Working on notes for the online novel this week – the alien invasion one – I started thinking about Harry Turtledove and his Tosev novels. The guy’s got a wonderful ability to write about an ensemble cast. His series features viewpoint characters who are American, German, British, Chinese, Russian, Nazi, Jewish, and even alien. Showing different perspectives on the conflict was one of the reasons why I’ve grow to love his series so much, and I thought it would be great to follow in his footsteps with the online novel. After all, I’ve already taken his cue of replacing Mars with a different planet more suitable to my needs.
But now, almost a week into character work for the novel, I’ve noticed that I’ve got more of an uphill battle than I thought. The problem isn’t that I have a rich pool to draw from. The problem is that I’ve got too large of a pool, more like an ocean or a great lake.
The way I started was to have different countries that I could have the story set it. Some of them appear twice on this list because there are alien as well as human characters. And there are four main categories of character that I‘m thinking about: scientists, soldiers, politicians, and civilians. Multiply all the possibilities, and I’ve got a maximum of a hundred characters.
That’s not bad, but the nature of this online novel, in my mind, is different than that of a printed book. With a printed book, all your characters are delivered in one package. With the online novel, with each chapter delivered monthly, there’s a risk that the readers might not remember everyone serving as a viewpoint character. It‘s not impossible to break up a story and stretch it over a long period of time. Lost had a massive ensemble cast and went on to great success. But Lost had the advantage over my online novel in that each chapter was presented in weekly increments. The pace was such that a week would go and the audience still remembered what happened in the last episode.
The way I see it, I’ve got two options: A) make the primary cast smaller, or B) deliver chapters much more quickly than a month at a time. Well, Option B isn’t going to work. I can’t produce a short story in one week. Even a piece of flash fiction takes me a couple of weeks to get through. So I need to go back to the list, trim off the fat, and try to keep an eye out for who the most interesting characters might be.