I happened upon Dr. Cuthbert Soup’s A Whole Nother Story randomly, and I’m so very glad that I did. The book is wonderful – somehow exciting, strange, funny, absurd, incisive, and whimsical all at once. It’s also narrated by the delightfully eccentric and somewhat shadowy Dr. Cuthbert Soup, the head of the Center of Unsolicited Advice, and is stuffed full of a sprawling cast of characters.
This last feature of the story is especially impressive. Dr. Soup jumps from character to character, from storyline to storyline, carefully braiding these various strands together into a single, overarching narrative. It isn’t easy juggling plots like this, and when your story is populated by dozens of characters, it’s a constant challenge to keep each one unique in your readers’ minds. You must present each character quickly yet memorably, and define them in a way so that, if/when they pop up again, they are instantly recognizable (even if, as is the case in this book, their names aren’t explicitly stated).
Charles Dickens was exceptional at this. With a few swift strokes, he could paint a portrait that somehow seemed close to complete. There are, in some of his novels, hundreds of characters, and regardless of whether they play a large or small role in the story, they are all immensely memorable. When it comes to creating, introducing, and carrying characters throughout a story, Dr. Soup has skills that can be justifiably called Dickensian.
In the passage below, we find Dr. Soup introducing a brand-new character nearly three-quarters of the way through his novel. She disappears almost as soon as she shows up, yet Dr. Soup’s deft characterization ensures she’ll linger vividly in your mind. This happens again and again (and again) throughout A Whole Nother Story. In addition to being a fun, funny, and very eventful read, there is much for a writer to take away from the book. Reading it is like watching a master at work.
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From “A Whole Nother Story,” by Dr. Cuthbert Soup (page 196)
Mr. Cheeseman walked to the door and opened it to find an old woman with hair as white and as puffy as a single cloud floating through a blue summer sky. She wore glasses in round wire frames and a long blue dress that could best be described as an “old lady dress,” complete with white frill around the collar. Her posture was slightly rounded and, in her arms, she held a black and brown Chihuahua. Even though it was quite a warm afternoon, the Chihuahua seemed to be shivering as if it had just eaten a bowl of ice cream while standing in a snowstorm.