Friday, August 31, 2007

Ensemble Casts



Have you ever noticed how some of the best stories (or story lines) in the big or small screen occur when dynamic ensemble casts are involved? Here are two of my favorites ensembles casts:

[Pictured are the casts of Grey's Anatomy and Firefly/Serenity]

An ensemble provides an array of personalities and POVs to explore, and creates more complex character interaction and plots. Although one or two characters are normally the focus (Meredith Grey in the case of Grey's Anatomy and Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly) different individuals may take turns being in the forefront of the plot.

In writing novels, the drawback to an ensemble cast is that the novel needs to have a greater word length in order to capture all the story lines in any level of detail. A picture IS worth a thousand words, and having six individuals involved in a discussion on screen can easily be taken in and interpretted. Trying to describe a scene among six individuals in prose is quite a feat. Ensemble casts don't always translate as well--or as easily--into print.

I'm curious:

If you're a writer, do you tend to lean toward ensemble casts in your books, or do you stick with one or two main characters?

If you're a reader, what sort of story do you prefer? One with multiple characters and more complex interaction, or a focus on one or two main characters through whom the story is related?

Do you have any favorite books involving an ensemble group of characters you'd recommend?

2 comments:

Flick said...

I think you're right that it works better on the screen than in print. Readers like to identify with the characters and giving them too many makes this more difficult. Once you see the person on screen, they are set in your mind and you can't make them yours in the same way that you can in a book. I'd never want to read any romance where I didn't fancy the hero but in a TV series or film, if I didn't like the look of the MC, it would lesson my involvement. The handling of lots of charcters in a book is tricky.l Too many and you confuse the reader but I like more than just the main two. I like subplots and parallel relationships. You can explore the same themes in different ways. having said all that, I'm struggling to think of a book with a whole ensemble cast that I've enjoyed. So maybe for me its the main two and then just minor ones in sub plots rather than a Lord of the Rings type scenario. But Arlene's story about splintered light has a whole cast of equally important characters and I DO like that. She manages to handle conversations between several of them at one go and its no mean feat.

Laurie said...

I haven't read beyond the synopsis on that. I'll have to get to hers soon. :)

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