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Introducing a bunch of characters at once. (1 Viewer)

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Stormcat

Senior Member
My protagonist and her husband are going to attend a funeral. Protagonist barely knew the deceased and will know none of the other mourners there. Fortunately, her husband knows just about everyone there so he will have the job of introducing her to *checks notes* The entire government of this empire, plus their spouses and children. The whole thing is a circus and is treated pretty much as such. No genuine tears are shed for the deceased, as political yes-men and obscenely wealthy oligarchs are all lining up to lick the boots of the emperor and get the deceased's old job (Minister of Families).

Naturally, some of these characters will become important later, but I could use some help with keeping the reader abreast of who is who. I don't want to bore the reader with an endless barrage of names of characters they'll never see again, But I also want to illustrate the power dynamics of this empire among the various ministers, as this will be essential to toppling the empire later in the story.

Anyone got any ideas?
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Your instinct is good. I agree with your concerns right down the line. Here's how I handed a similar scene.
The men who'd clustered about the hall in small groups began to find their places. In all, twelve men and three women joined Ket at the table.

Ket found himself between Briston and Arndel. Seated at the head of the long banquet table was a handsome man whom Briston identified as Lord Teven TacMarough. To Lord Teven's right was Sir Lane. The newly arrived Vard Thessard took the seat to his left. An elderly looking man in deep blue robes was Me-Aln, who was attended by one of his assistants. Briston named several others at the table, but all the names and titles were too much for Ket to grasp at once. Included in the group was the Captain of the Castle Guard, the chief administrative aide to Lord Teven, and two captains of Bone Kien's military force. Ket was unable to remember all the names in one sitting.

Some of the other characters named by occupation have parts later, and at that time they get a name and more attention to details about them. Some of the other characters mentioned did not. This paragraph was their only reference.

Every character named had already appeared in previous scenes, so the reader was familiar with them before the list started.

The "two captains" participated in a strategy session a couple of chapters later, were named at that time, and each later had their own important scenes. The "assistant" also later got a name and a role.
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
Some of the other characters named by occupation have parts later, and at that time they get a name and more attention to details about them. Some of the other characters mentioned did not. This paragraph was their only reference.

So, not all characters will be named by profession, some will be listed by who their spouse is or who their parents are. How would I handle that?
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
So, not all characters will be named by profession, some will be listed by who their spouse is or who their parents are. How would I handle that?

How long to you expect the introductions scene to be? If it's not pages long, take a stab at it and let us look at the result. I think you're right that a long list of names would read like ... well ... reading a long list of names. LOL It's possible that your goal for the scene won't mesh with what you know will read well, in which case you may need to limit the introductions you envision for it and spread them out in some manner in ensuing scenes.
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
How long to you expect the introductions scene to be? If it's not pages long, take a stab at it and let us look at the result. I think you're right that a long list of names would read like ... well ... reading a long list of names. LOL It's possible your goal for the scene won't mesh with what you know will read well, in which case you may need to limit the introductions you envision for it and spread them out in some manner in ensuing scenes.

It's a receiving line, so hopefully extremely brief.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Consider how you deal with meeting a room for of people in one fell swoop. My wife has done this to me many times; introductions are usually polite, but as soon as I'm away from them I forget their names... at most I might recognize a face or two, but that's it.
 

thepancreas11

New Writers' Mentor
WF Veterans
Personally, I would only introduce a few of the characters by name, focusing on the characters that are central to the plot. The rest can be introduced by their rank, title, position, or their relationship to another character. If they're a character that you want to introduce later but they aren't important up front, you could always give them a funny, quirky, or specific description that the reader can hold onto.

I think of either "A Game of Thrones" (the novel) or "The Silmarillion" with situations like this. It's so hard for the reader to hold onto more than a half dozen names at once, and the more names you throw at them, the less likely they are to remember any of them in particular. The amount of time I spent flipping back and forth between the appendices and the narrative while reading "A Game of Thrones" was perhaps a bit more intense than most readers are willing to experience. I myself--as a huge fan of "Lord of the Rings"--had a very difficult time getting through even the first five chapters of "The Silmarillion". It's so dense. I wish I could go back to Tolkien and say, "Hey, remember that this is a story, not your author's notes."

The other option here is to play off the overwhelming nature of what you're about to do. The character can experience the same sort of fatigue that the reader is feeling, or the same sense of anxiety trying to remember all the names. If you absolutely have to introduce a ton of characters at once, one of these two options is a must.

At the end of the day, writing is in service to an idea or a feeling. The facts of the world come second and really only function as a means to help the reader understand the ground rules for the narrative.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
I'd address the gaggle as if it were a singular entity. Specific important people will be addressed based on what they're doing, saying or the protagonist's interest, the remainder will get nothing more than a collective tag.
 

K.S. Crooks

Senior Member
Have some characters introduced to the protagonist, have some spoken about to her by her husband or someone she just met, have her observe a few others who seem important or odd without knowing their names.
 

Riptide

WF Veterans
I think it would eb fun to have the husband just shoveling these descriptions to her:

"That's R-r-r-Ricky, with the stutter, get it? And his wife, Dandelion. Sweetest girl, right behind you babe." He pointed to a rat-looking man and his plump wife with cheery cheeks who shadowed him. "At the calamari is George--" A man in a top hat and a flickering, distrustful glare. "His daughter." Who looked more like Ricky with the stutter than George. "Shila, from France, who's our arm dealer, sitting by Housten, and you remember Juliet, right?"

"She helped us with our taxes?" she recalled, hopefully.

"No, no, that was Julia. Juliet has the corgis, and is head of the Prescot family. Those are her three sons, twins Lucas and Luke, and the young Carl." Juliet had an entourage of butlers and maids around her that fed her small bites of the buffet from a platter. Her sons had arm candy call girls for each shoulder, standing askew from their mother.


Or something, something like this. Have her try to guess, or get quizzed on it through the night. And you can jumble a lot of the name, but give the more important ones an actual, pointed description. Maybe.
 
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