1. Ultermarto
    Offline

    Ultermarto Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2012
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    United Kingdom

    How many characters are too many?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ultermarto, Mar 26, 2012.

    I'm sure this is a common issue. It seems that, in my original conceptualization, I created too many main characters. Either that or I didn't provide enough attention to all of them. So in my second draft I eliminated one of the characters whom I felt was completely useless. Now I have seven, and I'm still not very comfortable with it. But try as I might, I can't decide which character, if any, I'd like to be rid of. All seven seem to serve a fundamental purpose. Some support the plot, the mood, provide heavy relations to each other. You might wonder why I invented such an array in the first place. It's a war novel, so to speak, about resistance and fighting and blah blah blah. Lots of action chapters, which I do my best to bring to life. In focusing on this 'war', I wanted from the start to capture the many different aspects of battle, each one with a different atmosphere and each one requiring a main character. A specialist. So as you can expect;

    We've got the lead character, a simple 'Trooper'. Ground operations and such.
    An artillery character, or a 'heavsman'. Definitely serves a role in the action literature. Sacrifices himself near the end, et cetera.
    Two pilots, a jet pilot and a chopper pilot. Two very different characters also. Both there from the start of the novel. One responsible for fun and relief, the other serves as a platform for the philosophy I want to work in.
    A 'technician'. VERY important to the plot. Born blind. Robot eyes. Most adept engineer on the planet. Possibly have relationship with the heavsman.
    A sniper. Precise character, very focused. Self controlled. Also does marine operations. The perspective for any ocean-battles.
    An escort, or driver or recon or what have you. Represents another platform for ethics. Merciful, less spiteful than the chopper pilot. Also serves as medic. Possible relationship with chopper pilot.

    So as you can see, I'm kinda stuck. That said, I'm not even certain that I have a problemn.
     
  2. lorilee
    Offline

    lorilee Member

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2012
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Canada
    as long as you can keep them all integral to the story, there is no maximum number of characters. If you've ever read Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory series, he has more characters than I can count, but he keeps it all together. Just don't let anyone get left by the wayside.
     
  3. CheddarCheese
    Offline

    CheddarCheese Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2012
    Messages:
    492
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Canada
    Hi Ultermarto,

    "Too many characters" is a limit that can be different from person to person. You have too many characters, when you are unable to manage them all at one time, without disrupting plot, fluidity, or other characters. If you think the number of characters is affecting any of these factors, then you may have too many for you to currently handle.

    How do you solve this problem? You either eliminate more characters until your story flows well again, or you keep practicing with your current characters until you manage to fix any flaws.

    Good luck!
     
  4. MeganHeld
    Offline

    MeganHeld Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 3, 2010
    Messages:
    115
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    You can keep all the current characters you want. I agree, too many characters is more just a saying than a rule. You can focus on certain characters more than others if that helps you any. Sometimes characters can come and go in a way and still be important to the story without making it difficult trying to keep them all in the story all the time. Keep experimenting with the second draft to see how you feel with all the characters. My suggestion would keep them all if they are important.
     
  5. Protar
    Offline

    Protar Active Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2011
    Messages:
    603
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    UK
    Quite frankly there's no limit to the amount of characters in a story, so long as each has a role to play. There are books with only two or three characters and books with a cast of thousands and a dozens you could consider major characters. Especially with large, sprawling stories that span long distances and lengths of time, the latter makes more sense. It gets a bit absurd if the same dozen characters keep meeting each other from different corners of the globe.
     
  6. Jowettc
    Offline

    Jowettc Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2012
    Messages:
    207
    Likes Received:
    8
    Personally, I prefer books that concentrate on the journey of one or two KEY character - the Main Characters.

    How many incidental characters there are in the book doesnt bother me, or how vital or otherwise their role is as long as their part in the story is relevant to seom extent.

    I'd have to say my personal preference is for very few characters, but depth around them rather than a cast of dozens but superificial or worse a cast of dozens all in depth - then it just seems like an over indulgence. But thats only my opinion...
     
  7. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    I must admit, ensemble-cast TV shows can totally confuse me - especially if the actors look very similar. And I think that's one key to having several MCs. Not only do you have to be able to keep track of them and make sure they actually perform a needed function in the story, but you have to make sure the characters are individual enough so the reader can tell them apart and remember who did what and when and why. It's a juggling act, but not impossible.
     
  8. Birmingham
    Offline

    Birmingham Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2011
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    1
    Maybe you should read ensamble stories. For example, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (and its sequel). Or Without Warning by John Birmingham (and its sequels). In all of them, you jump from person to person, from POV to POV, each person has a different mentality, belief system, temparment. It's fascinating. Jurassic Park is what made me truly appreciate the art of ensamble. Of course, that led me to fear I have the same problem you fear :)
     
  9. Birmingham
    Offline

    Birmingham Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2011
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    1
    To continue Shadowwalker's theme: In Jurassic Park, if you read the characters of Malcolm and Arnold, you see each person truly believes a different fate about Jurassic Park. Malcolm believes it'll be destroyed, and Arnold believes it'll be fine. Each man is very convincing when you get into their thoughts and worlds of analogy. So that's a big help in keeping the two men separate from one another. Also, if one of them has some physical characteristic that distinguishes him/her from others.

    Finally, a tip I got from someone who studied film: Make one of them start every sentence with a certain word. that way, that character has a distinct way of speaking.
     
  10. AmyHolt
    Offline

    AmyHolt Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2011
    Messages:
    475
    Likes Received:
    17
    Location:
    Warsaw, IN
    I have combined a couple character into one person. Because the characters I combined weren't that different it was super easy, find and replace the name with another. I try to make my character more orginal now.
     
  11. Erato
    Offline

    Erato Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2012
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    A place called home
    Canned answer!!! "It depends on how well you write it."

    All the characters should be (a) memorable, (b) distinguishable, (c) believable, and (d) important.
     
  12. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    1 more than you need to tell that story...
     
  13. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,535
    You can have as many characters as you like, as long as the characters serve a purpose. Preferably a different purpose each. And since you say the remaining 7 definitely serve a purpose, I don't see what your problem is :)

    I had to delete a character even though I only had 5 characters, 2 of which were MCs. But since 2 of the side characters seemed to serve the same function as my MCs, I realised that it wasn't needed. So the question isn't the number of characters that you have, but what function does each character have, and are they too similar to warrant having 2 characters rather than 1?
     
  14. naturemage
    Offline

    naturemage Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2011
    Messages:
    519
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    West Lawn, PA
    LOL. My simple advice, take a look at a few of the RPGs. Sure, there are different people writing each part, but we all make it work. My suggestion, check Orb out first. I don't even know how many of us are playing that any more. You can have as many characters as are necessary for relationships, plot lines, skill needs, etc. as long as no one is left out. If you find yourself forgetting about someone, they're probably not needed.
     
  15. Ultermarto
    Offline

    Ultermarto Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2012
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    United Kingdom
    Well then I suppose it's clear that I don't have to loose any of my primary characters (there is, by the way, just one main. The other six are very significant, and serve as perspectives in certain chapters, and of course there are several sub-characters), I just need to flesh them out more. Thankyou all.
     
  16. Ultermarto
    Offline

    Ultermarto Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2012
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    United Kingdom
    Yes almost every novel I read jumps perspectives. I enjoy working the characters' internal doctrines into the syntax.
     
  17. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,728
    Likes Received:
    4,826
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    I try to hold it down to a manageable number. Ever seen the movie Apollo 13? It's based on a true event that I'm very familiar with, because I'm a space-program fan. In real life, there were many more people involved in recovering the crippled spacecraft and saving the astronauts than are depicted in the film. Most noticeably, the character of Ken Mattingly (played by Gary Sinise) is shown doing things that in real life were not done just by Mattingly, but by astronaut Charlie Duke, as well as other astronauts serving as Capcom. In addition, the movie depicts only one team of flight controllers, led by Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), when, in reality, there were three or four teams working in shifts. The filmmakers realized that they had to reduce the number of characters, so that consolidated several real people into one character in many cases.

    In writing fiction, you often have to do this kind of thing, too, so as not to overpopulate your story with minor characters.
     
  18. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    What Maia said. Yes, what SHE said :).

    Also, no more characters than you can present to the reader without them getting blurred together in the reader's imagination. And that is highly dependent on your skill as a writer.
     
  19. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    In the work I'm doing now I'm using a technique called "splitting." It follows the idea that you show the reader elements of the plot, not just tell him. However, even on diverse issues, it's fragments of the same character.

    In my story, there is a group of associates who work a similar 'job' including one female. They may have minor views and styles of speech, but it could be argued that all of these characters are facets of the hero--interacting and talking to himself.

    I feel drawn to this style since I was once part of a group of like minded people, all with a certain "twist." It provided humor, compassion, and side plots in real life, and I use that now.

    To my way of thinking, with proper development, humor, and a moment to define each character, additional characters actually drive the plot smoother and faster than just pruning the cast.
     
  20. Fullmetal Xeno
    Offline

    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,364
    Likes Received:
    141
    Location:
    Kingdom of Austniad
    This gets asked quite alot. Really, to be honest, too many is never too many. For example, if you need 40 characters to help move and tell the story you need 40 characters for the story. War and Peace has hundreds and hundreds of characters, but the Author showed no doubt. Just think of how he did it and how YOU can do it. If you really feel like there are too many characters, you'll know.
     
  21. Tashanel
    Offline

    Tashanel Member

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2012
    Messages:
    63
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Surabaya, Indonesia
    Somehow I remember Digimon Adventure 1 LOL :D
    too many for me...

    I'm afraid you recognize the other character as your main character but the real thing is just other support character not the real main character; Except you are really going like digimon adventure :D

    So I will tell there's 8 Archetypes dramatica (the characters) :

    Protagonist
    Antagonist

    -Guardian
    -Contagonist
    -Reason
    -Emotion
    -Skeptic
    -Sidekick

    Here's the quick view (you can find more by type: Archetypes Dramatica)

    The protagonist is the prime mover of the whole story and that has a purpose in the story.
    Mental: Determines the main purpose of the story and characters influencing others to achieve goals they will
    Physical: Leading figures of the other in achieving goals

    Antagonist is a character that directly conflict with the protagonist. He tried to prevent the protagonist get the goal.
    Mental: Encourage other characters to stop trying to achieve goals
    Physical: Using the action, he sought to prevent other notables to meet the objectives protagonist, or make the goal unachievable.

    Guardian> < Contagoist

    Guardian or Guardians are a teacher, counselor or helper who has a strong awareness or knowledge about the whole story.
    Mental: Influence of awareness or knowledge of the characters in the story about the incident.
    Physical: Provide direct assistance to the leaders to achieve a goal.

    Contagonist is a figure who sought to influence the main character to deviate from its purpose.
    Mental: Provides temptation or seduction so that the protagonist getting lost on the road that should not be
    Physical: Using real action, directly inhibit protagonist from reaching its destination.


    Intellect> <Emotion

    Common characters are characters that provide a logical point of view throughout the story.
    Mental: Motivated by the logic
    Physical: Describe the control or power

    Character is a character that expresses the emotion of feeling anxious.
    Mental: It symbolizes the feeling of the whole story
    Physical: Actions that can not be controlled


    Sidekick> <Skeptics

    Sidekick is a character who is a staunch supporter protagonist. Mental: It symbolizes the belief in the whole story.
    Physical: Provide support to the protagonist through action to achieve goals

    Skeptics is the opposite of the sidekick.
    Mental: It symbolizes distrust in the whole story.
    Physical: Through action, he would oppose efforts protagonist in the story.

    If these eight character in one story (You can find on Star wars in no pain), I say YES! the whole eight are important in the plot! BUT the point is, the other seven (than Protagonist) are the support character to achieve a goal of the story.


    But all of that just a simple formula and old ones. I assume the main character is the protagonist (yes, you can make antagonist be a main character) just because i'm using this simple formula and the close one and easiest one is protagonist become the main character.
    _____________________________________________________

    Well, do you really consider to turn other character into other function (than main character) I'm pretty sure you have a character that evolve beyond story. That will be your really main character. And the other type will construct this main character.
     
  22. Ultermarto
    Offline

    Ultermarto Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2012
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    United Kingdom
    I understand the importance of archetypes in drama, but it was never my intention to submit to the plain-out archetypical approach completely. I'm definitely not resurrecting the romanticist illusion of sentiment versus reason. I make it clear, through the 'Sage' archetype character, that there is only reason. But you make an interesting proposition, and remind me that I can use character conflicts or more than just realism.
     
  23. Tashanel
    Offline

    Tashanel Member

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2012
    Messages:
    63
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Surabaya, Indonesia
    Yep. well I use that archetype on my work, with some complicated way. And so, I can see clearly who's story it is. That's what work for me from archetype dramatica. (Make me notice the propotion) ;)
     
  24. ShortBus
    Offline

    ShortBus Member

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2011
    Messages:
    79
    Likes Received:
    0
    The problem I have with characters (especially made up creatures) is that the writer assumes you remember what the character looks like. You may be thinking "man that shortbus guy's an idiot, dude can't even remember what he's reading" and your right, I am kind of an idiot. If you have 8 characters introduced in the first two chapters and, as the story goes on, you neglect to write about some of the details as the story progresses. The reader won't remember what the character looked like or they had the wrong image in their mind this whole time.

    If you have a bunch of different characters make sure you are descriptive throughout the entire story. You will, most likely, know exactly what your writing about but that doesn't mean the reader does.
     
  25. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    On the other hand, one good description can really stick with a reader. Larry Niven described one of his alien races, the Pierson's Puppeteer, as "kind of a three-legged centaur with two Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent puppets for heads." It's the kind of description that sticks with you.

    I've seen great descriptions for individual people too, that you don't forget until you're trying to think of an example for a forum post.

    Okay, read Washington Irving's description of Ichabod Crane. It will indelibly stamp his likeness in your imagination.
     

Share This Page