1. NathanialRobb
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    NathanialRobb New Member

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    Can you ever have too many Characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by NathanialRobb, Apr 10, 2012.

    I'm writing a novel about the government becoming unjust, a group of teenagers led by a former military man revolt against the rule and take back the government but not before having their friendship tested, and their is a lot of tragedy. Unfortunately this leads to a couple problems, I focus heavily on dialogue and character development in my stories, I like very realistic characters that people can easily relate to. My story has quite a large amount of main characters almost out of necessity, because for a revolution to truly succeed their is going to be a rather large group working together to overthrow the government.

    The thing is I really get into my characters and so I've written rather complex but important back stories for each of them. This has led to the first five or six chapters of my book just being character development and character introduction. I like what I've written but I worry are so many characters going to take the reader out of the story? Is it too much? Does writing so many main characters into the plot limit the action and will it in the end negatively effect my story?

    I guess what I am asking is, do you think I should write characters out of the story or is this really a non-issue?
     
  2. RowenaFW
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    RowenaFW Member

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    There's nothing wrong with having masses of character development at the start of the story, but you have to get the plot going. Start things happening, and embed character introductions and stories into the early action. This will mean the reader has a plot to focus on, and if they're not so interested in a character, they have a motivation to read on. Several early chapters of just meeting new people can be tedious.

    I find that the early chapters of my book are largely character intros, but I do try to keep the plot moving, and think I succeed. However, things do move notably faster in later parts when the majority of characters have been introduced. Just need to strike a balance.
     
  3. Corybobory
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    Corybobory New Member

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    ^I think that's really good advice!

    There's also nothing wrong with introducing a character but developing them later on in the story if it's not relevant at the time - I personally like stories with lots of characters, but there is a limit - people like me with bad memories start to miss things, or not notice something as being significant. Plus you don't want the intro to lag and be disjointed from the plot driven after-intro. I guess it's like RowenaFW says, striking a balance and weaving plot and character development together.
     
  4. Pink-Angel-1992
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    Pink-Angel-1992 Active Member

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    Do you feel you need to write characters out of your story? What number of characters to you feel comfortable writing about at once?

    If your story calls for characters then you can't have to many, but if a character is there just to be there, then maybe rethink that. If your story needs a lot of characters then keep them! I generally read stories that have little characters, but I don't believe that, if many characters are needed, that you can have to many.

    Currently I'm reading a story about a group of well known mercenaries; their region's enemies have invade their land and battles have broken loose across it. With other problems to deal with at the same time, the story keeps switching between different characters, showing you want is happening else where that effects and moves the story on, but the early chapters concentrated on the mercenaries, so you know who they are and remember them when the story goes back to them. If you have a small number of characters to concentrate on, that the readers will remember, and switch between the different characters to push the story along, you shouldn't have a problem with the number of characters. At least this is all my opinion!
     
  5. RowenaFW
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    RowenaFW Member

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    Let's see if this helps you. I have 37 chapters.

    Chapter 1 of my book, I introduce 5 characters. 4 I start developing gradually throughout, but one, DW, I develop heavily in chapter 3.

    Chapter 2 I introduce 2 new characters, one I develop gradually throughout, one I develop in a large part here and in chapters 4, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 29! (that is just for their history, et cetera)

    Further, one new character is introduced and developed in each of chapters 4, 5, 7, 11, 14, 24 (two new characters), 25 (three more), 27 and 29. This is just main characters. There are also sub characters who are necessary for driving the plot.

    Characters leave or die in 13, 15, 17, 19, 28.

    You get the idea...!
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Having a lot of characters in a story is like going to a party with a lot of strangers. Introductions start to blur if it happens too quickly. Allow the reader to get to know them gradually, and don't dump a lot of background that isn't needed. Not having read what you have, I can't say that you've done that, only that it's something to be aware of. As to the number, as long as you make the characters individual enough so it avoids confusion (or making the reader look back to see who has done what, etc), you should be okay. Also, make sure that you actually need X number of characters, and that some functions can't be combined into fewer characters.
     
  7. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    It depends on what type of characters they are.

    There are two important categories for characters: Dynamic characters, and static characters. Dynamic characters are, well, dynamic. They change; they are the focus of your authorial attention. Their development over time is drastic, and their transformation is key to your plot, theme, etc. The main character is the most important dynamic character, and there are often one or two more dynamic characters that can be friends, mentors, or even enemies. Static characters change minimally, if at all. Their role is primarily to support the transformation of the dynamic characters.

    An average novel of around 60-80k words can handle a maximum of 3-4 dynamic characters. More than this, and you won't have enough time to develop each character to do them all justice. If your book is longer, like a 150k epic fantasy, it could handle 6-8 dynamic characters. However, any given book can have a lot more static characters, because these characters don't change very much, and thus are less confusing to the author. From what I've read, it's best they either stick around prominently in one scene, or else show up in smaller roles in scenes throughout the book (or some hybrid of the two). Most importantly, they ALL should support the other characters' transformations, the plot, and the theme. If you have characters that are just there because you like them, either make them fit these three criteria, merge them with other characters that do, or else remove them entirely.

    Sadly, sometimes you have to give up characters you love because they just doesn't work for your story and there's no way to make them.

    Harry Potter is a great example of static vs. dynamic characters. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are the only real dynamic characters throughout the whole series. Everyone else is basically a static character, changing a little over time, but not so much over the course of a book.

    Hope that helps!
     
  8. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    Of course, when you can't keep them straight or they get in the way of the story then there's too many.
     
  9. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    I just totted up my character total from the first 5 chapters of my book, and there are 24. Of those, 4 are dynamic. A few are walk on extras or cameos who perform a function and are never seen again. The rest are static characters who support the dynamic ones. I might have some more static characters to introduce, but I don't think there are any more dynamic ones. I would find too many dynamic characters annoying and confusing. I think 6 is the maximum I'd be able to cope with.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes... anytime you have one more than the story needs...
     
  11. W. E. Burrough
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    W. E. Burrough Member

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    I used to think more was less, then I watched One Piece. Yes, you can have too many characters.
     
  12. NathanialRobb
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    NathanialRobb New Member

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    Oh wow...that brings up bad memories.


    Thanks for the advice :)
     
  13. Stoph Holland
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    Stoph Holland New Member

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    The thing you have to ask yourself is this:

    With all that you have written so far, if you was reading this for the first time, is there enough going on for you to want to keep reading?
     
  14. RowenaFW
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    RowenaFW Member

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    Interesting thing about the dynamic characters...! It made me realise how much more minor some of the characters are than I had thought... I have 3 dynamic characters (155k), with possibly 1 minor dynamic character who is only in the book for 1/3 parts.
     
  15. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I'm not sure if this was mentioned above but there are some great books that have loads of characters but their roles are usually short, concise and serve a short term purpose (i.e explaining something, comic relief, etc.) There's a famous Australian series of books called Tomorrow, When the War Began which has a similar premise and deals with some of the things you mentioned like teenagers coming of age and friendships. I always think looking at other well-written books is a good start.
     
  16. names
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    names Member

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    Introducing a character is important if you weakness is making a scene. It could be a mistake and for that use indirect characterization and authorial interpretation. Look it up on you tube. Other than that, having too many characters can be a problem. Just focus on introducing them, and making people play a important part in the scene (or later on in the plot).
     
  17. Snoopingaround
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    Snoopingaround Banned

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    You can definitely have too many characters in a story. There are some readers who may enjoy the prospect of having alot of characters to explore in a story, but I think they are probably a minority. Most folks probably do not want to be introduced to a bunch of characters that are explored in shallow detail and then come and go throughout the plot. My personal preference is that I like to have only a few characters leading the story along, and who are described in-depth with solid details. A whole cast of characters can make your story look like a wandering hodgepodge, lacking clear direction and focus. Obviously you would want enough characters to fit the needs of your story, but you also should definitely keep in mind that too many characters can bog down your plot and slow down the action. When in doubt, keep new characters out. Use the creative energy that you would have spent on developing new characters instead on making the fewer characters that you have more detailed and realistic.
     

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