Pleased to Meet You, Let Me Introduce Myself

Today’s blog raises a question that I don’t have an answer for.

As I continue to write, I am gravitating toward more complex plots and multiple characters, what TV often calls “ensemble casts.” The advantage for writers and readers both is that you can have multiple subplots going on at the same time. The disadvantage is that you have–wait for it–multiple plots going on at the same time. Done right, it gives you the potential to make your story a lot more interesting with fewer down times. Done wrong, it can confuse the dickens out of your readers, and for that matter, out of you, the writer.

But following that theme, here’s my question:

Is it better to introduce all of your characters at once in the beginning, or one at a time?

As usual, there are pros and cons both way. Introducing them all at one gets that out of the way, and there are many examples of that. You move quickly from that into what is going on in all of their lives, and none of them is presented as more important than anyone else. George R.R. Martin starts his Game of Thrones book series that way. The story is incredibly immense, and I guess he decided that leaping in with both feet was better than putting one toe in at a time. There’s a lot to be said for that, but I struggled with that much information at the beginning of a book.

The other approach is to introduce your characters one at a time. This works if you have one central character, and the others are in a supporting role. This is easier to digest as a reader. The problem with this approach is that if your characters are similar is significance, you’re doing them a disservice and somewhat misleading your readers. In addition, it slows down the introductory process. I did this with my Tom Horn steampunk series, but in that series, as in the title, Tom Horn was the main character.

Both story ideas are valid; it depends on what kind of story you’re dealing with. If you want to give your characters equal billing, go with plan A, even though it has its own problems. If you want to shine the spotlight on one character, Plan B is your best choice. So I guess that gives me my answer after all.