1. AmeliahFrankie
    Offline

    AmeliahFrankie Member

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2008
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Southeast England

    How many characters is too many characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by AmeliahFrankie, Nov 11, 2008.

    In my story I have a lot of existing characters, as well as a lot of ideas for possible characters. I was just wondering if anyone had a rough idea of how many characters a reader can keep up with.
    The MC's are:
    -Will, the story is all told from his pov.
    -Mercy, she's Wills soulmate, a faerie (I use this term very loosely) and the whole story focuses around what happened to them when they met.
    -Rage, the 'evil' faerie
    -Dante, one of Rage's henchmen

    And smaller characters (who are still important and play a role)
    -Juliette, Mercy's mother and one of the leaders
    -Thearith, Mercy's father and the leader ('king' I guess) of the faeries
    -Rider, Mercy's brother (faerie)
    -Ophelia, Mercy's best friend (faerie)
    -Shye, Ophelia's soulmate (faerie)
    -Anya, a 'good' faerie, but is against Will
    -Sorrow, one of the 'sinners' (Rage's Henchmen) (faerie)
    -Roiben, a sinner (faerie)
    -Irena, a sinner (faerie)


    And there are several background characters, who only have a small role, there are about 5 of these

    So that makes about 18 characters overall, do you think that's too many in a single story?

    Any help greatly appreciated :)
    Thanks
     
  2. whitefairy
    Offline

    whitefairy New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2008
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    0
    Is it a short story? (like twelve pages) If so then that may be just a bit to much. But, if it is a full length book, then no, that is not too much at all. Have fun! There can never really be to many characters, but if you have like 50, then it could get to be a bit confusing. But, your amount seems just about right!
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Welll

    Too many characters isn't an exact number, but I think anyone would agree that 150 characters would be too many to follow under just about any conditions.

    What determines whether you have too many characters? Can the reader keep them straight without straining or taking notes. So it largely depends on how distinctive and interesting you can make the characters.

    You could have only two characters, but if your reader can't keep track of which one is which, it could be too many.
     
  4. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    I think it depends on what kind of story you are writing. Is it a novel? A short story? A serial?(Serials usually have room for more characters) For a novel or serial, no, I don't think you have too many. For a short story, it's possibly too high. But I can't judge for sure without seeing the work as it all depends on how each character is written.
     
  5. Nilfiry
    Offline

    Nilfiry Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Messages:
    670
    Likes Received:
    81
    Location:
    Eternal Stream
    Hey, 18! That's also the amount of characters I planned for one of my stories.

    Anyway, you can have as many characters as you can keep up with without any confusions. Of course, the more characters you have the more difficult it is to give each character unique characteristics to make things interesting.
     
  6. TheFedoraPirate
    Offline

    TheFedoraPirate Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2007
    Messages:
    205
    Likes Received:
    1
    18 is the number of characters planned for my comic ... must be a popular number. And it's probably my limit, even now I'm having trouble fully developing them all and have had to regulate some to more secondary roles. The reader could probably handle has many easily I think it's more a question of what the writer can deal with.
     
  7. chad.sims2
    Offline

    chad.sims2 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2008
    Messages:
    2,051
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    KS
    I agree with everyone else on the probably not to many point. Though I wouldn't remember them all, I'd know them. (Let me explain.) I wouldn't be able to remember their names but if their personalities and discription sticks out I'll know who and what they are to the story even if I can't name off all the chars names.
     
  8. Triggerhippie
    Offline

    Triggerhippie Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Messages:
    152
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Maryland
    I think 18 is reaching, but I'd say you could safely go to 20-ish characters without turning readers away with confusion.

    In my novel I have two MC and a few supporting characters, the rest are just small time characters. I think that the less characters you have, the easier it is to get the reader attached.

    So, say you kill a character. You'd want the reader to feel sad, but if they didn't know the character or even hate the character if it was an evil character then their death would be pointless from a writers standpoint.

    If you can make 18 work without getting confuddled and make the reader get attached to the MC's then you should be fine. Just remember not to favor any one MC over another, otherwise you'd end up with one MC and close supporting characters instead of 5 MC's.
     
  9. Speedy
    Offline

    Speedy Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2008
    Messages:
    4,866
    Likes Received:
    81
    Location:
    Australia
  10. lipton_lover
    Offline

    lipton_lover Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2008
    Messages:
    228
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Michigan
    A way you can handle more if you have too many but want to use them all, is just to use them at different times. 'Kill off'/get rid of characters and introduce new ones later. This way the reader doesn't have to keep track of them all.
    I think your number is fine, but it doesn't just depend on the reader. It depends on the writer as well. I've read books with just a handful of characters that were so darn confusing I couldn't tell who was who and who was doing what and what was happening to who. (That was fun to write!) So you have to be more careful about that the more characters you have.
     
  11. tehuti88
    Offline

    tehuti88 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2008
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Michigan
    I can keep up with eighteen characters. Easily. My own serial (which is admittedly VERY long) has probably over a hundred itself.

    The key lies in how important the characters are, how much time is spent developing them, how unique/individual the writer makes each character (i. e., how memorable), when/how frequently they show up (all at once is not a good idea), and how long the story itself is. Eighteen characters in a short story would probably be overwhelming. The longer the story, the more characters you can successfully use, but there are so many factors to take into account that it varies widely depending on the story itself. It's all in how well you write it.

    All you can do is write it, then let somebody look at it and see how confusing it is. And even then, you'll get differing opinions. Some people really can't keep up with more than a few characters, no matter how well written.

    --Tehuti, who would NOT necessarily agree that 150 characters are too many to follow "under just about any conditions"
     
  12. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    I'd think that 150 characters AT ONCE would be too much. But if it's a serial and the 150 characters' appearances are stretched out over the course of the series, with characters coming and going, I think that is very doable. I have a serial and the character count including very minor characters that have appeared at some point during the story has gotten quite high by now. But most very minors were only around very briefly, and even some secondary and major characters also don't appear anymore.

    Contrast this with the novel I'm working on, which has about 4-5 major characters and a few minor characters.

    So I think how many characters is too much is as tehuti says, determined by how often each appears over the course of the story. I believe that there should be a limit as to how many characters appear at one particular point in the story, but depending on the length of the story, I think over it's course, there can be room for a very large number of characters.

    To the OP, from what you've described, most of these 18 characters are secondary, with only 4 being really MAIN characters. I do not think that is high at all and therefore I don't think having too many characters is going to be something you should worry about.
     
  13. Ore-Sama
    Offline

    Ore-Sama Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2008
    Messages:
    194
    Likes Received:
    2
    Here's questions to ask in terms of having too many characters:

    1.Are they all relevant? How would my story be affected if I removed this character? This dosen't necessarely mean overall. If a character's relevance to the story ends, you should probably end that character. If you honestly can't think of any reason they need to be there, you should get rid of them.

    2.Do you have a cast of say, 30 characters and you're not interested in about 25 of them? Go through and see how many of those 25 characters you can spicen up somehow to make them more interesting for you to write, given they are needed. If, like I sad earlier, they have no relevance, you should probably give them the axe.

    3.Going back to Relevance, is your character's relevance actually relevant? In other words, is it in some way, shape or form contributing to the storyline or is it just taking up space? Are you having to create a new plot element in order to give your character a reason to be there, despite that Plot Element being contradictory to the story, out of place or just pointless? If so, the character should probably go.

    In the end having too many characters comes down to having more characters then you need or can devote the necessary amount of time to(i.e your main character having 45 pages of screen time in a 300+ page story for no reason then lack of attention from the writer)
     
  14. lordofhats
    Offline

    lordofhats Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    2,023
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    The Hat Cave
    I tend to find that once you break the five major character point it gets really, really, important to make them all distinct. Its around that number that some people might start straining to keep it all straight so you have to work at it to keep everything together and make sure everyone is distinct. Minor characters are well, minor, and keeping them straight isn't quit as essential because they tend not to to be overly important or involved for a lengthy period of time (hence the word minor). Still, when someone brings up the name Joe Ricks, the reader should be able to remember that guy from ten chapters ago who got shot jumping for cover when a helicopter flew by.
     
  15. Ore-Sama
    Offline

    Ore-Sama Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2008
    Messages:
    194
    Likes Received:
    2
    That's a good piece of advice too. Even if it's just one major trait, keeping characters distinct should certainly be something to keep in mind.
     
  16. Triggerhippie
    Offline

    Triggerhippie Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Messages:
    152
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Maryland

    Very good advice.

    If you don't follow any other advice, follow his :)
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Even if you have only five characters, you're in trouble if they aren't distinct from one another.
     
  18. Triggerhippie
    Offline

    Triggerhippie Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Messages:
    152
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Maryland
    Indeed. Your characters need to be memorable and distinct. If you already have a bumbling, sweet character you don't need another, it would just get confusing.
     
  19. lordofhats
    Offline

    lordofhats Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2007
    Messages:
    2,023
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    The Hat Cave
    That's true. I should rather say: "It's around five major characters that it becomes difficult for some too keep track of the names and backstories, so good character management is essential or you're absolutely going to lose readers into a black abysses of baffling confusion."

    Of course, character management is always important, but I think there's a point where you can slip by with only so much, and when you really have to put down the kazoo and bust a hip :p.
     
  20. AmeliahFrankie
    Offline

    AmeliahFrankie Member

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2008
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Southeast England
    Thank you everyone for replying, the advice here is really helpful so yay! :)
    I'm going to be sure to keep it in mind when I'm writing
    Thanks again :)
     
  21. Ameasha
    Offline

    Ameasha Member

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2008
    Messages:
    26
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Southwestern Ontario, Canada
    How many characters are too many characters?

    :)In my novel there is one main character and 39 sub characters. Each one is distinct, unique and necessary.
    Ameahsa ;)
     

Share This Page