Oh gosh, my first real thread here. I hope I am posting in the right place, and please forgive me if this debate has already been done before, but here goes anyway: How many main characters kill a story? That is, at what point does it become too confusing for the reader to follow all the characters around? While this is a general question, to give you some background, I am currently working on a story that involves four people travelling back in time and then interacting with people who were historically significant. It seems to me that four characters is not too much to work with, I have found that number to work well before. But in the story they obviously recruit helpers and acquire friends and partners, and this is where it begins to get difficult for me. I once read James Clavell's Whirlwind, which has (according to Wikipedia) 34 main characters and 50 minor characters. I was able to cope with them, but only just, and finished the book with my own brain quite in similar condition to a whirlwind itself. I wouldn't like to repeat that mistake. I am not too concerned with the historical characters. Most readers will know who they are and they will not add to the confusion too much, but with the nearly endless number of contacts and acquaintances made by the core characters. So, a related question is: what about characters you only need for one chapter, or even just part of a chapter. Should you name them, if the narrator is aware of their name or at least should be? Or just call them "the man in the black hat"?