This past weekend, I had a pandemic-proper dinner on my screened-in porch with four good friends. It was kind of like camping—we all wore sweaters and jackets and warmed ourselves with whiskey and steaming bowls of chicken and dumplings and laughed a lot. At the end of the evening my friend Connie said, “We just have to be a pod for the winter so we can get through this together.”
Connie is on to something, and not just our most basic human need for friendship and companionship. While some great stories involve individuals facing down formidable obstacles, many of our most beloved stories involve ensembles, whether they’re the stories we’re living or the stories we’re writing. From Little Women to The Lord of the Rings to Lonesome Dove to A Game of Thrones, there’s an ineluctable draw to stories that show the complicated ties that bind people to one another and put them at odds with one another. Many of my favorite movie and TV shows are ensemble stories: The Princess Bride (based on the fine book of the same title), Doc Marten, Star Wars, Little Miss Sunshine, Poldark, The Godfather—I could go on and on.
I’ve written two novels that switch back and forth between the two POVs of the two main characters, but I’ve always wanted to write a genuine ensemble novel because I love them so much. It seems daunting, though. I’ve always written from a close third-person POV where I feel I come to know my characters so intimately I’m just transcribing their thoughts and feelings and actions. To write an ensemble, I’d have to know a lot of characters that intimately, and that’s challenging. To try to make it less so, I’ve tried to think through what makes a good ensemble novel work. [Read more…]