1. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Character Consolidation :: (How to Know When You Have Too Many Char.)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Flying Geese, Sep 9, 2014.

    I am on my second book, and it is looking to become a pretty large book. I have many things in store for the story.

    However, I am at a bit of a standstill that I never had even considered when writing my first book. So my question is:

    Is it possible that your story can have too many main characters?

    The very fact that I am worrying over this is making me worry. In my first book, I knew just how many main characters I wanted. A party of 3 friends. (2 guys and 1 girl)

    But this next story I'm writing has a lot more fantasy and the world is much larger. In the beginning, there will be the same thing, a party of 3, consisting of 2 guys and 1 girl. I actually just added in the girl last night because she adds elements (and balance) to the story that I think are vital.

    The problem is, the main characters are going to travel to another world, where they are going to meet up with the party that they will eventually save the world with. So the entire party will eventually be a party of 7 main characters. 4 guys and 3 girls. (but at a certain point in the story, 2 characters will leave the party)

    (I have actually written in a large part of the story already, so writing this new female character in is a bit nerve-wracking)

    I have been wondering this...should I consider what the new female character adds to the story, and then seeing if I can "consolidate" her contributions to the plot w/ characters that already exist? But then again, as new as this female character is, she is a character that is dear to my heart and I feel that I will write her very well. Which is why I am holding onto her.

    What do you guys think? Any stories about times where you consolidated a characters contributions, or completely removed a character, even?
     
  2. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    Just write it and don't worry. There are plenty of classics, especially in fantasy, with loads of main characters. If you want to have twenty of them, do it. There are no rules for these things.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you do conclude that you have too many characters, could you cut another one to make room for her?

    I'm no good for answering the general question, because my tolerance for lots of main characters is pretty low.
     
  4. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    I don't see what the problem is!

    Of course, it's nice to know who's story we're supposed to be following, but I see no problem with many characters. If you write them well and tidily, then how exciting!! I personally love meeting new characters, so fire away!
     
  5. Canopyvine
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    Canopyvine Member

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    I say you have too many main characters when you have to split the book in two, because it is going over 2000 pages, in order to give all of them the appropriate roles.
     
  6. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    My current project has 5 PoV characters - two women and three men. I make it work, because I know how important each character's perspective is. It's that simple.
     
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  7. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    My current project has four MCs and towards the end of the book the two remaining MCs join up with a group of other characters. They meet many other important characters along the way. I know I don't have too many main characters because I couldn't cut out any of them. Originally I had something like 10 main characters but I decided to cut some of them, merge the roles of some characters together and draw some characters I couldn't cut into minor roles. I decided I had too many characters because I wanted the story to be about the journeys of all the characters and I knew I couldn't do that with so many of them. Some of these characters were very special to me but while they had their own stories and plots. In the end I realized the story wasn't really about them so I had to cut them.

    In my mind you have too many characters when the cease being distinct. It isn't as big a deal if some are more background characters, this how I'm going to deal with the characters travelling in the group. When it comes to reading books with large groups of characters the thing I have most difficulty with is remembering who is who. I'm not good with names so it really helps me if the characters are easy to tell apart. When I read Sarah in a novel I want to be immediately able to know who you're talking about I don't want to be asking myself if Sarah is the love interest or the MC's sister.
     
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  8. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    But doesn't it depend how you do it? Sometimes having too many main characters isn't great because who's story are we meant to be following?
     
  9. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    These are all great answers!

    AlannaHart: You're right. I like a couple old Final Fantasys. Those games always had like 7 or 8 MC's - not counting the antagonists. The games were so well-written and their stories were so intertwined that I only just realized this a week ago. And I have played almost every final fantasy up to X, about 3x each.

    ElleBeess: That's an interesting way of looking at it. Right now, all of my characters are very distinct, so I guess I am on the right track after all.

    Thornesque: Your straightforwardness is greatly appreciated. Writers are especially prone to overcomplicating things.
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I can think of no better example than the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien handled character complications pretty well, by grouping two or three members together and sending them out on several different adventures for a large part of the book. And these characters met other characters, etc. By the end of a very long and involved story, we are pretty much on top of who is who in that trilogy. I think he handled multiple characters very well indeed.

    The trick is to not introduce too many characters at any one time. Tolkien did that quite well. First we meet the hobbits at home, then Gandalf arrives, then the main four hobbits set off on their journey and have a few adventures, then they are joined by Strider/Aragorn. They end up at Rivendell where the Fellowship is formed, adding three more characters to the mix. Then the Fellowship has some adventures together before splitting up. Then each small group of original Fellowship members meet other characters, etc. We don't lose track of any of them, even as the story gets more complicated, because the introduction to each member and group is paced so well.

    Get us VERY used to a few characters, then add a few more, get us VERY used to them, etc. Once the characters are firmly fixed and their story arcs are clear, you shouldn't have too much trouble keeping it rolling.

    I think problems arise when too many characters are introduced all at one time, and then are only sketchily developed. (The current movie of The Hobbit is less successful at this than the LOTR movies were, in my opinion. The book The Hobbit worked better because the dwarves, for the most part, were undeveloped characters. Bilbo was the main character, and it was his adventure alone that was the focus of the book. It didn't really matter which dwarf he was interacting with, most of the time.)

    I'd say try not to name your spear carriers ...people whose role is only to do something (serve a drink at a bar, point out directions, etc.) The tendency when reading any story is to attempt to remember names. If too many names get thrown at you at one time, or if the named people don't amount to anything much, this becomes difficult for the reader to maintain.

    And whatever you do, stick to the names you've chosen. Don't refer to characters by more than one different name if you can possibly avoid it. (Sometimes you can't—Strider becomes Aragorn—but do try.)

    The whole object of this exercise is to make your characters stick in the minds of your readers. Any characters who don't will be forgotten or confused with other characters, which will really ruin the impact of your story.

    There is no rule about how many you can use, or how much any of them can do. It's all down to how you write them. However, it's important that they all stick, and that they all matter.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2014
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  11. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    Wow, Jannert, that is some of the single most helpful advice I've received in any creative endeavor! You explained it so well! Thank you for taking the time to write that!
     
  12. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    2 is too many if one of them is boring.
     
  13. jannert
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    I get your point, but I don't think it's quite that simple. If you have too many non-boring characters all piled on top of one another in the opening chapter, the reader can feel swamped, simply by numbers. And if your exciting characters keep getting name changes, people can get them mixed up. How many husbands has she got? Etc.... I think pacing and clarity is the key, more than just creating non-boring characters. In fact, even a boring character can have a place in a novel, if that's what you need that character to be. Zzzzz....
     
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  14. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    You need as many characters as it takes to tell your story in a clear and cohesive manner.
     
  15. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    One character it too many; just write about brooms drying themselves in the hot sun and how marvelous it is that they dry themselves without any effort needed.
     
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  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I admit, it's a bit of a simplistic statement. Even if one were boring, them being in the story could enhance the main character because they have someone to interact with. Like the straight man in comedy.
     
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  17. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Clearly you haven't read: The Incredibly Amazing Adventures of Droplet McBucket and the Giant, Hairy Broomhilda - Episode 1: The Sunsphere of Flight.
     
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  18. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    You got me. You really got me.
     
  19. Revanchist
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    I barely remember (perfect example!) the title of a book I bought quite some time ago. It basically involved way too many characters at once and it did show exactly what Jannert warned about, and I instantly lost interest halfway through. There were many characters and they were fairly mixed together, it was difficult to keep up with the story without having to ask yourself "Who the hell is this guy again?" So getting the reader used to the characters is the key however it can be a bit tricky because as the writer, you know your characters to the core unlike the reader who will take more time to know them on such a deep level. A third perspective is definitely useful.
     
  20. RLJ
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    RLJ Member

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    I think it's all about what you can handle without letting the story get away from you. Think of the likes of George RR Martin or Ken Follet. Both authors write pretty hefty books with a multitude of POV characters. It's all about your writing style. If you can keep everything straight and your story doesn't become a complete mess, I am sure you will be fine!
     
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