Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Too Many, Too Much

Take a good look at this Downton Abbey pic. There's an anomaly. Can you find it?

I suspect the following indicates we are not doing a good job passing along ancient proverbs.

I've been accumulating these goodies from Facebook all winter - hope you enjoyed them.

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The words above are comments I got from editors during my early years of submitting my work to New York publishers or to agents. (Those were the days when many NY pubs still accepted Direct Submission.) And I suppose the comments were true. I was always fascinated by creating characters, and I could never stick to a simple Romance plot. I had to have suspense, mystery, action—a war, a murder, some dire situation. And yes, those things were more important to me than the hero and heroine getting it on in bed. I tried to conform a time or two, particularly when the editor at Signet said they were looking for Traditional Regencies. Okay, I could do that. I could be shorter, simpler, more amusing. So I sat down and wrote The Courtesan's Letters. And lo and behold, it was accepted. Except not under that title. Marketing said "courtesan" wouldn't play in the heartland. Sigh. As The Indifferent Earl, that book was chosen as Regency of the Year by Romantic Times magazine and was nominated for a RITA by Romance Writers of America. And I was off and running, conforming to the Trad Regency genre, until Signet shut down the line, putting all of its Trad authors out of work.

So what next? After attempting to embrace a number of styles that "conformed" to other sub-genres of Romance, I faced the fact that I was going to have to join the (then) brand new world of indie publishing. But it still took a long time to get back to the quality of my first two books (The Sometime Bride & Tarleton's Wife)—books I wrote before I was besieged by "rules," "requirements," and marketing departments. Although I began indie-pubbing in 2011, I feel I've only begun to get back to more "laissez-faire" writing in the last two or three years. I was, in fact, appalled when editing a book originally written for Ellora Cave's Blush in 2012, to discover just how much I had pandered to what was "expected." Believe me, the revisions for an upcoming indie version were extensive!

So . . . am I advocating "too many characters, too much plot"?  Only with reservations. I ran across a book not long ago that was an incomprehensible jumble because it leapt from one character to the next, from one sub-plot to the next, and jogged off on tangents in between. It did indeed have "too many characters, too much plot." Yet the primary sin was not tying all the "strings" together, not connecting those people and plots into a cohesive whole.

Basically, if you are writing simple "category" Romance for Harlequin/Silhouette, then you have to keep your character list short, your plot to little more than boy meets girl, they fall in love, problems arise, resolving to Happily Ever After. If, however, you are writing what we call Mainstream or some version of Mainstream, you have room to add to your Character List, and clearly, one or more sub-plots is necessary to fill up a longer book. 

My current Work in Progress is an Historical Romance, Book 6 in my Regency Warrior series. That automatically means it's going to be fairly long, have a lot of characters, and a complex plot. BUT . . . I have to admit the book slowed almost to a halt this week as I was forced to ask myself if I'd overdone it. Did I have too many things going on, to the extent of making readers go, "Huh?" Did I really have room to add that secondary character I had planned so carefully. (Yes, the "out of the mist" author actually thought ahead on that one.) 

Last night I sat down, scowled at a yellow pad, and told myself:  "You can only keep all these sub-plots, you can only add this new character, if you can somehow tie the sub-plots together and tie the new character to one or more of plots." I scribbled notes, I struggled . . . and finally a glimmer came to me. I can only hope it works. This morning I pushed one of the sub-plots to the forefront and wrote the new character into it. I have my fingers crossed. I suspect those agents and editors from long ago would definitely repeat: "Too many characters, too much plot." But it was Tarleton's Wife and The Sometime Bride they were talking about, both still selling after twenty years—Tarleton's Wife a Golden Heart winner (RWA) and winner of Best Romance from the Florida Writers Association. 

Grace note:  I suspect George R R Martin heard "too many characters, too much plot" more than a few times when he was beginning his series, A Song of Ice and Fire, now better known as Game of Thrones!

So here's your dilemma:  

1.  Can you handle a whole bunch of characters without letting them detract from the primary purpose of the book?

2.  Can you deal with a bunch of sub-plots without causing so much confusion the reader gives up part-way through?


If you write simple boy-meets-girl romance, then beware of "too many characters, too much plot." But if you are writing longer, more complex books, then you will need those extra secondary characters, those multiple sub-plots. Just be careful how you work them into your story. Whether characters or sub-plots, weave them in, make them connect. Don't leap-frog from one character or sub-plot to the next with no rhyme nor reason, leaving readers in total confusion. To put it another way, characters—primary or secondary—have to be handled deftly. They need to become part of a spider web, if you will, each connecting with the other and with the various sub-plots, and not darting off on their own in a straight line to nowhere. 

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Don't forget The Ghosts of Rushton Court Contest . For a link to the Contest questions, click here.


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Downton Abbey answer - a plastic bottle of water on the right side of the mantel.

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*  Next blog:  March 16, 2019  *  

For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

For Blair's Facebook Author Page, with background info on
the writing of Ghosts, click here. 

For a brochure for Grace's Editing Service, Best Foot Forward,


Thanks for stopping by,

1 comment:

  1. I suspect that "too many characters, too much plot" contributes a good deal to making Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series (15+ books) my grandson's favorite books ever. I guess it all depends on your point of view. Congratulations on breaking your chains!