willing to invest more into budding authors instead of just letting them sink or swim.

Okay, I HAVE to ask about your comic, Kor’Thank: Barbarian Valley Girl. Its premise is so utterly bizarre I cannot help but love it (it also helps I’m a fan of Conan the Barbarian). Where did this story come from in your imagination?

After I wrote Echo, which had plenty of violence and darkness, I wanted to write something fun and silly in the vein of Barry Ween (early 2000s comic). I was playing Kingdom Rush and noticed this primitive, mean-looking goblin guy named Gul Thak, and I started toying with the idea of a Conan-esque character switching bodies with a stereotypical cheerleader. After that, it was just a matter of playing up the ironies (despite outward appearances, she’s the mean one), adding a giant dose of juvenile humor, and sprinkling in some high school sweetness, infused with the eager young outlook and unjaded energy that I wish all high-schoolers were able to enjoy, simply because that’s what I wish defined peoples’ high school experience.

Kor’Thank also gets me wondering about that old chestnut of a writer’s debate regarding originality vs. catching a trend. What are your thoughts on trying to be more original vs. delivering to readers what they want?

This might seem a bit selfish, but I think it’s mainly what brings joy to the author. I’m all for originality, but not if it’s some arthouse-type work that evokes no emotion from me, despite being supposedly brilliant in theme and execution. Conversely, if I watch something that’s full of cliches, then I don’t care so long as it’s engaging.

Kor’Thank ALSO also gets me wondering about your character names. Can you describe your process for finding/selecting character names? I’m always a sucker for selecting historical names with meaning.

I wasn’t so good with names for Echo (I just wanted to get on with writing the story, and select names that wouldn’t be too jarring). Nowadays, because my YA fantasy series hews outside the bounds of traditional fantasy, I’ve placed great emphasis on names, dialogue, and culture in order to evoke the old-school fantasy feel, despite the nontraditional setting. I look for names that are evocative of behavior and background. For example, from my second book, Eralindiany felt like an Elvish, feminine name with a lot of flow and lilt, so that’s why she’s Jon’s half-Elf girlfriend. Syfaedi Kysaire felt like something that had flair and derring-do, so I made her a pirate captain. Raefingham Bask felt Victorian and refined, so I made him a Sherlockian detective. The bottom line is I go by feel. A lot of the time, I’ll use a “placeholder name” then change it in the edit as I get a feel for the character and my mind starts coming up with better names.

I’ve been following your blog for a long time, and I see that you’ve transformed a series within your blogs (Musings) into a book collection. Can you describe your process for bringing your blog to the bookstore, and do you have any other marketing advice for fellow indie writers?

Some of my readers wanted me to compile Musings into a book, so I acquiesced and turned it into a compilation of philosophical pseudo-poems. Once again, my advice on bringing my blog to a bookstore is infuriatingly vague: search your feelings, just like Obi Wan said, and if it feels right to publish, then go ahead and do it. In creative pursuits, I’m of the opinion that going by feel and intuition is of utmost importance. Because arguably, that’s what defines them and/or separates them from technical pursuits.

Your latest book, a YA Fantasy, sounds like a delightful escape from the mundane of our world. Considering how the HUGE variations of worldbuilding within the fantasy genre, did you find it difficult to challenge the reader while also guiding them through your story-world?

Absolutely. Since my main character is from Earth, I wanted to convey the wonder of discovery and adventure through his eyes, without getting bogged down in too much backstory. Also, building out a system of magic was a definite challenge, especially when the plot hinges on different styles of spellcasting.

What would you say was the most difficult scene to write in Evermoor?

The most difficult scene to write in Evermoor was when the hero finally gets to kiss the girl. I’d never gone all in on a romantic scene until then, and I really wanted to get it right. I wanted to convey his excitement at finally getting to experience this joyous moment—possibly the most joyous moment of his teenage existence—with the crush of his life.

Lastly, we all struggle with a writing Kryptonite—that thing that just saps our creativity and prevents us from telling the stories we love. What is your writing Kryptonite, and how do you overcome it?

My writing kryptonite is frustration that no one’s made my books into a movie or tv show, LOL! The scenes are so vivid in my mind, that I desperately want to see them onscreen. I have to deliberately focus on enjoying my story and immersing myself in the joy of writing it, because I can easily go down a depressing rabbit hole if I start obsessing about recognition or movie deals.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Kent, and I can’t wait to see where your creativity takes you next!

~STAY TUNED!~

Nature is on my mind! Whether it’s the music of nature or the landscape of mystery, perhaps it’s time we venture out and explore with the words and sounds of others.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #TheDiamondEye by Kate Quinn, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

Jeff Gerke, The First Fifty Pages

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Oddly enough, this has to be the first podcast where I didn’t even get to the first chapter all. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn has three–THREE–prologues. There’s a wee preface to tell you of the original person on which the novel is based, the “official” prologue, and then a couple of pages entitled “Notes by the First Lady.”

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Now the wee preface is not badly written at all. It’s just a succinct few verses that explain this woman was a real person who served as a Soviet sniper in World War II. At one point this woman was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s friend; this can be hard for modern audiences to grasp, but it’s important to remember that in 1942, the Soviet Union and United States were allies against the Axis Powers.

This is where the “official” prologue helps a little with establishing the mindset at the time. Perhaps folks who’ve watched Mad Men know how women were often treated as second-class and unable to do “man’s work,” but in the 1940s the United States had to take a serious look at their approach to what women can and cannot do. (Of course, this all backtracked after the war, but let’s focus on the moment.) The prologue comes from the perspective of a hired assassin mingling with reporters watching Lady Death, the famed Soviet Sniper, arriving at the White House to meet The First Lady. So we all get to see this pretty girl and hear men constantly saying, “a woman could never do all that!” While I appreciate establishing that mindset, I’m not sure it needed its own prologue to do so.

And then, we get what reads like a diary entry from The First Lady before she meets the sniper. While I appreciate the importance of establishing President FDR’s physical ailments for modern readers, I’m not sure why the third prologue needed to travel back in time to before the second prologue. At this point, we just want to meet this infamous Lady Death!

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

You’ve Got Five Pages, #BlackMouth by Ronald Malfi, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Hello, amazing fellow creatives! Here’s to more fun perusing the library’s new releases to see what strikes our fancy. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve retitled Story Cuppings to better fit the premise of the podcast.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.

JEFF GERKE, THE FIRST 50 PAGES

Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Once again, we’ve got a story with a “bait and switch” kind of prologue. There is a single page before Chapter 1 that comes from what I imagine to be the antagonist’s point of view, establishing this deadly hidden realm that is thirsting for the life on our side of “the wall.” The prose itself? Lovely. The antagonist? Threatening. The shadow realm? Eerie.

But was that trip really necessary?

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

For the first chapter of Gallant by V.E. Schwab is a marvelous introduction to protagonist Olivia and her blessing/curse of seeing ghouls. We see Olivia dealing with the relatable bully conflict in a school setting, and the foreshadowing of this school teaching girls to be “ghosts in other people’s homes” is an excellent allusion to whatever the shadow realm. Olivia’s plight and life intrigue us as readers, and the scene with the ghoul in the garden shed is an excellent first exposure to the supernatural element at work in the story. So as a writer, I wonder why on earth we needed the dramatic peek at the antagonist at all. It feels like an unnecessary show of life-and-death stakes rather than letting the story reach that point organically.

As always, I love hearing what’s on the shelves of your own libraries. Libraries Rock!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#WriterProblems: How Many Characters Do You Really Need? #DeathOnTheNile #AgathaChristie

Featured

Welcome back, my fellow creatives!

Last year, my husband and I began watching various episodes of mystery series together. It began with Columbo–

–continued with Sherlock Holmes–

–and ended with some Poirot.

Now as I’ve noted, my dear Bo is quite the cinephile, so on top of the television adaptations of these stories, we were also watching the film adaptations. This meant we saw four different versions (at least!) of Hound of the Baskervilles and a couple versions of Death on the Nilethe 1978 version starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot, and the 2004 version starring David Suchet as Poirot. (I had yet to see the new Kenneth Branagh adaptation at the time.)

While Bo was giving me commentary on what actor had gone on to do X or Q or T, I was noticing how certain plot threads would come and go depending on the adaptation. Now for technical reasons, I could see how a story is condensed so it can fit into a two-hour movie or three-part special. This will mean cutting characters or condensing characters for the film–normal stuff. As writers, we can debate the trials and tribulations of film adaptations until the cosmic cows come to roost, or however that saying goes.

But there was something about the Poirot Death on the Nile adaptations that left me pondering. Lots of good fiction depend on multiple plot threads to keep the reader engaged from the first page to the last. Mysteries in particular need those extra plot threads to create red herrings and plot twists so that the solution to the mystery is a surprise to the reader. In order to populate those other threads, one must have a sizable cast of characters.

But is a big cast really necessary for the story, or are they just filler?

THAT is the question I’d like to discuss with you today, and I’m keen to use Death on the Nile to do so. If you don’t recall the original story’s plot, the Wikipedia entry covers it fairly well. (The entry also mentions the film adaptations I’ll be mentioning here, too.) I’ve also snagged the original cast list from Litcharts so we can see what Agatha Christie saw fit to print. I’ve actually trimmed a few folks out, trying to limit us to the folks who rode the Karnak during the majority of the novel.

ALSO: Spoilers abound. Writer problems trump “spoiler-free” descriptions any day.

THE ORIGINAL CAST OF THE 1937 NOVEL (PRETTY SURE, ANYWAY)

Hercule Poirot: This is a given.

Linnet Doyle: the spoiled rich English lady who marries Simon Doyle and gets murdered.

Jacqueline De Bellefort: Linnet’s best friend who was engaged to Simon until Linnet gets involved. Also, one of the story’s murderers.

Simon Doyle: the youngest son of a well-to-do family, so he loves fancy things but has no money for them. Loves Jackie but marries Linnet. Also also, the other one of the story’s murderers.

Colonel Race: I didn’t remember him from other stories, but apparently he befriended Poirot before Death on the Nile takes place. (Edit: I had to look this up–they do meet in Cards on the Table.) He is present on the riverboat Karnak due to a potential Communist and/or Anarchist threat, but from a storyteller’s standpoint, he is the trustworthy one Poirot can speak freely about his observations so readers know what’s going on.

Andrew Pennington: An American trustee for Linnet Ridgeway due to family connections. There’s a partner, but he barely factors in, so we’ll not bother with him.

Mrs. Salome Otterbourne: a writer of sensational, sexualized fiction who drank more the less her books sold.

Rosalie Otterbourne: Daughter of Salome–and because of the alcoholism, her mother’s keeper. This leads to Rosalie being very difficult for folks like Poirot to interact with.

Mrs. Allerton: the “nice” character of the novel, and essentially Poirot’s gateway into meeting all the other passengers of the riverboat Karnak.

Tim Allerton: son of Mrs. Allerton, eventual lover of Rosalie Otterbourne, and cousin of Joanna Southwood who enjoys hanging out with Linnet before the trip to Egypt. He helps Joanna steal jewelry and make forgeries, and on this boat, it’s his job to switch their fake pearls with Linnet’s real ones. This leads to one of the minor plots of Linnet’s missing pearl necklace being a possible motive for murder.

Miss Marie Van Schuyler: wealthy old American lady who bosses her cousin Cornelia and nurse Miss Bowers around throughout the novel. She’s also a kleptomaniac, which adds to the pearl necklace subplot.

Cornelia Robson: a nice girl who becomes a tool for Linnet and Simon and an object of the affections of Mr. Ferguson and Dr. Bessner.

Mr. Ferguson (Lord Dawlish): a Communist who is hateful to pretty much everyone except Cornelia, infatuated with her genuinely kind nature. Secretly a member of a very well-to-do English family. His brazen comments about how awful rich people and capitalism are material for the political agitator subplot.

Miss Bowers: nurse to Miss Van Schuyler who isn’t actually treating the old lady for anything. She’s there to keep the kleptomania in check and return things Van Schuyler steals, which means there is a “mysterious” return of the necklace, only it’s a forgery, and…yeah, the necklace subplot is a bit much.

Signor Richetti: a middle-aged Italian archaeologist that Poirot meets on an excursion near the hotel (which Ferguson also came on). He turns out to be the political agitator that Colonel Race is after. He has absolutely nothing to do with the deaths on the Nile. He’s just there to be ominous and threatening.

Louise Bourget: maid to Linnet and Simon Doyle, Louise initially appears to be a minor character, until suddenly she takes center stage when she becomes the second murder victim.

James Fanthorp: a young English lawyer for Linnet Ridgeway, the nephew of the lawyer William Carmichael. I vaguely remember this guy.

Dr. Bessner: a middle-aged European doctor on board the Karnak who takes care of Simon after his leg injury and who eventually proposes to Cornelia Robson. Yes, Cornelia chooses this dude over the English Lord, much to her grandmother’s chagrin.

Fleetwood: an engineer on the Karnak who attempted to marry one of Linnet’s old chambermaids, despite the fact that he was already married to an Egyptian woman. Linnet prevented the marriage, which made both Fleetwood and Louise extremely angry.

So, we have our cast, and it’s not a small one. We have our primary players who drive the plot forward with their secret and not-so-secret actions, and those who make stuff happen for our primary players to react to.

Realistic Population

Death on the Nile primarily takes place in Egypt, broken up with stops at hotels and busy locations. The named characters ride on the S.S. Karnak up the Nile River together, and it is on this boat that the murder and mayhem take place. In the original novel, Ustinov adaptation, and Suchet adaptation, most of the characters have negative, tenuous connections to Linnet Doyle–her father bought out one character’s business, ruining the family, for instance. In another example, we see that in the Ustinov adaptation, Dr. Bessner’s clinic is about to lose its funding because Linnet Doyle is changing her father’s financial ties. But not all characters have these connections, and that is okay. Something we must remember as writers is that when a story is taking place in a public space, there will be strangers to the story. There are plenty of other visitors to the hotels in Egypt, and the riverboats are common transportation for tourists. Readers don’t expect every tourist on a boat to be connected to every other tourist on the boat. That’s what makes the old connection between Mrs. Van Schuyler and Linnet Doyle a surprise. On the surface, Mrs. Allerton and her son Tim have no connection whatsoever to Linnet Doyle, but when Joanna’s name is mentioned, a shady connection reveals itself.

To put it another way, it’d be as if the Hogwarts School was only populated by Harry and his friends, and Draco and his friends. The school just has four teachers at any time and that’s it. None of the other students and faculty matter, so trim them out!

Readers expect a school to be populated. They expect a city to be populated. They expect a passenger boat to be populated.

Of course, Agatha Christie had plans for the characters she put on the Karnak, but at the outset, having this large group made sense because it’s a tourist’s boat. It’s supposed to be busy and crowded. But it’s not necessary to make all those characters obviously connected. She didn’t make intricate connections between every student and every teacher in Cat Among the Pigeons, either; sometimes, you just need people there because people are supposed to be there. They are, essentially, moving scenery. And because those extras are treated like scenery, we readers are not expecting backstories on all of them. We don’t know all the backstories of all the crewmembers on the Karnak, nor are we looking for them. They are there to simply fill in the scene.

In the most recent Branagh version, however, this entire cast–yes, all those people–are the wedding party for Simon and Linnet Doyle. Considering Branagh’s time in Shakespeare, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this strategy. Now the entire cast’s presence on the boat is justified. Such a move, however, means all the secretive, surprising connections are thrust out into the open. The chances for surprise go way down. And the fact some of those connections are negative at the outset makes it all the stranger some of these people are invited to the wedding. For instance, Branagh transforms the Dr. Bessner role part into another doctor who was Linnet Doyle’s former fiance. The man is clearly fawning after Linnet until she dies. Why is he at this destination wedding? No idea. But we need our suspects, dammit!

More Characters = More Subplots. Yay!

As previously noted, having this size of a group means one can have some other plot threads. These smaller plot lines give the writer a chance to break up the major plot and allow little breaks from major events without bringing the story to a standstill. After all, if all the major plot points of Death on the Nile were smushed together (marriage/murder/second murder/third murder/reveal), you’d have an overwhelming episode of a television show rather than a movie, let alone a novel. So having other plot lines allows the writer to build curiosity in the reader. What did that dollar fragment in the maid’s hand mean? Wait, who is Mr. Farnthorp, really? Why is the Signor so upset about his note? Why is Rosalie Otterbourne so protective of her mother?

Now even in a novel, one can have superfluous plot threads. Yes, Dame Christie, included. Take the Signor Richetti character. His sole purpose is to be the reason Colonel Race boards the Karnak. He is a sulky man who has no connection whatsoever to the Doyles or anything going on. He gets to have one angry interaction with Linnet Doyle, and that’s it. There’s a reason that all three adaptations of this novel omit this character. One could remove the “political agitator” subplot and affect absolutely nothing else in the story, which is why the films consistently cut him out.

The pearl necklace subplot is altered from film to film. Sometimes the pearls are forged, sometimes they are just stolen. Sometimes it’s the klepto old Miss Van Schuyler, while in the Branagh version the character created to replace Col. Race took the pearls in order to have a clean start with his love, Rosalie Otterbourne, whose mother is a jazz singer hired by the Doyle’s for this destination wedding thing. Unlike the political agitator plot, the stolen pearls provide a worthwhile red herring to Linnet’s murder–someone may have murdered her out of hate, but maybe they were just greedy for the money in those pearls. Greed doesn’t require a previous relationship or connection, and such greed allows strangers to become suspects. In a mystery set on a tourist boat, such a move makes sense and therefore requires characters to flesh it out.

If I could have a smidgeon of the fun Angela Lansbury has in acting for this film, I would be a happy soul, indeed.

More Subplots = More Characters to Keep Track of. UGH.

So you saw that list I made earlier. Let’s face it–that list is huge. Macbeth has roughly the same number of named characters. There’s a reason films often condense or omit characters from a movie: it’s just too much. The Suchet adaptation, for instance, eliminates three characters. The Ustinov adaptation deletes six. Branagh cuts a few, but then also adds some different ones to fill in the gaps. Yet these adaptations were able to tell the same essential story.

This means the effects of cast changes are felt far more in the subplots than in the major plot. Branagh’s adaptation, for instance, pushes love as the major motive for everything: the pearl necklace is stolen for love. Linnet is murdered for love. The maid–and the necklace thief–are murdered to protect love. By reorganizing the characters and how they connected, Branagh altered the very subplots those characters served.

And…sure, I guess that’s okay. But when there’s only one real reason folks are doing anything, you suck a lot of mystery out of the story.

Yes, having a big cast is a pain. Keeping track of multiple motivations is a pain. The Ustinov adaptation made this painfully clear with the connections they created for motives: Mrs. Otterbourne was getting sued by Linnet for libel (and Rosalie would go far to protect her mother, wouldn’t she?); Dr. Bessner’s clinic was going to lose funding; Communist Ferguson openly despised Linnet’s wealth and wanted to see her dead; the trustee Pennington was embezzling Linnet; even the nurse Miss Bowers blamed Linnet’s family for ruining her own. You couldn’t take a step on that boat without bumping into someone with the motivation to kill Linnet.

Keeping track of all those motivations and connections is very, very hard, for on top of making them exist, you have to make them matter. This means dedicating page space (or screen time) that adequately gives every plot thread relevance and urgency to the overall storyline. The more plot threads you have, the more complicated your pacing will have to be, too, for the major plot thread can’t be out of sight for long.

Final Thoughts…

So if you the writer are not sure you can make it all weave together, DON’T DO IT.

There is nothing wrong with keeping to a few plot threads and a small cast. There’s a reason “cozy” mysteries typically use a small group of characters: readers can track them easily, their motivations are easy to track as a writer, and any change to those characters is easier to distinguish because there’s less moving scenery to distract a reader. As one who has read mysteries for a few decades, nothing infuriates a reader like goofed character/plot connections. It messes up the story, and it makes you the writer look like you don’t know your own story-world.

Now I’m sure that, assuming you made it to the end here, you have your own thoughts on stories and the size of their character cast. I’d love to hear them!

I know that the easy advice here would be to “create only the characters your story absolutely needs,” but sometimes we just don’t know how many characters that entails–not in the first draft, anyway. I still grind my teeth over the plothole the filmmakers created in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban because they condensed the story too damn much. It takes time and practice to first find our central plot thread, and then the characters needed to see that plot thread through. I’m still working on this just like you, so I’d love to hear your take on big/small character casts, plot threads that could have used a few more characters, a few less, and so on.

And what’s your favorite book cover from the assortment in this post? I admit, I love the clean, cool colors of this one.

~STAY TUNED!~

I’ve another indie interview on the way! Plus we could wander the Holmesian countryside if you’d like, dissect the plot and characters of my own fiction, find inspiration among the sounds of nature, or take up a dragon to fight Napoleon. Mystery and adventure await!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!