Friday, 13 September 2013

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - The Cast of Characters

Sept 4, 2013 Garneau Pub Patio, Edmonton Alberta

Part Nine – How Big Should a Cast of Characters Be?

Question:  Well, it is a beautiful late summer evening, here at the Garneau Pub patio.  The place is filled with students who are just starting the fall term at the University of Alberta - quite a cast characters, you might say.

Answer:    It’s busy all right.  I suppose you will use that to segue into something.

Question:  Yes indeed.  Your Kati of Terra books range over a wide canvas and bring in a lot of characters.  You develop your stories at some length, with many episodes and sub-plots.  Is there a particular model or a particular writer that you are following in this?

Answer:  I don’t think that there is anyone in particular that I am purposely emulating.  A lot of Science Fiction writers like to paint on a wide canvas, as you say.  An obvious example is Kim Stanley Robinson.

Question:  For the benefit of those blog readers who aren’t familiar with him, he wrote the Mars Trilogy -  Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars.  Those books speculated about the colonization of Mars in the near future.  They certainly had a large cast of characters and a sprawling storyline.  Anyone else come to mind?

Answer:  Jo Clayton, with the Aletus series.  Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.  Lots of others.

Question:  Besides giving good value for money, what’s the advantage of writing on a larger scale, and bringing in a larger cast of characters?

Answer:  Well, in SF you can have a whole galaxy as your canvas, and that gives you a lot of room to play in.  You can develop multiple ideas and imagine how a multitude of characters might interact.  In fact, it almost forces you to range widely, or at least it does for me.

Question:  So it’s a bit of the Russian novel phenomenon?  The huge setting itself makes you want to write on an epic scale and bring in a lot of characters.

Answer:  That’s true, though I am long way from a Russian novelist.  What happens is that you end up surrounding your main characters with a sizable cast of characters as each part of the overall storyline develops.  If you write in the trilogy or longer series form, that can carry on from book to book.   In both Kati 1 and Kati 2, our protagonists meet new people at every stop of their journey, just as real travellers do, or at least those of us who want to experience a great range of people and places.  Plus, they pick up co-travellers for periods of time who come and go, with the key characters always remaining the key characters.  This allows one to keep refreshing those characters, giving them new companions and new experiences through which to reveal themselves to the reader.

Question:  A bit like Doctor Who, with his changing companions.

Answer:  Perhaps a bit, though the dynamics are different, with Kati and Mikal being a couple.  But it does allow Kati and Mikal the opportunity to interact with different and varied characters, and to display their wit, sense of fun, and ability to improvise in the face of new challenges and new friends and adversaries.

Question:  You make sure that the local people that Kati and Mikal meet play an important role in the stories, assisting Kati and Mikal in their investigations and helping them to overcome the dangers and perils that their adversaries set up.  In fact, sometimes the minor characters play as significant a role as the heroes.

Answer:  Yes,  Kati and Mikal have a lot of confidence in the skills, talents and abilities of the common people that they meet during their adventures.   They rely on them and trust them, and that trust is generally returned.

Question:  Is that part of your own worldview?

Answer:  Oh yes, I suppose that’s part of my democratic shtick, my democratic assumptions, if you will.  I think that elitists tend to underestimate the intelligence and abilities of the common person.  I let Kati and Mikal live those democratic assumptions.  It may be unorthodox, given the prevalence of dystopian fiction, but that’s how I hope an intelligent future will unfold.

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