Current Writing Weakness

As I’m working on my latest book, I’ve discovered an area that I still need a lot of work on to improve. I’ve got plenty of practice dealing with a limited number of characters, but when it comes to having a whole slew of characters in the same place, I just haven’t done that enough to get any real experience with it.

When you look at my books thus far, they almost never have a huge crowd in a scene at the same time. When they do, that huge crowd is almost dealt with as a single entity. “The crowd,” as opposed to individuals within the crowd.

Some of this is because I’ve always tried to keep things clear in my writing, and it felt like once I got beyond a couple of characters, it got difficult to tell people apart. I’ve seen this happen in other people’s writing, and I didn’t want to have it happen in mine. The correct solution to this isn’t to just avoid writing large groups ever, but rather to get better at the skill in question.

For example, I’m about 10,000 words into my next book. This part is centered around a class bus ride with about 45 people on the bus. I was hitting all the action beats I wanted to in terms of the main character’s experience, but when I got to the end of the 10,000 words and looked back on it, all I really had was the main character on a bus with a bunch of faceless people. Sure, I’d added names to about five of them, but there was almost no personality given to any of them.

I was on a fair number of school bus rides growing up, and I know for a fact that they’re affected somehow by social interactions. People I liked. People who irritated me. People who I avoided. Loud people. Shy people. By having so many faceless people on the bus, it made everything feel much less lived in.

So I’m trying to fix that, but as I do I’m reminded again and again why I’ve avoided doing this for so long. Since I’m starting the book with this bus scene, I’m having to do many different things at the same time. I have to introduce the main character and conflict and setting, but now I also have to shoehorn a host of other established characters at the same time.

Thankfully, I’m not the only person to ever try to do this. I’m rereading The Wheel of Time right now, and it deals with a whole slew of characters. I’ve been looking for the ways Robert Jordan introduces them in a way that feels natural, especially since I never really felt overwhelmed by all those characters when I was reading the books through the first time. (And he has a *lot* of characters.)

So far, it seems he gives a brief overview of a room when a character enters. He establishes who’s there, what they look like, and a brief mention of their personality. Then he makes sure to follow that through by having those people reinforce their description by behaving the way he said they did. This isn’t rocket science, I realize, and it might seem very straightforward to many/most of you. But when you’re trying to keep your word count down while doing all of the above . . .

It can get pretty complex. At least it has to me. Here’s hoping that with some concentrated effort, I can get a hang of it. I really like the concept of this book, but I’m going to need to have a larger cast (simply because so many of them are going to die by the end . . . )


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