The core of any story is in the characters. If you’re just writing about some gee-whiz concept you came up with while sucking down Red Bulls and watching Sportscenter, move on. Much of the angst some have over The Last Jedi is that the original characters in Star Wars are fading away in favor of new characters. Nobody is really complaining about the setting or explosions. All that’s a given.
What makes all the Star Treks work (or not work, depending on whether you liked a particular version or not) is the makeup of the crews. Prior to Discovery, there was a captain, a first officer, a doctor, an engineer, and various crew members of different personalities. One crew member – Spock, Data, Odo, Seven of Nine – is always the Outsider. This formula carried forward into the Kelvin timeline and The Orville.
But these are ensemble casts of characters. What makes book series work? David Weber built his around Honor Harrington. The Martian spends 2/3 of its time in Mark Watney’s head. Usually, it’s one or two characters that grab the readers attention. So how does that work in a Netflix/Game of Thrones world?
I’ve struggled with this over the years. When I was traditionally published, I wrote about a PI named Nick Kepler. He was easy to write. As the sole point-of-view character, I wrote him in first person. With only one character to follow, it seems silly to write them in third person. Even if you make your narrator slightly unreliable to get into a character’s head, it makes no sense to do a character in third person if he or she is the only one the reader sees.
But The Compact Universe is not only an ensemble series, it’s something of an anthology. There’s no real central character. Tishla comes close, but her role evolved only after I wrote The Children of Amargosa. She wasn’t even intended to be around at the end of The Magic Root until I decided to kill off Kai. Children proved a bit easier to manage. Focus on Davra and JT with occasional side trips into other characters’ heads. Second Wave continues this with Tishla added when Davra is separated from the group and a side trip into Yuwono’s head near the end of the book. But once I settled into the series, the novellas had to be limited to one character and one character only.
In the end, it’s wiser to hang a series on one or two characters. However, Ed McBain made a career on a cast of characters as big as the average HBO series. The 87th Precinct usually (but not always) featured Detective Steve Carella as the main character, but always focused on one of the other detectives in the series. Once, it even gave Carella’s deaf-mute wife an entire plotline. But while Carella was first among equals, he was most definitely not the central character. He even managed to make bigoted, socially inept Ollie Weeks a feature player and almost likeable. (Almost. Fat Ollie never did gain a clue as to why the detectives of the 87th didn’t like him.)
But it’s the characters that draw the reader. They’re going to invest hours of their time in your creation. No one wants a travelogue.