by Kathleen Ernst
Well, no, not really thousands. But my current WIP, Beyond Death’s Door, does have a large cast. And although my protagonist Chloe is the primary character, three others have point-of-view scenes. Most of the book takes place in 1982, but it does include an historical timeline as well.
Given that, I’ve been thinking about including a “Cast of Characters” at the front of the book.
A recent discussion on a mystery writers’ Listserv touched on that idea. I didn’t catch it all, but at least some posters lamented how the inclusion of a cast list seems to have fallen from favor. I’m paraphrasing here, but one person noted that the characters weren’t the most important people in readers’ lives, as they may at times seem to the author. She voted in favor of inclusion.
Great! I thought. I will include a character list in Beyond Death’s Door.
Then I happened across a comment from Chris Roerden in her book Don’t Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques To Save Your Manuscript From Turning Up D.O.A. It’s a good book, and I often flip through it as I near the end of a draft. While encouraging writers to introduce characters gradually, she writes: “One novel I began to read named twenty characters in the first chapter. If I hadn’t been looking forward to reading that author, I would have viewed the family tree on the flyleaf as the omen it was.”
Obviously a too-big cast, poorly introduced, is not the hallmark of a great book. But her comment about the family tree on the flyleaf as “omen” gave me pause.
So…what do you think? Do you see a cast list as a helpful tool, or an omen of bad things to come?