Friday, May 7, 2021

Using Ensemble Casts to Write Without Preaching

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

How do you make a point without being preachy? In your writing, how do you help an audience come to a conclusion without connecting the dots for them? To get an audience to understand your story’s meaning, don’t you have to tell them how to think?


No. Ironically, when you start telling your audience what to think, they’ll shut you out. Readers like to draw their own conclusions about a story and its meaning. They can recognize when an author is communicating with an agenda in mind, and this is true for writers in both the general market and the Christian market. 


So how can your story make a difference? Strategies abound, of course, and it varies from author to author, writing coach to writing coach. My personal preferred method is to let your characters do the work. 


I’ve found that the most effective way to communicate a point in a story without getting preachy about it is to write using ensemble casts. 


An ensemble cast allows a writer to explore the varying perspectives of each character. It allows you to examine a story and its consequences from multiple angles, and based on the events of the plot, it allows your readers to make their own decisions based on which characters they connect with the most.


There may be a more standard definition for an ensemble cast, but in my rule book, it’s a story where the author uses more than two Points of View. A great classic example is The Lord of the Rings books by Tolkien. A more recent example of an ensemble cast novel is Aurora Rising, a space opera by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. And I might as well throw my own superhero novel into the example pot as well: Ronnie Akkard & The Brotherhood of Blades.


In each of these examples, the authors use multiple Points of View to communicate what’s happening in the story. Every time a new chapter begins, you get a different Point of View, which means you get a different perspective on the action, the plot, and the other characters. 


Let’s say that one event takes place, and three different characters are witness it. Depending on each character’s background and personality, they will each have a different response to the same event. 


A military officer will respond differently than a civilian. A doctor will respond differently than a teenager. An introvert will respond differently than an extrovert. You get the idea.


So how do you do it? Most new writers I work with start trying to write with ensemble casts because it seems easy, but it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. Primarily what you need if you want to write an ensemble cast is a deep, certain, thorough understanding of your characters.


You need to know them like real people. Don’t just have a list of their tendencies or a dossier of their history. It’s more than that. You have to understand their motivation. You have to know what makes them tick.


If you try to write an ensemble cast without using Deep Point of View, your audience won’t be able to keep track of whose perspective they’re in. 


Every time you switch perspective (I recommend this only at chapter breaks), you shouldn’t need to label the chapter so people know who’s talking. The character’s voice and perspective should be so strong that people automatically know who it is.


Sound impossible? It’s not. It just takes a lot of work, a lot of research, and a lot of time to get to know your characters. 


How do you do it? Here are some suggestions: 

If you want to write with an ensemble cast, I recommend you write a novel or novella with a single Point of View character first. Get to the place where you can truly use a single Point of View character well. That in itself takes longer than you’d expect. 


From there, get some journals. Get one journal for each character you’re going to have a perspective for in your book, and spend a little time getting to know them. Ask your characters interview questions. Once you decide on their background and history, you should be able to form an idea of their voice and their opinions. The more time you spend with them, the stronger their voice will be. The stronger their voice is in the story, the less you will have to fill in the gaps to explain the point you’re trying to make.


Design some scenarios in your mind that will stretch your characters. Put them in impossible situations. How would they respond? What would they do? What would they say? Make notes. Then use that knowledge, that research, as you write your book. 


Your clumsy church secretary is going to react very differently to a car crash than your snarky chain-smoking street kid from the Bronx. Use that understanding to your advantage to highlight their different responses. Show the consequences of their actions, and give your readers the space to develop an opinion of their own. 


Not only will you get points for not being preachy, but you’ll also end up with memorable characters that your readers will truly enjoy. 



Using Ensemble Casts to Write Without Preaching - @ACW_Author on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if isn’t, her socks will never match. She likes her road trips with rock music, her superheroes with snark, and her blankets extra fuzzy, but her first love is stories and the authors who are passionate about telling them. Learn more about her book coaching services and follow her adventures on social media @ACW_Author.


  1. Great post, AC. Just this morning I was typing a chapter and thought, "Should this minor character be more developed? Will it make the story more interesting? How should I do that?
    Appreciate you. :)

  2. Your suggestions are always so practical and workable. Thanks, AC!