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Let's say we have 12 primary characters and they all get the same amount of coverage, none of them are good or evil, they in the gray area, all of them have their own goals, and all of them have their own beat sheet, is such a novel possible, or do they end up flat since they don't have any direction? Have you ever had the experience of reading such a book? What would you recommend writers to do if they try to write such a book?

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A book with ensemble cast rather than a primary character? Of course! There's myriad examples of books/series out there (A Song of Ice and Fire, The Stormlight Archive etc) and of course this is what many TV series are doing every week.

The potential pitfall:

do they end up flat since they don't have any direction?

Is not unique to the ensemble tale - nor is it actually linked to it really. The narrative that encompasses the interwoven characters' tales is what needs the direction, this is the same whether you've got one main character or twelve. Make sure the overall story you're telling is interesting and not "flat" and you'll do just fine.

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It can be done, it has been done.

I read many of the Wild Cards books when they came out in the early 1990s. Each of the books contain several story threads. They are "mosaic" novels, with multiple authors writing stories for various characters that (mostly) interact or at least intersect in some way.

Some of the threads are unrelated except for the fact that they occur at about the same time as the other threads, while other story threads may be interwoven to tell a single story from multiple view points.

I haven't re-read them in years, but I recall having the impression that even the seemingly disconnected threads in each book (in which none of the characters interact with the characters in the other threads) were related by theme to the other threads in the book.

As each of the threads was written by a different author, there had to be some planning to make coherent books and stories. The common theme would have been used to make that coherency possible.


Each story thread had its own primary character along with a cast of secondary characters - along with appearances of characters from other threads when needed.

Take the guy who ran the fancy restaurant in Aces High. Many characters in many threads know of the Aces High restaurant at the top of a high rise building in New York. Few of those characters actually eat in the restaurant, and fewer still interact directly with Hiram Worchester (who owns and runs the restaurant.) Fewer still interact with him in his alter ego Ace persona of "Fatman."

The Aces High is just a part of the background for some stories, isn't referenced at all in other stories, and is in the center of some other stories. It's all part of one (semi) coherent world in which the characters of all the stories live.

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If you watch the movie Love, Actually, you will see a storyline that works successfully with no main character but lots of interesting characters.

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Going to tv shows, Star Trek, in all but a handful of series are ensemble casts with episodes that will usually focus on one or two of the characters dealing with the core problem of the week and a B-story of characters dealing with lesser issues.

This is most notable in the TNG era (The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and Enterprise), where as the Original Series would often focus on the Spock, Kirk, Bones trinity in a Id, Ego, Superego relationship dynamic against the problem of the week.

Discovery and Picard are notable exceptions that focus on one character in a continuing arc, but Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds all are ensemble focused.

In book series, Animorphs was a successful series that had an ensemble cast that got a mostly equal focus of books focusing on them in a predictable order (Initially: Jake, Rachel, Tobias OR Ax, Cassie, Marco Later: Jake, Rachel, Tobais, Cassie, Marco, Ax). The characters of Tobias and Ax were joined as both had books that were vastly more lore focused and both were not humans (Tobias was a human that was permanently changed into a Hawk, Ax was a centaur like Alien) and thus had a limited ability to carry a story while the world was unaware of the secret alien invasion the books conflict resolved around.

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