This post is by Nancy Jardine.
Yesterday I posted a question on two of my Facebook places where I appealed to those who are readers. I asked them:
“What would you consider to be the maximum amount of main characters you’d be comfortable with in a historical adventure novel?” (NB I pronounce the ‘h’ so I don’t use ‘an’ before the word historical)
I had some excellent and varied replies, one from a fellow Wranglers who contributes to this blog. It might just be the friends who replied but I was delighted to find that, on average, they said they felt comfortable with at least 3 main characters and a few others who play minor roles. Since I’ve currently got a good cast of characters in my ongoing manuscript, I’m feeling totally relieved! What isn’t so easy for the author is to ensure that each character’s POV (point of view) is clear and not a dog’s breakfast.
Only one person categorically said they preferred a novel to have only 2 main characters. I wasn’t surprised by that response because I’m fairly sure that person tends to prefer historical romances which have a slightly different remit from general historical novels.
Speaking broadly, I’d say Historical Romance needs to have 2 main characters, the whole story being constructed around their developing romance. Another element to historical romance is that it must have a happy ending and the expected norm is the happy ever after for those 2 main characters, who will love each other forever.
Historical Novels are something else and it’s a genre that’s harder to define. Again, this is a broad definition (and may easily be disputed by many) but I think a historical novel needs a setting that’s in a period of history (often no earlier than 50 years before the publication of the novel) and is a story which conveys the day to day elements of the political, social and living conditions of the time. It’s a story which has realistic detail, is credible and faithful to the era as is known. It’s often centred on identified historical figures, or a known historical situation. In many historical novels there are a lot of characters but that’s not the same as them all having their own POV as the story progresses because they might just be people who are mentioned as the tale unfolds. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel has multiple characters, and many confusing POV shifts, so and I found it quite hard to keep things clear as I read that story.
Historical Adventure is probably even harder to classify. Taking the ‘adventure’ part first—broadly speaking, it’s a series of events and challenges which happen out with the daily norm for the characters involved. The protagonists find themselves in unusual, sometimes unexpected situations of danger. There tends to be a lot of physical action involved as characters resolve their predicament. The historical context generally places the protagonists in a known era where they battle their wits against the conditions they find themselves in. This might make the elements of historical accuracy become overshadowed if the action happens to characters that are not known figures in history texts. I’ve also found that it’s perfectly possible to have many characters, though it’s all about whose point of view is being presented by the author.
If I lined up my cast it just might resemble something like this image of the cast of The Three Musketeers film of 1921. Thankfully most will just be ‘popping in and out’!
Then we come to Historical Fantasy Adventure. Those that I’ve read often have multiple characters inhabiting their version of a historical setting with similar characteristics and events as Historical Adventure. However, when it comes to POV what is the tendency? Is it for each character to have sections where they are centre stage and their POV is the ongoing one for that section? J.R.R.Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings has an enormous cast of characters but since it would have been an impossible task to present it in Frodo or Bilbo’s perspective then Tolkein opted for a Narrator and wrote in Third Person (Omniscient) so we get all thoughts and feelings from that one perspective. This can be odd at times!
Add a dash of romance into the historical adventure and it means you have to have at least 2 of your characters involved in their developing relationship alongside a whole gamut of people and other happenings.
I asked the question on Facebook because I’ve a lot of characters in my current writing—Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series- which is a Historical Romantic Adventure. In my series the initial main characters in Book 1 make reappearances in later books, though other family members ‘take their turn’ at being the main characters. As I write Book 4, I presently have 3 main characters and 2 others who have ‘episodes’ where I’m also writing in their perspective. Whether or not my final manuscript will be the same, is yet to be determined. What I’m trying very hard to avoid is a dog’s breakfast of points of view!
In an effort to clarify characters for my readers, I intend to include a ‘cast of characters’ at the beginning of the novel, as I had in Book 3. I might even draw a family tree structure for my Garrigill kin for Book 4 as well as maps of the country as I did for Books 2 & 3.
Now I’m wondering what your answer would be to the question? “What would you consider to be the maximum amount of main characters you’d be comfortable with in a historical adventure novel?”
(Mike Staton you are excused, if you wish, since you’ve already commented.)
Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures is set in first century northern Roman Britain whereas her contemporary romantic mysteries are set in fabulous world-wide cities, Topaz Eyes being a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2014. The Taexali Game, her Teen time-travel adventure, is set in third century Roman Scotland. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Scottish Association of Writers.You can find her at these places:
email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @nansjar
Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere