MistbornAlpaca

Starting Point for an Ensemble Novel

6 posts in this topic

Hey guys! I had an idea for a sci-fi, space opera'ish ensemble novel a while back, and I've been working on it off and on, but I can't seem to find out where to start it. The members haven't been together before, so I can't start it at the finish of their last operation. Where do I start it? Do I give a chapter/scene to each character in turn before they meet? Or dive right into their first meeting and the start of the action? I can't decide, HELP PLEASE!!!!!

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I don't have much experience with ensemble stories but my instinct would be to focus on how they are being assembled in the beginning. If one character is bringing them all together, focus on that character and introduce the other ones gradually as they join the team. I would be wary about giving a separate scene to each character at the beginning, because too much head hopping might disengage a reader that early in the book, unless perhaps each scene was only a couple of paragraphs long so it reads more like a montage.

 

I hope this helps :)

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@MasterJack, without knowing anything about your story line, if they are all working for the same Organization, you could have a strange occurrence on a planet/space station that needs to be investigated, and some of your characters dispatched to check it out. If you need to pull others into the story who aren't part of the Organization, you could have something happen to one of the characters that triggers a personal friend of that character (who is also part of the ensemble) come in to investigate it as well.

Another possible solution would be do a serious outline of your story, pick 3 to 4 major events, and work backwards from the event to find plausible ways for your characters to arrive at the places these events take place. It's fun for big group stories like this to pick up a few characters at each of these events, gives the characters time to get more of the narrative focus, and allows for interesting character dynamics. Another thing to maybe think about is that after these events, you can have your ensemble grow but also have some of the characters go off to achieve a separate objective, and then meet back up again later. Gives you the chance to switch up the group dynamics, maybe allowing you to hit some of the plot points with a smaller part of the group, again to allow the characters to show through more through changing social dynamics, conflicts and resolution in quests, etc.

If you post a very rough outline of some of the events it would probably be easier to give you more specific suggestions.

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Thanks for both of your answers @Kureshi Ironclaw and @hoiditthroughthegrapevine! I think I've decided where to start it, but I'll give you a little bit of an outline and see if you have any more suggestions. I do most of my outlining in my head, but I'll try to put it into writing.

The main characters are all criminals of various sorts, one's a deserter with a drinking problem, another's a top-notch hacker who got backstabbed and no longer trusts anyone and a few others, but those are the two I'm focusing on. 

Now the situation. A black hole/void of some sort has appeared in the orbit of a series of planets. As the planets become closer and closer to the void/black hole, the government decides to send a team in to investigate, but they don't want to send their scientists/military for obvious reasons (i.e not knowing what's on the other side), so they decide to send the prison population destined for execution into the void. It's a way to investigate that keeps the military and scientists safe, and if something goes wrong, the prison guys were destined for execution anyway, so what the heck, right?? 

So that's what's going on, tell me what you think, but here's what I'm planning on doing. I'm giving a chapter or scene to each of the characters I mentioned, and then go right into their approach to the void and what happens afterward. Hopefully, that's enough information for you guys to give me some suggestions.

Thanks in advance!

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@MasterJack, very cool outline! I would consider expanding the inmate crew to include some real jerks too and some seemingly helpless people that either find a way to pull it together or die in their weakness (these two groups could function as the Star Trek redshirts, sent into dangerous spots, and possibly foils to highlight the positive attributes of your two protagonists).

I personally like how Brandon sets up his books, with a prologue that is deeply relevant to the rest of the book, that establishes a baseline expectation for what you are going to get from the book (especially the Vasher prison escape Prologue from Warbreaker).

With that in mind, and totally take this as just the suggestion that is, I think it would be awesome to have the book start with a prologue where the inmate crew are approaching the black hole. You can have some of the character conflict play out, play up the fatalism of certain crew members, show their personalities against the backdrop of what could be imminent death. The chapter could be from the POV of one of your two primary protagonists, and the moment I think the prologue should end is when they get pulled into the black hole (and possibly the transitional state before they exit through the worm-hole on the other side). Another possible way to go would be to have one of your 2 protagonists be the captain of the crew, and the prologue is his last Mission log before they get pulled into the Black hole.

Then Part 1 of the book could be backstory, starting maybe with how both of the protoganists and some of the other prison crew got caught and imprisoned, and then have a chapter where the governmental authorites are assessing the threat that this black hole poses to the world, and coming up with the plan to send the Prisoners. Then maybe have a Multi-pov chapter which has miniature scenes of all of the selected prisoners being told that about the mission. Then possibly a journey from earth to the black hole, as another chance to deal with character conflict/interaction. (And if you went with the mission log style Prologue you could have this restart the mission logs, which could continue through the book, alternating with the other protagonist POV).

Then Part 2 could start with whatever aftermath of Worm-hole transit you have mapped out.

I think this is a pretty compelling framework, and the fact that they are in reality prisoners on the ship with a different kind of death sentence could be explored in the prologue and parts 2 through n, and would give all of the Prisoner crew a common shared destiny. Obviously you can have some inveterate jerk wads that foul things up because they are only motivated by their own self-interest, but it's a situation that lends itself to cooperative group effort. Individual survival is tied to group survival.

Edited by hoiditthroughthegrapevine
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I like this beginning.

I'd open with all of them in a room, wondering what's going on. They've all been dragged from their cells and shoved in this room with no explanation. What's going on? Everyone has a theory. Someone's having a breakdown. Someone shoots down everyone else's theories. Arguments break out. A fist flies. It's good to open with conflict.

Then some official comes in and tells them all what's about to happen. Voids and such. Then you get to reveal a little more about the ensemble-members by showing how each one reacts to the news of imminent death. Someone cries. Someone shakes their head and opts out. Someone is disturbingly comfortable with this.

The official explains that they'll all be pardoned if they survive the voyage, which is good because they're all on death row.

They exchange their backstories on the ship. It's a great way to distract themselves from the uncomfortable fact that they're hurtling toward a cosmic abyss at thousands of miles per hour.

What do they find beyond the void?

Edited by Belzedar
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