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Character Lists (or "Cast Lists" in SOL speak)

Crumbly Writer

In the past, I've always posted a 'limited' cast list when I submit the first chapter of a story, but this time I decided that it's really a wasted effort which artificially inflates the character's list download rate. However, I just got a reader response, pointing out a typo (I'd referred to a police Sargent instead of "Sergeant"). I'm glad he did, but it raises the issue, should authors post the complete character list, or is it better to release the information on a per-chapter basis. After all, you really don't want to include spoilers in a reference document designed to help readers remember who everyone is.

What do the various SOL authors do in this regard (those that produce character lists, that is)?

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

What do the various SOL authors do in this regard


I don't do anything in that regard, however, the few print novels I have seen that include a "cast list" do it as an appendix at the end, rather that up front before the first chapter.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

What do the various SOL authors do in this regard (those that produce character lists, that is)?


For the longer stories with a lot of characters, such as Finding Home I include a character list with a little about them. For the shorter stories I usually don't include a character list, because I feel they aren't needed. Although I did recently receive a reader request for a character list for Kim: Power Play and am considering adding it.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

I don't do anything in that regard, however, the few print novels I have seen that include a "cast list" do it as an appendix at the end, rather that up front before the first chapter.

DS, that's what I do in my print and ebooks, however, for SOL it's easier if readers can reference it anytime they forget who a character in a story is. Thus you post it as the first chapter, simply so it's always there whenever you need it.

However, because it's always the first chapter, I've always kept it limited to the character already mentioned in the story. Now that I've broken that guideline, I'm being reminded why I started following it in the first place (i.e. the "cast list" essentially becomes a series of "spoilers" for what happens later in the story).

It's more of a logistical issue, rather than a 'traditional publishing' style guideline.

rustyken

If you are going to include a cast list while the story is being posted then needs to be the first chapter posted. To do it as an appendix it would need to be reposted every time a chapter was added. I think that would be confusing.

If it is the first chapter, it is often difficult to remember to update it or when to update it. Their presence should be acknowledged as the story evolves but not before then.

Cheers

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


In the past, I've always posted a 'limited' cast list when I submit the first chapter of a story,


I associate cast lists with Russian novels and assumed they were there not because the novel had so many characters but because the names themselves were unfamiliar to non-Russians.

So I've got a contrarian view. First, does the story need dozens of characters? Dozens of characters who are important enough for the reader to recall who they are? Let's assume the answer is yes. Why can't you write the story in a fashion that makes the character stick in the reader's mind?

Yes, the story has its own requirements, no question, but I'm still skeptical about the need. In my own reading, I find them very off-putting and so I skip them. They also make me suspect the story isn't strong enough to carry them all.

EDIT: An exception is Charles McCarry's Shelley's Heart, a superb Washington thriller. I actually consulted his cast list because he's got two loosely linked families* over a series of books and I found it hard to keep them straight.

McCarry is also a professional and bestselling author. He carried it off.

*Another edit: He's also on record saying if there are inconsistencies over the series of novels, too bad. He may not have kept his notes in order, he said, and wasn't inclined to go back and make everything match up. Bestselling authors can get away with stuff like that.

bb

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP

I usually skip reading character lists and rarely refer to them during a story. There is nothing more boring to me than to wade through a list of 30 or more characters reading about their relationship to other characters and their physical characteristics; details that I never remember. They do have some usefulness if you need to recall a part a minor character had in a earlier chapter, but that type of information is rarely included in the character's description.

Crumbly Writer

@Bondi Beach

I've got a contrarian view. First, does the story need dozens of characters? Dozens of characters who are important enough for the reader to recall who they are? Let's assume the answer is yes. Why can't you write the story in a fashion that makes the character stick in the reader's mind?

I started the process (of adding cast lists) back when I was writing "The Catalyst" series, which has over 100 characters over the course of six books. Each was broken down by the specific books (i.e. I only list whoever is in each book) and I maintain lists of when each character is first introduced, so I know when to add them to the existing character list.

My latest book is an exception. I didn't include the character list in the published books, but did for SOL, mainly because I'm only posting a single chapter a week and wasn't sure readers would remember the characters for that long. Otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. However, there are several sections involving congress and various groups, so names get thrown around a bit.

I never intended for readers to actually read the character lists. Instead, they're there in case you can't remember characters from one chapter to the next, so they're a quick way to check who someone was. But as I observed above, that doesn't seem to be what's happening. I'm not sure how widespread the reading of cast lists is (as opposed to looking them up when confused), but I'd be curious what the stats suggested.

But my original question was: IF a cast list is used, is it better to update it each time a new character is added, or is it better to dump all the characters and let the finished list stand on its own?

rustyken

I see the cast list as a place for the reader to clarify how a character fits into the story. In my case, it was requested by at least on reader. I like there availability but seldom use them. However, when you are reading one chapter at a time over several months, it can be handy.

Cheers

Replies:   Grant
Grant

@rustyken

I see the cast list as a place for the reader to clarify how a character fits into the story. In my case, it was requested by at least on reader. I like there availability but seldom use them. However, when you are reading one chapter at a time over several months, it can be handy.

I think that sums it up the best.
If a story (or group of stories) is posted in one hit, they're not necessary.
But if the story is posted over time, or there are several stories & each is posted with a significant break between them, then a Character list is often necessary to help refresh people's memories.

Dicrostonyx

Personally, I would probably only post a cast list for a series of books or a very long serial -- and I do not like the serial format. Even so, I do have a couple of ideas that might help.

For a series, I would create a "Book 0, Compendium" listing inside the series list, and put all appendix information there. That way you could keep any cast lists, chronologies, glossaries and pronunciation guides, author's notes, and the like bundled with the stories but separate from any given story. Since some people really don't like this sort extra, they could easily identify and skip it without worrying about missing the story itself.

For serials, or non-series books where you want to include this information, I'd create the prelude/ appendix chapters, but leave them initially blank with a note to readers that you'll add the information later. That way your initial readers don't have the distraction. Then, when the story is complete (or at least has enough chapters posted that guides are starting to be necessary) you can post the cast list into the already existing first document. Your initial readers will have gotten hooked on the story without the distraction, and any later readers can choose to read or skip that "chapter".

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Dicrostonyx


For a series, I would create a "Book 0, Compendium" listing inside the series list, and put all appendix information there. That way you could keep any cast lists, chronologies, glossaries and pronunciation guides, author's notes, and the like bundled with the stories but separate from any given story. Since some people really don't like this sort extra, they could easily identify and skip it without worrying about missing the story itself.


Just a couple issues with that approach: 1) It's difficult publishing a separate book (even for free) that's required to make sense of later books. 2) Even on SOL, if a ready can't readily access the cast list when they're confused, they'll never use it. Moving the one list to a separate location means it'll take more time to find the resource than it'll take searching for the names. 3) Again, you run into the entire plot-spoiler issue where someone might discover what happens in the final book while looking up someone in the first book.

Finally, promising to but not posting the character list won't help readers if a story takes months to post (at my traditional twice-a-week posting of 20+ chapters). Instead, you'd force them to reread the entire story, searching character names, until they could identify when the character was first/last introduced.

(Now you see why so many authors avoid including these things: they're more trouble than they're worth in most cases!)

Dicrostonyx

Well, you could take Aroslav's approach in Living Next Door to Heaven: break the long serial into subsections (usually about 20 chapters) and put a character list at the beginning of each new part. These characters contain all characters introduced in past chapters who are relevant to the major characters or are going to appear in the new section.

The first section, which covers a larger span of time than later ones, contains all important characters for that part with subsections for which year the character is introduced in. So a reader who wants to avoid too many spoilers can jump in and out. Moreover, he tends to avoid story details; for example, one character is referred to in the cast list as "one of the scary 6th graders", but doesn't say if he is friend or foe.

So if you go to that serial page, it look roughly like:

Part 1
Introduction
Cast List
Chapter 1
...
Chapter 21
Part 2
Introduction
Cast List
Chapter 22
...

and so on. While it doesn't stop anyone from getting spoilers, nothing can really do that, but at least it makes it clear where things are. I'm also pretty sure that he never posts an Intro & Cast list without also posting at least one chapter for the new part.

docholladay

There are many ways to do this without giving too many spoilers. One method was used by "Uncle Jim" in his "Amulets of Power" Universe.

He lists the characters at the top of the first chapter they appear in. The list gives some basic information as to the interactions. Not everyone is listed however.

Of course to some extents the character lists serve two purposes. One lets readers keep track of plot related characters.

The other and probably major reason is it helps a writer to keep track of different characters names and their interactions. If a story only has 2 or 3 characters that might not be a problem. But when the number of characters increase the potential for errors increase as well.

KimLittle

Cast lists belong in one place: the preface to a play/dramatic work, and then it is functioning as a Dramatis Personae.

Cast lists in novels/stories just smack to me of "I'm too fucking lazy to introduce/develop my character properly in the natural course of the story".

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@KimLittle


Cast lists


In general, I don't have a cast list. However, when the cast gets very large, such as in Finding Home then a cast list helps the readers to keep the 72 main people sorted out as to who is who in the 270,000 words of story in 37 chapters and 1,406 kb - that's a lot of text, and there are even minor characters not listed. The list can go at the front or the back, but the aim is to help people keep track of who is who. I'll often put the list at the back of the book, but posted first at SoL so it's available with the first chapter.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Although I've used character lists often, I generally follow the following guidelines:
- Don't list any character who isn't referenced in multiple chapters,
- don't list characters who appear and then disappear (i.e. don't show up in subsequent books)
- Don't list a character list is there are fewer than 20 characters (unless the characters are likely to be confused for some particular reason).

awnlee jawking

@KimLittle

I'm not sure that character lists presuppose laziness, but they can be a symptom of an author's lack of proficiency. I think Penguintopia handled the large cast of the 'A Well-Lived Life' series well, correctly expecting readers to recognise and remember the core characters and providing little cues when lesser characters reappeared.

However, as has been mentioned, the posting of stories in instalments makes remembering characters a challenge for readers, so character lists may be appropriate even though you'd expect then to be removed from a completed e-book version.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I'm not sure that character lists presuppose laziness, but they can be a symptom of an author's lack of proficiency. I think Penguintopia handled the large cast of the 'A Well-Lived Life' series well, correctly expecting readers to recognise and remember the core characters and providing little cues when lesser characters reappeared.

I've never provided a list of character details, as that would make the character list overly long. Instead, I provide biographical details (Tony's mother, a 28-year-old baker in Toledo, part of the gang who attack Fredrick in Cincinnati), so anyone referencing the character will be able to quickly place them ("Oh, yeah, that's who that is").

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I've never provided a list of character details, as that would make the character list overly long. Instead, I provide biographical details (Tony's mother, a 28-year-old baker in Toledo, part of the gang who attack Fredrick in Cincinnati), so anyone referencing the character will be able to quickly place them ("Oh, yeah, that's who that is").


My entire point was the character list serves 2 functions. First it gives a reference for readers on major characters. Second and probably most important, it helps a writer keep track of the characters used in the story.

Some stories will probably be simple enough not to need that list. But like in yours and Ernest's stories where multiple characters are used for the flow of the story. That list helps a writer in not repeating a character name by accident or using the wrong character name during a scene. I have seen those mistakes made especially at the end of a printed book. I usually laugh and make an educated guess as to which one it really was.

edited to add: If the writer has to go to that effort anyway. Including a character list either as a preview or a closing reference, shows the efforts the writer has gone to in order to keep names and relationships straight.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

My entire point was the character list serves 2 functions. First it gives a reference for readers on major characters. Second and probably most important, it helps a writer keep track of the characters used in the story.

For that, I maintain my own references (char list by chapter and a master character list), but then, no one expects authors to publish their story notes when a story is posted, so why should they expect those unnecessary details.

A 'who was that' reference is the point of a character list. A 'what did that guy do', or 'what does she look like' isn't really a very compelling argument for posting a cast list.

Given the arguments here, I'm also considering pulling existing cast list once the story finishes posting. Though, for my 6 book "Catalyst" series, I kept revisiting favorite older characters, giving updates on what they were up to. In those cases, I'd refer to characters not seen for several books, so a reference would be required in any case.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

The major point is that people use the list for different things. Its that difference which makes life and stories fun. If everyone and everything was the same it would lead to a mighty boring existence. Its why I love different cultures and places and backgrounds.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

The major point is that people use the list for different things. Its that difference which makes life and stories fun. If everyone and everything was the same it would lead to a mighty boring existence. Its why I love different cultures and places and backgrounds.

Which was why I asked how others used them. I don't object to including character traits, I'd just never considered it before.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

The ones I prefer are those which give basic information. Such as relationships: Wife of, husband of, daugher/sister of. Any key information can also be included, but its not really needed.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@docholladay

The ones I prefer are those which give basic information. Such as relationships: Wife of, husband of, daugher/sister of. Any key information can also be included, but its not really needed.

That's more of what I include: "Vicky Jones: 38-eight-year old mother of Timmy, works as a bank teller." Basic information so readers can place who the character is and/or where they appeared in the story (i.e. physical location).

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

That's more of what I include: "Vicky Jones: 38-eight-year old mother of Timmy, works as a bank teller." Basic information so readers can place who the character is and/or where they appeared in the story (i.e. physical location).


That is the type info I like in a character list. Anything more will come from the story itself in one form or another if needed.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@docholladay


That is the type info I like in a character list.


This is my average style of cats list:

The ages given are those of the character when they first come into the story, so they'll be older by the end of it. This is not a complete list, and is made from the list of people and names I had as a memory aid. I'm fairly sure it covers all the important and main players, as well as some others. There are lots of secondary characters who come and go through the story that aren't listed, like the many security guards.

Akimi - Japanese/American girl that came under Al's control and is now the happy slave and girlfriend of Randy Manning.

'Al' Allyn Robyn Evans Adams - late teens boy, central character and narrator, is very rich, and a skilled martial artist. Also known as Arctic, Archie, Smilodon, and Torao.

Alison Howard - a woman in her late twenties Al befriends at the hotel, and has an affair with. Her husband is George Howard.

'Belle' Annabelle Williams - 16 year old sister of Paul Williams and Al's school mate. She's very submissive and asks to become Al's slave.

Bento - the name of a minor Yakuza clan that comes into conflict with Al and it's leadership is eliminated. The clan merges with Shoji's clan.

Mr Belling - Al's main lawyer, he's located in Australia


Just enough to let the reader now how a character fits into the story.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

Perfect Ernest. Enough to know who the major characters are without spoilers. As I remember from the story, the rest of their information came out as needed in the story itself.

Edited to add: This type of character list can be shared in many ways. Uncle Jim did it by using it as the opening for the first chapter the characters appeared in, but it can also be done as a separate section. Although the separate section makes it possible to have it open in a different window while reading the story if someone wants to do that. I tend to only look at them when I can't remember what the basic relationship was in reference to the story. At times I suffer from that getting old memory problem. (If only that problem worked for those I would love to forget)

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

You want enough info to quickly identify a character, while not taking either too much space or giving anything away. (The entire reason I asked was a concern that, if provided upfront in a story, readers were reading the entire character list rather than referring to it when they couldn't remember who characters were.

I don't include quite as much data:

President Alan Atkinson: President of the United States, currently in the late end of the first year of his second term.

Betsy McCreary: Josh's ex-girlfriend, who despite being friends and neighbors for most of their lives, cheated on him then dumped him, yet still blamed him for their troubles.

Josh (Joshua) Evens: 19-year-old college student helping out of his family's ranch during the summer, despite his reservations about doing so.

Jonathon McCreary: Betsy's father, a no-nonsense retired army Colonel that Josh turns to for assistance, despite his complex relationship with his daughter.


Hmm. That's an older story, so I guess I included more in this one than I'd thought!

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

That info doesn't give away the plot except for those of us who remember the story. (I think I do anyway)

The rest of their information was developed in the story itself. Basically you gave just a little background here along with the relationship info. The background info is useful while leaving a lot of room for development inside the story itself and if I remember correctly the extra also became mentioned inside the story.

docholladay

Character lists are like the blurb (descriptive paragraph) and genre plus tags. Enough to hopefully identify them without spoiling the story's plot.

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