Casting the Book

Recently I began reading a new book from one of my favorite authors. I had been looking forward to this book because it was revisiting 1800’s London and the author had done a beautiful job describing that time period. I also love the fantastical elements of the world she created. Urban fantasy is fascinating to me and I am attempting to write within that subgenre (unsuccessfully at present) so anything I can learn from novels like this is welcome.

But…

I began reading this novel several months ago and have yet to finish. Normally I consume these books in a day or two, so I had to sit back and as myself what was going on.

After careful inspection, I have to say that the novel is too full.

Too many personalities on the page.

Or rather, too may point of view (POV) characters to follow. The original books were full of personalities, but the selection of POV characters was more narrow, and thus less overwhelming. It’s not that I’m lazy as a reader and want the selection smaller because I can’t keep them straight, it’s because I grow frustrated when the POV only skims the surface of a character’s problems and then moves off to the next scene.

I have seen the question “How many characters is too many” within writer groups a lot, and I have to admit that I never paid it much mind. The world is full of people, after all, and it seems silly to limit the number of personalities in a book. However, I would submit that you should always, always cast your point of view characters with care.

I think it was Dan Wells of the Writing Excuses podcast (and a brilliant novelist in his own right) who said that you choose your point of view character for any scene as the character who is in the most pain. But there’s a pretext to this – the character has to already be established as a POV within the novel.

Meaning that if we’ve never been in Susie’s POV before, but suddenly we are because she had her leg broken, then that is generally not acceptable. Instead, you go to the next best POV character who has already been established in the narrative. Example – Susie’s mother was established early on as a POV character, and seeing her daughter in pain would be an acceptable alternative to leaping into a character whose voice hasn’t been heard in the novel before.

I know that there are novels out there with numerous point of view characters. And without getting into the difference of third person limited versus third person omniscient, I would like to point out that my issue with the current novel I am reading is more geared toward a feeling of being rushed.

The scenes do not delve deep.

They do not allow me to settle into the skin of the point of view character long enough to enjoy them.

And part of me can’t help feeling that the reason behind this shallow characterization is because the author was stretched thin between their cast.

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