1. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Introducing multiple characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Protar, Jan 31, 2012.

    In my current WIP, I'm writing a chapter which introduces a whole load of characters. A few of them are main characters, but many are side characters who I'm not planning to give overly large roles. A couple die within the next few chapters. I feel it might come across as clunky, but I don't really see how to avoid it, as the story dictates that these two groups of people (a religious order and a royal council.) meet at this point. So how do you guys deal with chapters that introduce a lot of characters?
     
  2. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    How many characters are we talking about? If it's like 5 at once, I think you can manage that by just mentioning them when they are needed for the scene. If it's something like 12+ characters... I'd seriously consider trying to somehow introduce them earlier so we aren't clumped with a bunch of new characters at once. Maybe some of the less important ones you can just gloss over by not even naming them, referring to them by title/role (ie. "The Leader") or referring to them by a specific characteristic (ie. "the man with the red shirt").
     
  3. Blueflare
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    Blueflare Member

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    Are they all important in some way? If not then don't spend much time on them, otherwise it will be character overload.
    For the important characters, spend some time on them, make sure the reader remembers who they are for later.
    Also try and avoid introducing them all in quick succession - the reader should be able to get to know characters, rather than memorize them. Perhaps have a scene where a few of them meet before this meeting and have a bit of a scene with them, then they head into the meeting and you can add the rest.
     
  4. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    Make them relate to each other in some way. It's easy for us to remember people or things in reference to other people or things.

    I'm reading Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris and in the first couple of chapters, she introduces a new character, like, every other paragraph. And they have nothing to do with each other. I hate it! Just try to not do it like that.
     
  5. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    In most of the books I've read, there were probably about 10-15 characters (including the ancillary characters that only appear for just parts of the book). There might actually be far more people than that, but in the story they'll just get a passing mention. Even if they have a name and a line or two of dialogue... you don't really need to go deeper than that unless they play a significant part in the story. If you have two groups of people in a meeting, maybe you only refer to like 5 of them, the others are just people that are understood to be at the meeting, but we don't care enough about who they are to go into detail about them other than maybe a line or two.
     
  6. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Well it's plus a dozen characters, and it happens early in the story (the third chapter, not including the prologue.) so there really isn't any opportunity to introduce them earlier in the story without stretching out the beginning which would be difficult due to other events having to sync up with the character's arrivals. There are three main clumps of introduction.

    One is as this procession of the religion is making it's way into the city, with the leader of the faith (important), and the sub-leaders of the faith (three of them are immediately important.) are introduced. Aside from the main leader they're at the moment just name dropped and glossed over.

    Then we meet the royal family which has six members, two of which are immediately important. And then we're introduced to the royal council which has several members, though some are members of the already introduced royalty and aside from them there are two which are quite important. They'll be introduced more in depth through the interactions in the council meeting.

    So all in all it's about 8 important characters.
     
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Yeah, if you just name drop/gloss over 6-7 of the 12 people you introduce, that's not too bad. I just wouldn't literally have a chapter where you mention the first character, then a paragraph or two of detail on the character... then move onto the next character and give a paragraph or two on him... then wash/rinse/repeat for 12 more characters. That would end up being like 3-4 pages of nothing but introducing characters. Even if you mix in some action in between, I think that would still be a little much.
     
  8. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    No it's not like that at all. There is, for instance at most, half a page I reckon on the procession through the city, and that really focuses more on the grandeur of it, rather than the names. So I guess it's not as bad as I thought. There is still the council meeting, which I think will be quite hard because there's like half a dozen opinionated characters all interacting.
     
  9. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    It sounds to me like you are handling it fine. I'm not a character expert or anything, but I've read stories before where the author will try to intentionally go "ok, here's all the people in the room" and then spend the next few pages mentioning everyone and as it turns out only 2-3 of them I actually care about. When I see that start to happen in a story I automatically skip over the description and skim to the point where the actual story picks up.
     
  10. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    All in one chapter? I think that's verging on too many - and they're only the immediately important ones, so the actual total is a lot more. The most I've introduced in one scene is 4, as I think that's about the limit if you're expecting the reader to distinguish them from each other and remember them as more than just a name. Establishing personality is even more important when you're throwing multiple characters at the reader, so try to give them character and make it memorable. If you can associate them with one physical and one character trait right from the beginning it will help your readers remember them, i.e. redhead, arrogant. Big bushy beard, likes to tell inappropriate jokes. Establish it, then reinforce it at least once so that it will stick to the name.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Introducing is more than naming them. You can have several characters appear at once, but you should only introduce one or two at a time. Give the reader a meaty enough scene to get to know those characters. Anyone else should have a minor role in the scene. Their time will come.

    I've seen even veteran writers make the mistake of trying to introduce too many characters at once. Like any information provided to the reader, it must be carefully managed.
     
  12. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can you include more scenes earlier on? Think if there are some other important plot points to cover, or at least foreshadowing you could get in. It's tough in early scenes being told to drag things out when you want to make a good impression, but if the other option is dumping a dozen new characters on the reader in chapter three you're not going to have a reader by chapter four. Introduce as many of the major players as you possibly can before the meeting, even if it's a pre-meeting walk where 2 meet on their way in, another small scene where one finds another in the bar and drags him up there, etc... You can get in small personal things, establish some of the alliances and rivalries before you get in, meaning you have less to explain in the meeting scene, so you can get on with using it for more important plot things, and minor character introductions as they come up.

    Basically once you put the reader in that room they should already know all the most important characters by name, and have a sense of who they are and what they want.
     
  13. picklzzz
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    picklzzz Senior Member

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    Do you have to even mention them by name? I wrote a scene recently involving two major characters (for the scene only) and a group of twenty-five or so other men. I didn't describe them specifically, but just as in "the men in the outer circle did this" and "the men on the inner circle looked like this". I didn't need to name them. It was clear enough.

    I am / was reading a Stephen King book I finally put down after a few chapters because he threw so many characters and situations at me all at once, I couldn't keep it straight. Especially since I was reading a few pages at a time (busy lately), I really couldn't keep track. I've never seen that many characters and situations in one or two chapters ever, and I found it overwhelming and turned me off to the rest of the book completely.

    In the novel I'm thinking of, I'm in the organizing stage, and I'm thinking seriously about how I will introduce each character without overwhelming the reader. Some authors have sections with the person's name and then the next few chapters are soley about them. This is good, but if it's more than three or four, I'll forget what happened with the first.

    I am concerned with how to bring up each character enough so the reader won't forget them, but also to introduce them at a reasonable pace.

    I guess it depends on what you're trying to accomplish in your story. Try it and have a few read it and see if they're confused. When I have someone read my story, I have them summarize what they read and then ask them specific questions. If something wasn't clear, that will help me to know.
     
  14. Rapaz
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    Rapaz Member

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    Maybe presenting them from someone else's point of view makes it smoother too?

    You know, the whole show don't tell thing.

    I'm probably not the best to give advice about this, I myself have trouble with showing.
     
  15. MegTheLedge
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    MegTheLedge Member

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    I would introduce the important characters, and then for the less important ones, make their presence known, but don't get any sort of in depth with them.
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    there was another thread not long ago that asked the same question. you might find some valuable answers in there.
     
  17. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Well again most are just name dropped at the moment, so it's only the main characters that have more than a few lines. The story is taking place from 9 different POV's and as one of them is the prince of the aforementioned royal family I could perhaps add in an earlier chapter from his POV, introducing the council members and royal family. It'd have to be chapter two I think and it could have some interesting character interactions and political intrigue.
     

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