The Challenge of Balancing a Large Cast

Avengers Cast

The biggest challenge with War of Nytefall is that I’m working with a really large cast of main and constant secondary characters.  Clyde may be the main one, but all of his friends and enemies make appearances in every book.  At least as long as they aren’t killed in the previous volume.  This means I have 15 characters to juggle PLUS any who are specific to the book.  It isn’t easy and has been a headache because I never know if I’m getting the balance right.  So, I’ve been depending a lot on these tricks:

  1. Some sedentary villains like what I did with Baron Kernaghan in Legends of Windemere.  Since the story follows the heroes, I limit the use of various villains depending on the story.  Xavier and Nadia are nobles, so they staying in Nyte makes a lot of sense.  They only take physical action when their agents aren’t able to get the job done.  Lou stays by Nadia’s side, which makes 3.  Archillious, Kai Stavros, Stephanie Talon, and Kenneth Decker are the more active ones.  They tend to move in a group or pairs too.  Kai and Stephanie are a spy and seer respectively, which also means they can be left behind or in the shadows without a problem.
  2. Splitting up the heroes and alternating chapters allows for multiple paths to be shown at the same time.  War of Nytefall is a little more globetrotting than my previous series, so the heroes have to go in opposite directions at times.  They have designated groups as well even if they mix it up at times.  The Vengeance Hounds tend to be sent to the more action/warrior paths while Chastity and Lost are the information gatherers.  Lost is also an honorary Vengeance Hound, so she might go with them while Chastity works with Mab and Clyde.  Those two go off on their own a lot as long as one hasn’t been kidnapped.  This allows for all of the characters to get moments to shine without the others being imagined sitting on the sidelines.  It still isn’t easy and some get less exciting bits than others.
  3. Accept that some heroes may have to be benched or limited for a volume.  This is one that I realized in War of Nytefall: Rivalry.  Gregorio is usually staying in his lair and getting a few scenes, but I was finding that others were getting similar treatment even when they were around.  Bob, Lost, Chastity, and Luther had very little to do since Titus was captured and the focus was really on Mab.  I used them to be around for when she was doing things and acting as a sounding board, but I don’t think any of those four had any massive solo scene.  This is in contrast to previous and this book where they all get a lot to do, but a long series means this happens at times.
  4. Conversations are a pain in the butt, but they’re necessary.  Unlike with the champions, I have a lot of strong personalities in the same room.  All of the Dawn Fangs are big on making their opinions known with the possible exception of Luther.  He tends to be calm and fine with listening.  Everyone else will jockey for attention in my head and it can have them yelling over each other.  When it comes to revealing information or posing questions through dialogue, I can’t just run along.  I need to stop and think of who would be most likely to say what I need them to say.  This results in a lot of ‘everyone gets a turn to speak at least once’ scenes with a little jumbling thrown in to avoid a dull pattern.  There’s always the 1-3 that get the lion’s share of the talking too while the others interject thoughts to move things along.

Those are the big tips, but it’s still a heavy juggling act here.  There are days when I feel like I made a mistake and didn’t pay enough attention to a character.  Other days I feel like I was all over the place.  I will say that having this be an 8 book series takes the edge off because it means I have time to give everyone a chance to shine.  Will I ever tackle a cast this big again?  I don’t know, but at least I’ve got experience in it.  That’s all we really can say about our paths as author.

So, what do you think about writing series with really large casts?

Don’t forget to check out War of Nytefall: Eradication on Amazon for $2.99!

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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10 Responses to The Challenge of Balancing a Large Cast

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! Large casts make sense in a series. I can’t help thinking of the multitude of characters in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and of course the Avengers, since you included that photo. 😀 Scenes with multiple characters interacting must be challenging to write. In those scenes, how do you keep track of where each character is positioned? Do you act out the scene? Draw a diagram?

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    • Potter is a little easier because you really only have 1 main hero with 2 high ranking supporters. Then an army of secondaries that can come and go with very little change. LOTR is tougher with its 8 big ones, so they split the group for much of the adventure. That’s a way to work a big cast. Avengers . . . They did LOTR for a bit and then you saw the issue when everyone was around. Came down to everyone getting one or two big things then fading back again. Easier to leave their actual placement vague. As long as they’re around and you know how they’re positioned.

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  2. I purposely keep my cast to a manageable level for the various reasons you have outlined. Thanks, Charles.

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  3. I’m struggling with some of that right now, too. Your last comment about doing it again is kind of how I feel right now. I’m forcing myself to focus on the main ones, but I have a side plot I need to start weaving in.

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