Apr 23, 2013

Guest Post : Why Six Minds Are Better Than One by Janine A. Southard, author of Queen & Commander

Posted by Unknown at Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why Six Minds Are Better Than One

I really like ensemble cast stuff. TV shows like Star Trek and Buffy. Movies like The Magnificent Seven or, I admit it, The Mummy. 
All those different perspectives fill me with glee. Sure, the action is the same for each character, but none of them are living in the same story. 
Just imagine if The Hunger Games included chapters from Peeta’s perspective interwoven with Katniss’. What does he see and feel during his presentation or throughout the supposed romance. Is he also guilty of using his love-partner at the start? (Hey, Suzanne Collins, if you’re reading this: Please write a tie-in novel for me with his reactions to everything. I’m dying to know what he was thinking!)
Writers are always told to “remember that each character is the hero of their own story, but you can’t let the supporting cast take over.” Think about that, though. As far as those supporting characters are concerned, the protagonist is the side character.
For Queen & Commander, I made sure my characters had different voices and different goals. In roughly 30 pages of notes, I gave each character a complete plot arc as though she or he was the main character (of their own story). 
Let me tell you: getting six fully-formed character arcs to climax anywhere near the same time took a lot of plot outlining. 
On the other hand, it also made choosing each scene’s POV really easy. Whoever had the most to lose got to own the scene. 
In a novel, writers have choices about how much to reveal and how to reveal it. In a space opera epic, the ensemble cast adds flavor and perspective. Each character shares some unique detail that no one else knows about. (Whether that’s guilt or knowledge about how to fly a spaceship.) And those details flesh out the universe, make it real. 
Each character doesn’t individually see their details as important, but, pulled together, they form a gestalt of veracity.

Janine A. Southard writes and edits speculative fiction in between working on videogame projects. She's attended more than the average number of universities, which she claims is a FEATURE not a bug. ("Oxford educated, but Californian at heart;" she's also lived and traveled in Europe, the United States, and Japan.)

Currently, she lives in Seattle with a husband and a cat. The cat pretends to care about this.


Find her at 
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