Monday, July 23, 2012

Cast of Characters

I'm winding up revision of my second book in the Post Cold War thriller trilogy, The Poksu Conspiracy. As you might guess from the name, most of the action takes place in Korea, both South and North. The time is fall and early winter of 1993, when the world was trying to sort out the effects of the Cold War's demise. The U.S. economy was in the doldrums following the first Gulf War. South Korea continued to make significant progress in the export markets while its political leadership remained in the hands of the generals. Unification with the North and a lessening of foreign (read U.S.) influence was the rallying cry.

The Poksu Conspiracy is an adventurous tale of what might have happened based on historical events and past actions of American leaders. Early in the story, an audacious plot results in the deaths of North Korean Dictator Kim Il Sung, his son and heir apparent, and much of the communist leadership. Had that part of the story been true, the world would be a lot better off. But I digress.

The book could be called half thriller and half Korean police procedural. One of the main characters is Homicide Detective Yun Yu-sop with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Bureau. The story follows his efforts to solve a series of murders he believes are an attempt to silence leading voices who favor continued Korean-U.S. cooperation.

The story is quite complex, making the book a long one, running 160,000 words. Since much of it takes place in Korea, many of the characters have Korean names. And there are lots of them. As a result, it will likely be difficult for readers to keep up with everybody. Why don't you cut some of them out, my wife asked? Well, they all play a significant role in the story.

I went though the manuscript and counted 74 named characters, and that doesn't include a couple who are named only as murder victims. I decided to make a Cast of Characters, which would name only those who appear in more than one chapter. I figure those who appear in no more than a couple of contiguous scenes shouldn't be a problem. That cut the total down to 48.

Now I'm left with the decision of how to list the characters.  Should it be done as in a theatrical playlist, naming the characters as they appear in the story? Or should I simply put them in alphabetical order? Your comments would be greatly appreciated.


Marni said...

Chester, I've used a Cast of Characters in the front of both of my English mysteries and only have had positive feedback. I think with an overwhelming cast it's a boon to readers. I did mine in order of appearance and noted that under the "Cast of Characters" heading~

carl brookins said...

I haven't, but I'm considering it. But you have to be careful. an astute reader could solve the mystery based on the character description. I got a book to review last year in which one character was described as "a killer."

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Chester,

I think a cast of characters is a great idea, one I always appreciate when reading longer, complicated novels.

Ordinarily I'd say list them in order of appearance, but since you have so many, consider grouping them by order of appearance within categories (Korean police, North Korean officials, American officials, or whatever works best for your story).

C.H. Foertmeyer said...

I have used a cast of characters in three books of a trilogy. I did this because they were otherworldly characters who needed explaining in terms of their world. I put the list in the back of each book in order of their importance to the story.

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks Marni and Carl. Just what I needed to know.

Pat, good idea. I hadn't thought of categorizing them.

Jaden Terrell said...

I would put them in alphabetical order. If I don't remember who they are, I'm even less likely to remember when they appeared. If they're alphabetical, they're very easy to look up, and the easier they are to look up, the less they pull me out of the story.

I agree that a list like that is very useful when dealing with a huge cast, but personally, I hate anything labeled "Cast of Characters." It's a blatant reminder that none of these people are real. It's a bludgeon to my suspension of disbelief.

Maybe you could call it a "Who's Who" or "Roll Call." Anything that calls less attention to the fact that these are imaginary people. I know it's fiction, but when I'm reading it, I want it to FEEL real. And you do such a good job of bringing the story to life that it would be a shame to diminish that sense of reality.

Celia Hayes said...

I like the 'who's who" approach, and alphabetical - and maybe throw in an explaination of Korean naming conventions, too. Like that the family name comes first. One of the eye-openers to me, working in Korea was that when I was out working on a voice job - the producers and enginers addressed me as if my family name was my given one. Some pronunciation guidelines wouldn't be amiss, either.

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, Celia. I'll include that in the introductory remarks. At the time I first wrote the story, the convention was to hyphenate the given names, such as Yun Yu-sop, my detective. Since it takes place in 1993, I have kept that convention though I don't find it in use now.

Pat Browning said...

By all means, Chester, help us out with a cast of characters, listed in alphabetical order. And call it what it is, a Cast of Characters.

I would like a Cast of Characters in any long spy novel. With code names and real names it can be hard to keep track, especially in e-books. With a print book I can flip back and forth if I need to, but with an e-book on my computer screen it's not so easy.

Pat Browning

Pat Browning said...

I love your new photo!
Pat Browning

Kelly Saderholm said...

I love it when there's a list of charectors at the frount of the book. I vote for alphabetical order so it would be a little easier to look up.

Maryannwrites said...

I agree that the alphabetical listing would help in referencing the names, but I also like the idea of categorizing them. Maybe make the categories then list the people alphabetically?

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, Maryann, that's what I'm looking at.