1. Jschwish
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    Jschwish New Member

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    How do I know if I'm introducing too many new characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Jschwish, May 12, 2015.

    My main character is in her second year of college, and therefore has a large community of peers that she interacts with regularly. Much of my story is based off of my own experiences, so I'm finding a lot of characters appearing in my story that have minor roles, but because I know all of my characters and why they're important, it's hard for me to tell if I'm writing it so that a reader might be overwhelmed by the number of characters there are.

    How do I know if I have too many characters? How can I write minor characters so that they can fulfill their role in the story without being confusing or overwhelming?
     
  2. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hm, I think the best way is to let someone read it and tell you if they can keep track of them all or if it's confusing.
    Can't you make some of them be the same person? Like, maybe a few of them can have more than one role, so combining what in the real world would be more than one person into one single character could be an idea.
     
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  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    I think every character is created for a reason to the story. There are two reasons why you create a new character. To help the plot or to help the theme. If a character does not really drive any of those two forward, I probably would say they are an unnecessary character. However, there are stories where they have an unnecessary character, that somehow is oddly entertaining and works well.
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with Tesoro - I'd try to meld a few of the characters into a sort of composite character. It's more valuable to have one well-drawn, three dimensional secondary character than five or six flat, uninteresting secondary characters.
     
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  5. ZYX
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    ZYX Member

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    If they're not too important, don't bother naming them or giving them much of a physical description. Minor characters don't even really need an introduction, mention them in passing a couple of times before they're relevant and then a few times after and you're probably all set.
     
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  6. jodie_nye9663
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    jodie_nye9663 Member

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    Not naming insignificant or minor characters is such a good idea! Amanda Hockings does this a lot, as a reader I found this funny.

    It also makes keeping up with the story manageable without having to slow the pace, describing characters every two seconds is so distracting (for me as a reader anyway).

    Amanda Hockings, will call characters things like jock one and jock two or describe characters as iconic celebrity wannabes.
    But it depends on who your target readers are, to weather this will work or not.
     
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  7. Lance Schukies
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    Lance Schukies Active Member

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    Yes the last two posts I use in my writing, I have even removed chapters if I did not use the character again in my book and I could not use a description rather than a name.
    rather than add people make up stuff with the characters you have.
     
  8. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I just read a book that had too many characters. As an example:

    Motorcycle gang members: at least six
    Police/Interpol/FBI: five
    MC and love interest: two
    Chinese restaurant and martial arts instructors: two
    Love interest's buddies: two
    Tattoo artist: one
    MC's pet bird: one

    Plus a couple of victims (the MC is an assassin) that are given scenes that are unnecessary and a teenage prostitute who gets in the way and is offed with nary a thought.

    The motorcycle gang members could have been just unnamed guys and gals, for their involvement was not particularly essential to the story. Only one of the gang members served as a 'vehicle' to move the story forward and the names were not distinctive enough to keep him apart from the others until 3/4 of the way through the book (after the rest had been killed).

    The police characters were the most frustrating: they would drift in and out of scenes and ultimately only two or three may have really been important to the story. Given my druthers, I would have written the book without the police perspective and just remained focused on the assassin and the victims.

    The tattoo artist is necessary to explain the bike gang but he winds up being a secondary character in several chapters and ultimately did nothing.

    Named characters need to be essential to moving the story forward. If you find yourself injecting characters just because you find them interesting but their involvement could be handled by someone else, you need to cull the herd.
     
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  9. UpstateWriter
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    UpstateWriter Member

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    I used to worry about this, and sometimes I do end up cutting characters. I think letting the story unfold is the best way to go, and not worry that much---at least during rough drafts--if this character of that character belongs. I do believe a problem is when writers introduce too many characters too quickly. I think i stopped worrying about counting characters when i read joseph heller's catch-22. That novel had a zillion characters.
     
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  10. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    Also, consider the number of Hogwarts students JKR introduces, without actually introducing them
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the trick is to introduce multiple named characters slowly. One or two at a time. Give us at least one scene for a first (or first and second) character to become memorable before you move on to more of them. Introduce their thoughts. If there is some kind of conflict—not a fight, but a problem or concern they are facing—let us get an idea of what it will be. Then move on, and gradually introduce more characters. Let us begin to feel their personalities. Don't just tell us what they look like.

    For example, if your first scene is a big party, start with your POV character entering the party. Give us an idea of what the POV character thinks of the collective group. How does entering this group make your POV character feel? Then maybe get them to speak for a while to one other named person (who will become an important character later on.) Maybe exchange some gossip, or get a drink or admire each other's clothing, or whatever seems appropriate. All the while, make sure your POV character is relaying thoughts and feelings ABOUT this person to the reader. Make sure each of these secondary characters makes a strong impression. Then maybe a third or fourth character enters the group, etc. We can hear from the POV character what they think of persons 3 and 4, and person 2 (whom we have already got to know) can enter the mix with conversation that gives us an idea of the relationships between the group, etc. Don't rush a scene like this.

    Don't start with the main character entering the party, where Fred is over in the corner, his brother Max is pouring a drink, Emily is walking across the room, Starrla is wearing a new dress, Peter is dancing to the music with Penny and Jane (who is is girlfriend) and Matilda and Don are having an argument, and Tom is nowhere to be seen yet. The reader is NOT going to remember these people when their names come up next.

    Giving us a roomful of characters all at one time, all named, each with a single line to say and a bit of backstory is commonly done by new writers. They've worked with these characters, given them bios, decided hair and eye colour, body build, relationships, etc ...and it all gets flung at the reader in one go. This doesn't work. They aren't characters yet, for the reader. They are just a list.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2015
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  12. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Many 'true life' stories consolidate several characters into fewer ones, in order to reduce the confusion and increase characterization. Most brief characters will lack enough form to really interest the reader, and too many of these will bore the reader. So the best way to tell, is if the read is boring or confusing. If so, can two characters' actions be one character's actions?
     
  13. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @matwoolf

    I think it would be funny if you did one of your bits here...something with too many character introductions
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You could check out books that take place in college to see how others have done it. There were quite a few characters in Bret Easton Ellis's The Rules of Attraction, for example. I didn't have trouble following their stories. Their point of view chapters had the characters' name as the chapter name, and they all had somewhat different voices.

    In Harry Potter, there're quite a few characters as well, but it's quite easy to keep track with them. Rowling gave them signifiers (like dreadlocks) or odd names (like Lavender) or ethnicities that may help them to stand out (Bulgarian Viktor and French Fleur).

    Also, there's no need to underestimate your reader either. If you don't immediately throw a slew of names at them, they should be fine with multiple characters. Also, if the characters' roles in the MC's life are fairly clean-cut (she's the BFF, he's the love interest, he's the third wheel nerd, she's the main antagonist, these are her two lackeys etc. Sorry, cliché examples), it doesn't matter that much if we forget the names as long as we can connect the character to whatever conflict is going on in the story.
     
  15. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    @123456789

    I would prefer, enjoy immensely if you posted something quite terrible on the erotica crit arena - for example.

    Chapter 1 Fruit Fantastic by Mr P 123456789

    That broad with the titties like tomatoes, she rocked my boat. I knew if I could find the courage to follow her down the freeway, I might accost her, ask for her cell. I mean, if those were titties? Maybe they were tomatoes. Either ways I was overcome with visions of tomatoes in my face: juicy tomatoes, squashed and oozing juice. I'd spit her pips and she'd come back for more.

    My dear @123456789, how can I respond? You say tomatoes, I say tomatoes. Oh...
     
  16. UpstateWriter
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    UpstateWriter Member

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    I agree with your logic. I made those very same mistakes when I first began creative writing. Now, I try to let the reader adjust a bit to the protagonist before introducing a cast of characters.
     
  17. Tywin
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    Tywin New Member

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    If you start to forget some of them yourself, that's when I'd say you are introducing too many for the reader ;)
     
  18. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    I definitely wouldn't give more than a few words' worth of descriptions for any character lower than secondary.
     

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