1. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Introducing a plethra of characters at once.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by colorthemap, Dec 8, 2011.

    So in my latest piece, words I have written too much, I have to, no other way with plot, introduce about 10 characters at once. Is there way I can do this whilst still giving each one their own sort of emotional connection to the reader?
     
  2. Metus
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    Metus Senior Member

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    If I were reading a book and ten characters were introduced in close proximity, I'd get confused. I think you really have to ask yourself if the characters you want to include will help the story or clutter it. I'm assuming as well that you have story-relevant characters to be introduced before and after these ten.

    It's your book, and you can do whatever you want, but my honest opinion is this. With that many characters in one area of one book, one of two things must have happened. Either, A, you've been planning the characters for literally years, or B, each character is a small fragment of the complexity a character should be. If I were in your situation, I would either re-write the plot to introduce the characters over a long time period, or I would merge compatible or similar characters, cut out some characters, and give the remaining ones more depth and purpose.

    If you can't cut characters, they're all well-developed, and the plot absolutely requires them all to be introduced at once, I think you're going to have to accept initial confusion on the reader's part, though you can reconcile that in time assuming that the book is quite long, and the characters are well-written.
     
  3. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    You want to fit a large amount of characters into a small amount of narrative space and still establish an emotional connection with each one? That's paradoxical. It's going to be hard to see these characters as unique individuals if they're introduced as a crowd. On the other hand, if they're introduced individually (i.e. a few paragraphs devoted to meeting Char 1, followed by a few introducing Char 2, and a few more introducing Char 3...) it's going to get confusing. By the time we get to Character #10, we'll have forgotten about Character #1. It's problematic.

    I think you should reconsider. You should ask yourself which of the ten are the most important and let the others settle into the background. Also, you may want to ask yourself what you mean by "ten characters at once." You may be able to spread them out a little more than you initially thought. In this context, does "at once" mean all within the span of a few minutes or within the span of a few hours?

    For example, here's how you might introduce ten new characters in a dinner party scene: Meeting them all the moment your MC steps into the room would probably be a bad idea. Instead, maybe he meets two upon entering, another two when he's seated at his table, another two when he goes to the minibar to grab a drink, another two are working in the kitchen, another is waiting tables... you get the point. Spread them out and put each char into a setting/situation that matches his or her personality. Maybe Char #1 is at the bar because he likes free drinks. Maybe Chars #2 is all over the dance floor because she's had a few too many drinks. Meanwhile, Char #3 is watching her from his lonely seat in the corner because he secretly has a crush on her, but is too shy to go out there. Have your MC move from character to character, meeting or observing them in their "natural habitats," and absorbing their personal stories in the process.

    Unfortunately, (or fortunately?) I think this removes the "at once" element. It drags the char introductions out into a long chain of individual encounters, and I'm not sure if that's what you want. But, if done properly, I think it may provide the emotional connection you're looking for.
     
  4. Ixloriana
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    Ixloriana Member

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    How important are the characters and how well is the reader supposed to know them? How many characters have you introduced already? By "all at once," how many words, pages, or scenes do you mean?

    Importantly, what is the point of view? If it's the point of view of a certain character, show only what that character notices and gradually move on to other things. For example, if a person is stuck in a waiting room with ten people, different people will notice different things. A horny guy will notice the blonde bombshell who sends him a deathglare when she sees him checking out her legs. Someone who's trying to concentrate will notice the teenage boy who is on his phone, tapping out a text message. A conservative woman will notice two girls with tattoos and facial piercings holding hands and sharing an Icee.


    If I had to introduce a crowd, I would probably show the whole group as a group and then gradually introduce the characters as they became important. For example, let's say the group is running from an army of alien robots that are destroying a town.

    First we might be seeing the destruction through the eyes of the PoV character, and then maybe he notices some other people all running in the same direction. A girl with glasses stumbles ahead of him, and a balding man shoves her out of his way as he runs. A skinny man runs out of an alleyway off to the side and almost runs in the wrong direction before correcting himself. A young blonde woman runs by, carrying a crying boy that doesn't look like he's related to her. An angry-looking youth picks up a discarded baseball bat and starts to rush the aliens before being grabbed and dragged away by a muscled man covered in tattoos. The group runs to where a pair of cops stand, shooting at the robots. One of them is attacked and killed, and his partner drops his gun and runs away in terror.

    Just from this, we already have (hopefully) distinct impressions of eight characters that we've met only in passing (and we will probably know them by that first impression -- "the coward cop," "the girl with the kid," etc. -- for a long time afterward.) As we follow the group, we'll eventually learn each character's details and grow to know and love (or hate!) them. If the characters make a strong first impression, we'll want to get to know them. No need to shove a full bio (or even a name, heh) down the reader's throat within the first few paragraphs.
     
  5. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    When I meet a large group of people at once I don't always get to know all their names in the first meeting. Or I learn their names but still don't know anything about some people by the time I leave. Then next time I might interact with the people I didn't get to know a little more. So if these ten characters you're introducing at once frequently meet as a group then you can always stagger the way they get to know them - it's safe to guess that they'll warm up to some people more quickly than ohers (depending on interests, who is the most sociable and/or who is the most irritating) and then perhaps become closer with the other characters in future scenes and/or outside of the group environment. That way you only need to properly introduce characters at the rate your character gets to know them.
     
  6. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I have a scene where a group of leaders meet to discuss some tactical issues. Only two of the 17 people in the meeting have played any role in the story up to that point but the scene is a good, relevant scene. However because I'm introducing 15 new characters at the same time I only put tiny bits of desciption with the dialog tags and I don't actually introduce all the characters.

    I'm not sure if examples would be helpful since I'm not posting the whole scene but I'll give a couple examples in hopes that they will be helpful.
    "Are you sure he can't see us?" a tall man with a strong jaw line and edgy 5 o'clock shadow said in a whisper.
    "You don't have to whisper Mr. Bristol," Zach assured him and the fourteen other...

    Justin Ramsey, visiting from Austin Texas, was one of the younger men in the group looking only a few years older than Zach. Justin was seated right next to the window so he could monitor the screen he'd projected there. "His aura moves and flexes is such an unusual way. It make me think..."

    "What's Jarvis doing here?" Mr. Pressler said pointing at the young man with jet black hair and blue eyes who'd enter with Gramps. Jarvis was dressed simply, in a crisp white t-shirt and jeans but he wore it like Calvin Klein.
    "You said no Underlings. If it was optional I would have brought Micah." Mr. Pressler wore an Armoni suit along with Italian leather shoes and a gold watch. You'd never know he'd driven several hours in the humid Texas heat, there wasn't a wrinkle on his clothes.

    I'm sure you could pick apart the examples and find problems with them but the idea is that I introduced a large cast of charaters in one scene but I only picked out tiny bits of desciption or information about each one and let the characters actions and words do the rest of the describing.
     
  7. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    I want to have many characters so I have the ability to establish them more later. What I could always do is write them in now and write them out if they do not quite "work". But I want them to have at least a strand of importance, I don't just want them neglected to one or two sentences and never mentioned again, I can use that space to describe some other character better.

    Sorry this is short but my old one was deleted and its a pain to rewrite.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    i read a book by Agatha Christie that basically introduced like 10 characters or close to it in the very first pages, and in fact it was a little confusing, and some of them i still didn't manage to separate from the others before they disappeared again. So I think one has to be very careful to introduce so many all at once. Maybe you could think about if they are all necessary to the plot or if some of them could be refered to as a group while perhaps 2 or 3 of them actually play a part in the novel.
     
  9. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Yes I did also think about that, make one blob of people "un-liked" or something and than not really mentioned.
     
  10. chaoserver
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    chaoserver Member

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    Heres some advice, if you haven't, read game of thrones first few chapters. There is a feast where several characters, antagonist and otherwise, are introduced. Is it quite ten? Not really but you could use a similar formula and then deepen them in the next chapters.
     
  11. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    Actually i have something planned in my fantasy novel where 4 or 5 characters are introduced at once. It works with the plot, so i can't change much. I know or 5 isn't a proximity like 9 or 10 but it's still quite a bargain to behold. I want my characters to be realistic and one of the main priorities of the story-line. But with my characters will be the main part of the story so it's good to get to know them in an array standpoint. I want the reader to get a epic feel to see the Team of heroes in action for the first time, giving them a brilliant introduction to them and make them look sophisticated for a a charcter, but still vary by their extravagant personalities. I want my characters to engross all together, so my task is almost like yours.

    I'm not too sure how to exactly set up the core pinpoints to a fabulous introduction, but i do know it's a crazy, masterful task to completely capture. You might need to narrow it out alittle more, depending on the plot.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it doesn't sound doable to me... write it the way you want it and let us take a look, to see if you can make it work... or to offer suggestions if it doesn't...
     
  13. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    I have decided that the characters need to be introduced but I can do it spread out more, maybe add in a little side plot to keep the introductions reasonable.
     

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