Spreading Out Debuts

Straw Hat Crew from One Piece

Straw Hat Crew from One Piece

One of the toughest things about an ensemble cast adventure is having the various heroes and villains debut.  You want each one to make an impact, but you also want the story to move at a decent pace.  Stretching the appearances too long can lead to the main plot being ignored and forgotten. Villains tend to be easier since you have different tiers and they get less story time.  Having an entire level of baddies debut in a meeting is a simple way to bring them into the light even if only one or two face the heroes.

It’s not the same with the good guys.  You want their reason for joining, a glimmer of history/current life, and a personality to make them fit.  It gets harder as the group grows too because you have to avoid overshadowing and ignoring the previously introduced heroes.  For example, it was a lot easier to introduce Luke Callindor than it was to introduce Dariana.  Luke had not other high-level heroes to compete with in Beginning of a Hero and started the group while Dariana is coming in during Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue.  She needs to be fit into the champions, which means the debut needed more careful crafting.

Now there are various methods to this:

  1. Having one debut per book/act is the most basic.  Each adventure has a new hero stumbling into the fray or being met for one reason or another.  I did this with Nyx, assigned to Luke’s new mission, and Sari, captured by their newest enemy.  (Timoran and Delvin too, but they also got cameos, which I’ll get into later.)  This allows you to focus the story and the existing characters’ attention on the newcomer.  It works for longer stories and series.
  2. Again, we’re looking at more of a series than a single book, but cameos of future heroes can help.  Timoran and Delvin showed up briefly in Prodigy of Rainbow Tower.  Yet they didn’t actually step into the adventure until Family of the Tri-Rune.  The cameo allows you to give a mild introduction and show what the potential hero has to offer.  If you can slip a little personality into it then great.
  3. This goes against the title of the post, but don’t think you only have to spread debuts out over a series.  It’s entirely possible to introduce most or all of the main group from the beginning.  You see this in TV series a lot and there are two methods.  One is that all of the characters have a shared past and you can bring this out over the course of the adventure.  The other is that they are put together at the start by an outside influence and find a reason to stick together.  So don’t think an ensemble means you can ONLY spread out the debuts.
  4. Another note on this kind of writing is that you do want every member to shine and prove that they have a reason for being on the ‘team’.  This can be the opening event, a defining scene in every adventure, or something that gets built up to.  In Legends of Windemere, I try to give all of the heroes a big scene that is either action-based or character development.  Yet there is always one or two that take more of each book’s attention. It helps keep balance and avoid clogging things up.

This is one of the things I worry about when writing.  I love hearing how people take to a character, especially when they first show up.  Probably thinking about this more since the next few books concentrate on some heroes that haven’t had a shot at the spotlight.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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21 Responses to Spreading Out Debuts

  1. It’s a really tough call, and I struggle with it myself. In my fantasy series, I have a number of heroes, and it’s so hard to give them the attention they deserve, when I’m concentrating on the main protagonist. Based on my other series, I tend to give them a personality type, and mention them at regular intervals, in as natural a way as I can, so people remember who they are when they come up again, or get their time in the spotlight!

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  2. I’m introducing a couple of new villains in the final Pearseus book, and am wondering just how to handle the previous baddies. I’ll probably group some of them together 🙂

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  3. L. Marie says:

    Wow. As usual, you’ve given me a lot to think about. The fact that you think in terms of a series reminds me of how little I think along those lines. I’m usually thinking, “I’ll write one book.” So I appreciate your plan for developing your series and debuting the characters in various books. I can say that there were characters who were only going to appear in one chapter of a book, but who now star in their own books. My beta readers saw potential in a young male character who only had a few lines in one chapter. I hadn’t thought deeply about his character until they asked me questions about him.

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    • When you go in thinking of only one book, do you find yourself making more? You mentioned the supporting characters getting their own book. Does that cause any trouble with the previous stuff?

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      • L. Marie says:

        The previous book wound up going nowhere. Several characters in that book wound up in other books. One girl has her own book and will appear in the sequel. The dude I mentioned is in a book with another girl from that first novel. So the field was wide open for me to better develop their characters. And yes, I’m writing a sequel for their book as well. I stopped writing it, however, to finish my middle grade book. That was going to be only one book also. But now I cuuld see a series with these characters.

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      • Wow. Sounds like you need a scorecard for that division. 🙂 Interesting how a series crops up at times.

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  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Any other ways YOU can think of? 🙂

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  5. Interesting. I find reading the stories to be easier when the character has had a walk on before since there is context to the present story in which they have a larger role.

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    • Cameos and hints of future heroes is a lot of fun. As you mention, context can be really important. I did that with three of the champions in Prodigy. Nyx got a small mention in Beginning too. I like having the ‘oh!’ moment when someone shows up.

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  6. Wow. That’s a lot of juggling. I haven’t written a series nor can I recall the last time I read one, but keeping all the characters straight…you must keep copious notes. Whatever you do, my hats off to you.

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