Star Trek has taught me that the proper number of officers required to run a spaceship is somewhere around ten people. Battlestar Galactica taught me that number is more like three or four, but quite frankly, that is boring as shit. The more command officers that a story has, the more possibilities for conflicts and alliances. When you write porn, the more potential sexual partners, the better.
So after writing up the cast for my Violatrix spaceship, I had nine characters. That is quite a few characters to deal with right away. I worry about the reader getting overwhelmed and confused. Since it is also science fiction with some non-English sounding names, the potential of confusion just gets higher.
I soon understood why most Star Trek movies only focus on two or three characters while the rest of the crew gets snappy one-liners. It is hard to divide out attention equally. I notice that Star Trek novels tend to give the crew equal shares of the plot, but I suspect they can do that because they are not introducing anyone to the reader. When a reader of Star Trek picks up a book, he already knows who Spock, Kirk, McCoy and even down to the minor characters like Sulu. The reader knows these characters. In my book, I have to introduce everyone to the reader for the first time.
My strategy was to create a sort of relay. I start with Character A as the focus. We see things for A’s point-of-view and what A has to deal with is Character B. So we get to know A from A’s perspective and we get to know B from A’s perspective. Then the next chapter is told from Character B’s perspective and they interact with Character C. This continues as we meet new characters. The character just met in the last chapter becomes the relay to the next character. And since this is a sex book with people plotting to kill each other, it gives a lot of characters some nice one on one time.
I loved this idea so much that I decided to make the entire novel follow this format. I might have nine characters but we deal with two or three at a time at the most. I considered myself a genius.
Well, right up to when it just doesn’t work. This format hijacked the plot. I was trying to fulfill the demands of the gimmicky format rather than the needs of the plot. I spent a week trying to make it work before I realized something terribly important about brilliant gimmicks. It is only brilliant if it actually fucking works.
So I have decided to use the relay gimmick only up until the characters are introduced. I do think I will keep with sticking with one character’s perspective through the entire chapter as I think that is the only way to write, really. I feel that sex has to be experienced through the eyes of one person at a time, as the uncertainty of what the other character’s motives, likes and desires is a big part of sex.
Interesting enough, even giving attention to all the characters hasn’t prevented the fact that some characters are just inherently more interesting. Some characters right now are interesting as far as how they are obstacles to other characters. I also found that the most sympathetic character really helps move the story along. I use to criticize Star Trek stories where the minor officers get little air time but the truth of the matter is that maybe they just don’t add that much to the story. If a character wants to be a bigger part, then they got to be fucking worth spending time with.
So, what have I learned last week?
Gimmicks are only brilliant if they actually fucking work.
Lots of characters are fine but they need to be character you actually give a fuck about.
Star Trek writers had it harder than I thought.