Monday, June 6, 2016

Whose Story is It Anyway? Guest Post from LJ Cohen

It's my pleasure to turn over my blog today to LJ Cohen, the author of the Halcyone Space series. I've read and loved the first two, and am anxious to get my eyes on the third.  Check out my Goodreads reviews of Derelict and Ithaka Rising and follow us both while you're there :-)

Whose story is it anyway? Balancing the demands of an ensemble cast.
by LJ Cohen

The novels of Halcyone Space (Derelict, Ithaka Rising, and Dreadnought and Shuttle) tell a story through a large cast of characters. While I have written a lot of novels over the past twelve years, most of them have used a limited set of point of view characters. But when it came to telling a space opera tale, I knew it would need more voices.

Point of View (POV), like other elements of writing, should be a deliberate choice. A large, rambling narrative can be a better fit for a multitude of voices than trying to tell it through one set of eyes. In contrast, a tightly coiled story in a limited setting might function best with one narrator. That is the choice I made in my standalone urban fantasy, Future Tense.  

Future Tense has a lot in common with a thriller in that Matt, the main character, needs to solve the riddle of his own prescient visions before the people he has grown to care about get hurt. I wanted readers to feel Matt’s sense of being hemmed in by circumstance and the narrowing of his choices as the story unspools. Using only his POV helped to accomplish that, as the reader only knows what Matt knows. This heightened the tension throughout the entire novel.

For the Halcyone Space books, that would have been the wrong choice. These are stories that span multiple planets and involve government-wide conspiracies. With multiple plot threads that weave together into each narrative, the stories needed an ensemble cast and a large number of POV characters.

But how to balance the ‘screen time’ that each character gets? Is that even important?

When it came time to give artist’s notes for the covers, I realized that depicting half a dozen principal characters would not only be impossible, but also would be the wrong choice. While, for the most part, all the characters have roles in each book, it’s also clear that each book highlights the arc of one or two main characters. In Derelict, that was Rosalen Maldonado, or Ro to her friends. In Ithaka Rising, the story of the Durbin brothers—Barre and Jem—drove the narrative. And while Jem was the character who starts the plot ticking, it’s Barre who shows the most growth and change. For book 3, Dreadnought and Shuttle, despite being a new addition to the series, Dev—Devorah Martingale Morningstar (and she knows it’s a ridiculous name) takes center stage.

I’d like to say I consciously planned out that shifting and balancing of lead characters, but I’d be lying. Perhaps my subconscious helped, knowing there wouldn’t be a feasible way to give each of six main characters and at least that many secondary characters equal billing and still have a coherent story. 

The other advantage of telling a story through multiple POV is the richness it can bring to describing characters both through their own voices and through another character’s perspective. That’s another way to bring balance to each character. I have always enjoyed the way the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead brings a different understanding to the familiar plot and characters of Hamlet. Seeing the two plays in repertory is a fascinating study of the concept that everyone is the hero of their own story.

Learn more about LJ Cohen and her work by connecting with her online. And don't forget to check  out her books: links at bottom!

Twitter: @lisajanicecohen
email LJ:
Amazon Author page:

Dreadnought And Shuttle
Amazon page:
Google Books:


  1. Hi, Samantha! Thanks for guesting on my blog today.
    I love using a few different POV. It does provide a richness to the story.
    Congratulations, L J!

    1. Thanks for the spot, Yolanda. So far, I seem drawn to write multi-perspective pieces, too. Somewhere between two and four voice characters.

    2. Thank you! Some days it feels like juggling chainsaws. ;)

  2. That is a toughie! She did a great job of giving advice. I've also found it's important to limit the number of characters because it can get SO confusing!

    1. I really struggled with whether or not to give certain characters POV time, but aside from being confusing, it also started to feel too convenient - meaning I'd want to give a secondary character the viewpoint simply so I could show what was happening somewhere my main characters were not.

  3. After years of hearing advise recommending single POV, it was great to read an effective use of multiple POV in the Halcyone Space series. Now I can finally follow three groups as they work separately on a rescue. Thanks, Lisa for a great explanation, and thanks, Samantha Dunaway Bryant for hosting.

    1. Agreed! There are definitely stories that demand multiple POV for the telling.