How much is too much?

My work-in-progress, Indomitable, has a lot of–well, everything.

Action: wildfire

Reaction: how it impacts the threatened town of Redford, Colorado (from Indivisible and Indelible) and involves the firefighters, police, politicians, and townspeople.

New leads: Incident Commander Nash Crawford, Hotshot Eva Cruz and all their firefighting supporting cast.

Returning characters: Police Chief Jonah Westfall, his wife Tia, the baker Piper, her OCD beau Miles, search-and-rescue Trevor, Jonah’s sidekick Jay and his various officers–all these and more playing roles in the story.

Main plot, subplots, threads from the previous novels, threads that might spur a new novel or novella.

All of this forms a tapestry in which the four main characters interact with the people and events in their lives. It is, I suppose, an ensemble cast with a lot of little side stories that are in one way or another sparked by the threat and then reality of the fire–a little like the TV series LOST where each person brings his story and they interweave with the others.

So that brings me to my question. How much is too much?
Many fine novels have one main character, a single point of view, a love interest or villain and a friend or two. The Reacher novels by Lee Child. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Compelling, uncomplicated. Very straight-forward.

Mine, too, has a beginning, middle, and end, yet it’s a spiderweb of interconnected filaments. What I really want to know is whether that appeals or overwhelms. What characters would you want included? Do you like the back and side stories? Would you rather it were streamlined. What makes for a rich, pleasurable experience? Here is your chance to help me shape this at long last. Any and all thoughts welcome.

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24 Responses to How much is too much?

  1. Shelly says:

    The answer hinges on who is writing the story. Not all writers are capable of weaving the characters together into a seamless flow. Or of building interest with each layer; while not leaving a loose end. With,of course, the exception of those things that take you to the next book. You can bring this to life even if the characters are plentiful. From everything I have read in the past, your attention to detail and dedication to each character being true throughout the life of a series, establishes a foundation that you are more than capable of doing justice to such a project as you propose.
    A spider web is woven together but not tangled, I expect your end result will show this to be true of your story in progress. You are your toughest critic, I am guessing, so if it works for you, it will work. It has my interest peaked.


  2. imabrassy1 says:

    I feel that sometimes writers bring in too many people. If they are on the fringes with no real purpose they are confusing. If they are useful use them.


  3. Tracy Rodgers says:

    First of all I have been waiting for this novel for a LONG time – I’m so excited I can’t wait! (I LOVE every one of your books). I enjoy a book that brings in characters from past books – even for brief snapshots – just so you can get an idea of what’s going on in their lives now. (Did they get married – are they pregnant, etc.) (I’m one of those that feels like characters in books are my actual friends……….) I agree with Shelly above that if the other characters introduced are maybe going to lead to future story lines or are an integral part of the story then it’s okay to introduce them even if we don’t get to know too much about them etc. Where I get lost in a story with too many characters is when they are on the fringes, you get a few lines about them, and then you never hear from/about them again. I always feel like “what’s the purpose” and that those kinds of characters do “clutter” up the story. As an aside………..I’d LOVE for you to revisit the Michelli’s and give us more stories about them – they are some of my favorite characters of yours! Especially Lance. ❤


    • Well, the structure of this series has been that Jonah and Tia are main characters in each book. Both have people like Piper and Jay whom they have their own scenes with besides the scenes they’re in together. Then Indelible and Indomitable introduce the new leads (Trevor and Natalie in Indelible) and Nash and Eva in this one. Where this gets complicated is that Eva is fighting fire with a crew that I flesh out because it’s her life, and Nash has a command staff that I’ve minimized but his OPS chief can’t do it all. LOL. I’m thinking of providing a cast of characters in the table of contents. I even considered introducing them on Facebook in advance of the story! But it is good advice to make every character that needs to be there memorable.
      And you never know…someday I might do more of Lance. He just hasn’t barged in the way Morgan did.


  4. hannahalexander181 says:

    I love the cast you have set up, Kristen. I also love the fact that you’ve actually experienced what you’re writing–not that I’m glad you had fire to contend with, but that you did your research in a very viable way. Give me the whole cast and let me see their lives. As long as you make the main ones the main ones, I’m good.


    • Yes, my experience with the Waldo Canyon fire did spark this story and gave me the sense of magnitude, regarding the impact that I’m trying to capture here. Researching deeply into fire management and tragedies like the Granite Mountain Hotshots is yielding a raw reality I don’t want to gloss over. Since all the story is told through the four main characters they are the pinions in each scene. Hope it works!


  5. swansoncathe says:

    I know you can write that book beautifully, but I don’t know that every author can do it without making a mess and losing sight of the primary plot. I don’t mind backstory or sidestory; when characters from previous books are included, with their subplots, it’s important to provide enough information about them that a new reader doesn’t get confused — or miss out on an interesting nuance in the storyline. For those of us who have read the other books, as Tracy said, we want to know how our old friends are doing.
    I know there are fine books that only have a few characters, but in real life, not many people live in a bubble. Having a network of friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, internet acquaintances, and others gives a character some substance. You are good at developing realistic extended friends-and-family connections, with people of all ages.
    Aside from your main characters, it will be nice to see Jay again. I particularly like Piper. Her simple acceptance of Miles affected me so greatly! Any attempts to encourage him were slow and non-judgmental, not making him any more self-defensive than he was and not making her affection contingent on his change.
    I listen to your books in audioformat.


    • Thanks! Piper and Miles are a hoot in this one with his dry ability to laugh at himself and her loving forthrightness. The surprise that popped up is with Jay. I didn’t see his thread coming, but I’m loath to lose it. He’s the one who might get a tale of his own.


  6. Claudia says:

    Sometimes in books with too many characters I get lost as to their part and confused as to who is who. But, I have never felt that way with your books. You always give your people such personality that they are easy to remember. If you’re really concerned about it, I think adding the list of characters will help some to be able to go there am clarify if people get confused. Knowing you, you will be blessed to know what is the right thing to do! Good luck, can’t wait!!!!!!!!


  7. Rebecca Maney says:

    I have read all your books and love these cast of characters, however, if readers have not read the previous books and/or it has been awhile since they have read “Indivisible” (which I have read three times; loved it!!!), and its sequel (can remember the cover, but not the title), then yes, it’s going to take some work to catch them up on everybody. And then it still might be overwhelming. I still love Jonah and Tia. It’s why I have read their story three times. So if you have to downplay anyone, I would suggest Piper and Miles? So GLAD to know that you have another book in this series underway!


    • So happy you like (okay love) the stories. 🙂 Jonah and Tia have really come into their own on this one. The cool part about Miles is how the fire is impacting his condition, you know, smoke ash, fingerprints….


  8. kandy h says:

    You are a master at weaving word tapestries. Each one an entertaining world of delight. If anyone can weave this story and bring it’s characters to life it is you.
    I eagerly await this last book in the Redford Trilogy.


  9. Robin Gilmore says:

    I think if, in the end, all the characters stories will mesh and have a great conclusion that you begin to anticipate by the middle of the book, it will work. But, not anymore characters than you are dealing with in this book. It starts to get hard to keep them all straight. I have, as with all your books, read them every possible minute that I can. In other words I race to get your book done, who cares if the housework doesn’t get done! But, someone like my husband who reads a chapter or two a day, keeping track of a lot of characters will be harder to do. Hope that helps 🙂


  10. sara meisinger says:

    I’m so ready to read this book, Kristen! Right now, there seems to be so many books on the market that have a one-story line. Within the first few pages you know exactly how and who it’s going to end up with. Your stories are deeper. They touch a thread with us that keeps us thinking about all the characters for days after ‘the end’. Look what happened to Morgan in A Rush of Wings. He was a secondary character who ended up with two books (and me wishing I could handle one more about him–but I can’t!) To many characters can get confusing, but I have no doubt you’ll write them in a way they will feel important to this story and the reader will be wanting stories about them. In Bodie Thoene’s Zion books, she had a huge cast of characters, but I still think about those stories and characters. I appreciated the fact that she thought her readers could keep up with a deeper story involving more characters and subplots. I have no doubt this book will be a favorite. Keep writing!


  11. Anita Schoenebergerr says:

    I agree with Sara M. Stories with only 1 or 2 can be boring. Yes, too many characters may confuse readers, but that’s what books are about. We can go back and reread a sentence or paragraph and stretch ourselves. I think of Charles Dickens – you have to read half of his books before you’ve met all his characters. (Yes, that is probably too much). But if these side stories contribute to understanding a situation, condition or makiing the main characters more “real”, I’m for it.
    And I, too, am looking forward to this one….


  12. I don’t mind characters as long as I am not left wondering what happens to them. So keep writing great stories 🙂 I am so looking forward to reading this book. Be blessed 🙂


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