Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Cast of Thousands

I'm doing one final nitpicking read-through of book 4 to make sure it all holds together and is consistent. This is when I try to read more or less like a reader, getting through the whole book in a couple of days rather than spreading it out over weeks. And then I hope to turn it in tomorrow, and I'll be free!!! For a little while, at least.

I'm now going to talk some about last night's episode of Heroes, but I won't address what actually happened, just the story structure, so there won't be spoilers unless you're so rabidly anti-spoiler that vague references to the structure of the episode will ruin things for you.

This is one of those TV series that I feel I should love more than I do. I like it, but I don't find myself caring all that deeply about it. I've decided that a lot of that has to do with the cast of thousands approach. I counted, and there are at least ten characters with their own story lines. If they try to address each story in an episode without any of those story lines merging, that means each character gets less than five minutes per episode. If you really like and care about only half those characters, that could mean that you're only deeply involved in half an episode. I tend to be very character-oriented as a viewer, so that I can only get really involved in something if there's a character I latch onto emotionally. The shows I like best tend to be those where I feel that kind of attachment with most of the cast, or where my character is the main character and on screen most of the time, so that I'm always engaged. Otherwise, I'll find myself just watching for the scenes that involve my character. The larger the cast, the harder it is to relate to every character, especially when they have such divergent story lines. Meanwhile, the other problem with dealing with all these story lines is that if each character is getting maybe five minutes per episode, that means there's not a lot of forward momentum in a single episode. Each character may do one key thing. A lot of stuff is going on, but it's not really going anywhere.

Where I find this series works best is when the story lines start to merge. For one thing, if two or more characters are in the same story in an episode, that means that story gets ten or more minutes, so that more happens and if it involves one of the people I care about, that means I care about more of the episode. I also love that sense of "aha!" when you see the patterns forming and start to understand the connections. Last night's episode really worked for me because it merged several of the stories and then remained focused strictly on those events instead of bouncing around to show us what everyone else was up to. That meant the story as a whole made a quantum leap forward, and I was caught up in the episode more than I usually tend to be.

This is going to sound like an odd comparison, but one of my favorite books is Last Chance Saloon, by Marian Keyes. It's not about superheroes at all, but it's got a similar structure. It starts by telling the seemingly unrelated stories of various young professionals working in London, and then as the book progresses, the stories start to merge, and you see how some of the stories were already connected in the background. By the end of the book, it's just one story, really, as all the plot threads have woven together. The first time I read that book, I couldn't put it down once I started seeing the patterns emerging.

On the other hand, I'm not a huge fan of the thing that happens far too often in fantasy books, where you start out with one big group on a quest, and then the groups split up, so you then go back and forth between the various groups and their various adventures as they all lead essentially separate lives, maybe eventually getting back together at the very end of the series. I don't mind so much when the split covers part of a book, but when it goes on for multiple books, I can lose interest. If what got me into the story in the first place was the characters and their chemistry, I feel cheated to lose that. I've been known to skip around and just read the parts with the characters I like. I've actually given up on series mid-way through when it felt too disjointed. If they're apart, they should at least be thinking about each other and how they'll find each other again so we feel that sense of connection.

I'm not sure why I've been pondering this so much, considering I write single point of view books in first person. It's impossible for me to split things up too much. But I do have a cast of thousands growing, and it's difficult juggling all the supporting characters' stories and giving them each their moment in the books. I also have a more traditional fantasy series I'd like to write someday, and yeah, there's a section where the main characters are split apart, so I worry about doing that in such a way that it doesn't make the story sag.

So, anyway, yay for Heroes last night.

In other news, does anyone actually really care about Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith, or is it just the media getting all excited about them and assuming we all care when we really don't?

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