Fantasy Literature: Many Characters, One Thread

As most (or all) of you know, I recently wrote and published a book entitled “Drasmyr.” It is a dark fantasy novel featuring a vampire named Lucian val Drasmyr. I have previously written about the difficulties that arise when you write novels featuring multiple major characters. However, upon reflection, I think I have had something of a revelation. I think I discovered that you can write about more characters, if you have fewer story-lines. To be honest, I wasn’t aware of this when I wrote the novel, but upon looking back at it, it appears to be true.


In my novel Drasmyr, there is really just one vaguely defined main story-line: namely the conflict between Lucian val Drasmyr and the wizards guild. There are a couple other lesser threads in the background (the rise of Korina, to name just one, and the fall of Clarissa, to name another), but each of those fits into the main thread in some fashion. Everything in the story relates to the main thread. And yet, I tell the story from a number of different perspectives. Sometimes, the perspectives are limited to just one or two sections, but throughout the book I bring you in to a number of different characters’ minds. Just to name a few: Lucian (of course), Clarissa, Korina, Coragan, Galladrin, Borak, Regecon, Ambrisia, Toreg, and Mathagarr. That’s ten different perspectives throughout a book that is only 360 pages (according to the kindle stats—450 if you go by the hardcopy in my binder) long. It shouldn’t work (And to be honest, there were a couple complaints, but most of them said that once you adapted, everything clicked into place). But I think it does work because there is only one real story line. It’s like ten different windows looking into the same room. Each has its own unique perspective, but the contents are largely the same and, therefore, do not entail the amount of confusion so many different perspectives would normally engender. There is a cohesive thrust to the story that you can follow regardless of who’s mind you are currently in.


Anyway, this brings me to my point: namely, a story needs focus. It needs direction. To that end, there is a balance between story threads and characters that a writer must strive for. I think many “literary” novels have a single main character and a single main thread; this gives you an extremely focused and compelling read. A lot of more modern fiction has a handful of characters, each one with its own story thread. It all makes sense, because the reader only has to juggle a few characters/threads at a time, and this gives you a less-focused, but more complex, and I think equally compelling read. Drasmyr, however, is different from both these patterns. I don’t know if anyone else has written anything with a similar pattern (like I said it was kind of a subconscious thing), but I think it is kind of intriguing to note that. It’s a unique mix of focus and complexity.


Anyway, those are my thoughts today.

Tags: , , , , , ,

About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

5 responses to “Fantasy Literature: Many Characters, One Thread”

  1. Katinka says :

    I don’t usually like multiple narrators because I sometime get attached to one character more than others. I could not get past book 8 of Wheel of Time for that reason. Too many minor characters narrating subplots. I’m also the kind of reader that likes to be in the character’s head and have an emotional connection with them. I can’t stand fantasy novels that are so plot-driven the characters are just action figures instead of real people with complex emotions and motivations.

    • atoasttodragons says :

      I know how you feel … sometimes. I’ve read books where I get attached to one character doing something, then it switches to a different character doing something else, and it can be frustrating at times as the process is repeated. However, I’ve grown used to it over the years. I think, theoretically, is supposed to hook the reader to keep reading. They want to find out what happened to character A, so they have to read through character B; then, they want to find out what happens with character B, so they have to read through character A again, and so on.

      • Katinka says :

        I think to make it work all the characters who are narrating their parts of the story have to be interesting enough or at least their stories have to be interesting. Way of Kings got me hooked that way. At least Sanderson switched narrators after concluding an arc. I felt like I got just enough of the story, and I was okay about taking a break to go adventure somewhere else.

        I am reading a book right now where the author switches narrators after every chapter, even if the chapter ends in the same scene but only on a suspenseful note. I get frustrated and only read about a chapter a week in the book. It also irritates me when authors bounce around characters like they have a magic wand in the same chapter or scene. I think omniscient 3rd person is the hardest point of view to write well. I can’t stand it when writers mix it up and try to do literally everything with it.

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes says :

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with various narrators. That sounds tricky to me – for the author too! This was very interesting, thanks. & love how you ended ‘anyway that’s my thoughts today’ – sweet 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: