I think the world is shrinking. All our communications, social networks, professional and personal networks keep bumping into each other. Especially in our relatively small community, and when you factor in the children's literature folks. Twice in the past two days I've had a "small world" connection between people I know from the library and people I know from the kidlit world.
I can't be specific about either one, because they're both events-in-the-planning-stages that have very little to do with me. In both cases, someone from the library needed an author for a program and asked me about it. The first one had an author in mind whom I already know. The second asked me to suggest someone, and when I did, it was a person he knew but hadn't thought of.
I find this heartening. First, because it means that the authors and the library are connecting with each other, which is important. Second, because I am fascinated by the connections between people, and the whole six degrees of separation thing. I still love it that Alison and I discovered we had a mutual friend when I received e-vites to Alison's New Year's Eve party and our friend's New Year's Day open house, and I saw each of their names on the other invitation. Until then I had no idea they knew each other.
At what point in human history did people became more strangers than not? I mean, it wasn't long ago that most people knew everyone in their community, either by sight or by name or family. If a stranger came to town, people knew it. As time went on, there were more and more strangers. It's gotten to a point where, when you walk down the street or into a store, you're more likely to not know most of the people, if anyone, you see. Thousands of strangers come and go, and no one even notices. When did that happen?
So here's where I get to the writing portion of this musing: I've read great stories where characters who appear to have nothing to do with one another at the beginning actually have a history together. I've read stories that focus tightly on a small group of people who all clearly know one another. Then, occasionally, I read stories that seem to have a cast of thousands, and I wonder how the author made this clear without boring the heck out of us.
How do you deal with all the strangers in your stories? Do you bother to write in extras whose only job is to make your world feel populated? Or do you stick to the characters who have speaking roles?