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OK, the question I have is this - how to approach writing about large number of characters? I'm thinking of writing about a squad of around 20 people of which in the end only 4 are left. I can't really introduce them all at once, and even by introducing them via dialogue, like
"What's this?" Private Carter's eyes widened at the horrible sight.
will create a whole bunch of names for the reader to remember and will make the story a pain to read through.
Any tips on how to approach that situation?
That is difficult to do. I feel that a third person perspective will help with this, obviously.
Beyond that, just introduce characters as you go or as they become relevant. Place greater emphasis on some over others. You can't go into depth with everyone equally when you have that many people to cover. It's just not practical.
You say that only four will be left? Make sure they are among the ones you focus on the most. Or, if you want to be really fancy, put little emphasis on some and increase that emphasis as others are lost. Just an idea.
That fancy one is a good idea, haven't thought of that!
How to describe the squad's actions on the battlefield? I thought of breaking the squad into 4 parts with each part having that 'essential' character and portray those parts as 'one person', but I don't know how to approach it. Such depersonalization lowers the impact of their death and I don't want that.
Ultimately, some deaths will be less impactful than others. The characters become more personal to the reader as the story unfolds. It's a matter of investment. The more invested a reader is in a character, the more the death of that character will shake them.
You can't always predict, though, who the reader will invest in. Don't try too hard to make every death dramatic and heart-wrenching. Just tell a good story. Tragedy can come as a bi-product.
I see, great advice! I'll try to figure something out, already got a few ideas!
You just need to think very far ahead. Plan out each death. Create each character individually so people get emotionally attached. You need to plan very far in advance so you don't end up tripping over characters, running out of space for death events etc.