So here I sit, struggling with my overwhelming cast of thousands. When I drew perilously close to tearing out my hair, I pulled a writing book by Orson Scott Card off my shelf today, CHARACTERS & VIEWPOINT. I only have it because someone gave it to me instead of the used book store and I’m a pack rat where books are concerned. However, in true gotta-love-it fashion, I found exactly the information I needed to help me through this.
The thing Card said that was exceptionally powerful for me was that characterization is a tool, not a virtue.
Wow, did I need to hear that. When one’s novel is populated by hundreds of people, not every one of them can stand out, nor should they. It would be exhausting to have them all be memorable. It is perfectly acceptable to have some characters in one’s novel simply be part of the backdrop, the bodies that populate the room for realism’s sake while the true drama unfolds among a select handful of your characters. For those walk-ons and stand-ins, its okay, necessary even, to use quick broad strokes, perhaps even, dare I say it—stereotypes—since their actions have no bearing on the plot.
Because their actions have no bearing on the plot. Gah! Of course!
This is a prime example of me not being able to see the forest for the trees. It’s a matter of selecting the right tool for the right job, and complex characterization isn’t always the right tool. In pursuing some abstract concept of "good writing," I got so wrapped up in wanting every character to be meaningful, that I lost sight of the simple fact that it isn’t necessary. Or even desirable. Brilliant characterization for every single human being in a novel would be exhausting and would not even serve the story.
I love it when I get permission to do exactly what I needed to do . . .