1. Pea
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    Pea super pea!

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    How many main characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Pea, Apr 23, 2011.

    I'm planning out a novel and was wondering what people think about the number of main characters in a book. These would be ones that are 'in the thick of things' for some or most of the book, ones that are very fleshed out compared to 'minor' characters. Should you describe every one-scene character's hopes and dreams? Stick to a handful of defined people or use a large pool of characters?

    I'm leaning towards a small knot of main characters with a larger group that still play a prominent role in the story, then an even larger group of 'periphery' characters. Is this about right?

    Thanks
     
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  2. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    It really depends on the story. For instance, for some historical or fantasy epics that take up hundreds and hundreds - if not thousands - of pages, then having a lot of main characters would be understandable due to the large scope. Or, if the theme of the story concerns the close relationships between a small group of friends, then perhaps a small cast of main characters will work better.

    It really just depends on your story, unfortunately, as vague an answer as that may sound. Having a large cast of major characters might work better for some stories rather than others. You'll just have to figure out what works best for your story.
     
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  3. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    If you mean having more than one protagonist and antagonist, then it is possible, and I am sure that a there are a few stories with this method. This is called parallel storyline, since each protagonist have their own storyline, and those multiple protagonist and antagonist with their own storyline must be linked with the central theme of to the story. Some movies, like Pulp Fiction, use this method. I think Spider-Man would have shown a great example of storyline parallelism if the Sandman and Spider-Man had their own storylines, where Peter Parker as a protagonist tries to figure out who killed his uncle, while the Sandman tries to find his daughter.

    I do not know too many books with more than one main character (protagonists/antagonists), but if you mean just main characters in general, I have four main characters: A protagonist (the main character), a deuterogamist, (the second important character) an antagonist, (the villian) and a tritagonist (the third important character). The other two characters are side characters (six characters total). As for what I talked about above, I have only one protagonist and one antagonist.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's a trade off that depends partly on the author's skill. Each character must be distinct for the reader, and even veteran writers don't always succeed. Although they developed somewhat more distinct identities later, the characters of Merry and Pippin throughout most of the Lord of the Rings are practically twins.

    More characters can enrich the story, or they can merely add noise. Also, the story nay dictate the number of characters that work. In Stephen Spielberg's movie Duel, there is really only one character - the lone driver being terrorized by a sadistic, never seen truck driver.
     
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  5. Show
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    I'd say your story will tell you. Some stories can't just have one character. Others require a number that's low. I caution against writing too many but I don't see why you should feel limited to a small number. Write what you feel your story is asking for.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^^^

    Exactly I have written novel length stories with ninety plus characters of varying importance. the one following it only had two characters plus some side people in the entire thing.
     
  7. lilix morgan
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    lilix morgan Contributing Member

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    I agree with Cogito. A bunch of characters can either bring new light to a story or deter from it completely. The Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz used anywhere from two to six people from her core base to move the story along, and I found it increasingly difficult to read the whole book. Her characters all sounded identical, no personal voice whatsoever.
     
  8. DeNile
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    DeNile Senior Member

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    I say take as many as your story needs, just be wary of how different they all need to be. My work, Trepidation, has... 6ish main characters with the possibility of a 7th. I have that many because I need all the viewpoints from across the scope of this world. Could I do with with one or two? Yes. Would it have as much of an impact? No, I don't think so.
     
  9. catydid
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    catydid New Member

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    I personally have five in the story I'm working on right now. I think you can have as many as works within the story and as many as you can handle (don't want to lose track).
     
  10. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you can have as many main characters as you want, if you only remember two things. Make them all different and don't throw them all at the reader at once. I once read a story about a dog dumped in the woods and tried to find his way home. On the way he met new people in every chapter, that all had an equal importance in the story. I think combined there were about 20-30 kind-of-main-characters in the book, but it worked because even though a bunch of them came together at the end, they had all been properly introduced.
     
  11. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    I've seen some authors overdo this before. I've even tried it myself, but I'm not all that comfortable with it yet. I'd suggest reading a book or two from Harry Turtledove's Great War series. He handles several main characters masterfully.
     
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  12. Show
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    I typically go through a lot of characters in the course of a novel. One of my novels had well over 10. Not all were MAIN but a good deal with mainish. Some will be more "main" than others. But I just say don't worry about numbers and just tell a story.
     
  13. author97
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    author97 Member

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    That sounds about right to me-of course it all depends on what you're writing. Having too many main characters becomes confusing and too few minor characters becomes unrealistic-unless it takes place on a deserted island.
     
  14. Eurlo
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    Eurlo Banned

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    Re:

    My problem right now...I have like close to 8 main characters and countless minors:( alot have been introduced all close to each other and I am so confused! not about the characters but where the story is going:(
     
  15. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^
    Do some brainstorming, or go back to where you initially thought your story was going. What is it that you're trying to tell?
     

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