Q is for Quorum

Photo by Billy on Unsplash

For flashes, the quorum (minimum number of people needed for an official meeting) is two to explore more than navel-gazing introspective of a single character, but what happens when you go beyond that? How do you write a large cast? I recently took up the challenge when creating the Argumentative Law series.

The flash format doesn’t lend itself well to large casts. In a thousand words, you can explore two, maybe three, people interacting. I did TEN! Each person in the first flash, L is for Legality, had at least one line. The challenge was making sure each person had a reason to be there, a different opinion and goal. When possible, a different mannerism. Overall, that first flash is a scene, not a story. No one grows or changes, the “protagonist” really is the class as a whole, not one individual who undergoes the most change. A few of the characters were well-defined in my head – Lindsey, the firebrand; Breanna and Matthew, the couple headed to problems; John, supporter of the status quo; and the professor, Dr. Hawkins – who is based on my very first college teacher – first semester, first class. He left an impression on me, not all of it good, but he did demand the best from everyone and he cared enough to extract it. I would have preferred he didn’t use a hammer and pliers, but the man was unforgiving as the fire which shaped him.

With five characters clearly defined, the second flash had more elbow room; still, most characters were again limited to a single line, but through that line I discovered more about each of them.

The final flash, O is for Options, is actually two scenes, one is the class discussion and the other the internships. Between the three flashes, four scenes, and six thousand words, the characters had evolved into individuals with different backgrounds and goals. (Hey! – That is the average of a flash dealing with two to three characters. Three flashes fleshes out nine characters. Good to know the word to person ratio is consistent.)

Strangely two of the initial weakest characters ended up to be the most interesting to me. Maybe because they evolved organically instead of a pre-defined cutout like Lindsey and John. For the “story”, I would define Monica as the protagonist, if I work from the definition of the “person who undergoes the most change”. Though Breanna and Matthew, with their breakup, also had a lot of change, their change was external while Monica’s was internal. I also fell in love with Seth Goard; the initial lackadaisical gentleman, coasting through the course, was revealed to actually have a lot going on in his life. When he finally faced something that needed doing, he stood up for it. Of all the characters, Seth is the one I want to grab and drop off into a real narrative instead an exploration of writing skills.

I’m still not sure if I would describe the Argumentative Law series as a story. There is a a beginning, middle, and end – with the ending of handing out internships being the most clearly defined. We see the class grow as a whole from the teacher directing the conversation, with the first narrative turning point happening when the students (through Lindsey) demand equal treatment for all students, to the final session where the professor mostly stays out of the conversation except to keep them on topic. There is a sloppy bit (from a content editing consideration) where the third flash opens with Lindsey as a close-third person POV before we expand back out to the omniscient POV used throughout the rest of the series.

If the story was rewritten, I don’t know what POV I would go with. The omniscient puts a lot of distance between the readers and the action, keeping emotional involvement low. But who to go with? Lindsey, with her strong opinions, would be my first choice, but she is an unreliable narrator and the themes within the story, if polished from first draft flash format, are about the clarity of law. The juxtaposition between her opinions and exploring society through law could make interesting counterpoints, but I don’t know if I have the skill set to sharpen the edge between unreliable fog and magnification lens clarity.

I know I mentioned this specific to the first flash, but it also applies to the whole arc. In a weird way, with the exceptionally large cast, the class as a whole became the protagonist. During the story, they learned how to argue, they split into factions, and they developed a cause they wanted to fight for that crossed the factions.

Have you ever written a large cast scene or story where all the characters impact the story at some level? What writing skills did it need? Comment below.

Argumentative Law series

  1. L is for Legality (4/14/2024)
  2. M is for Monday (4/15/2024)
  3. O is for Options (4/17/2024)
  4. Editing Rant: Q is for Quorum (4/19/2024)
  5. Writing Exercise: Y is for Yoke (4/28/2024)

4 thoughts to “Q is for Quorum”

  1. I definitely have had large casts in scenes. For me the trick is to stay on top of attributions. Every line and movement needs to be clearly assigned to a character. Another thing I personally try to do is flow through the room / scene like a camera might in a continuous shot sequence like they did for the TV series E.R. The setting and descriptions make this come alive, but it’s a much longer scene to write because of all the extra parts. This is part of the genius of Frank Herbert’s use of fully omniscient 3rd-person to let the reader flow between the head-space of multiple characters in Dune.

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