1. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    The Less characters, the Better

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Reggie, Nov 3, 2011.

    Oops. I posted another post from another website. I'm sorry.

    My question was, is too much charaacters too much for a story?
     
  2. LX_Theo
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    LX_Theo New Member

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    Too many stories (for each character) can dilute the overall one. Its not so much a problem with the amount of characters, but with how many are being developed/having their stories also told.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't add characters that aren't necessary. But don't delete characters that are! I think it's a mistake to try to pare down the dramatis personae to the bare minimum. Put in the characters that you need. When you've got it right, it'll feel right.
     
  4. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Thanks for ignroing the review I posted. I accidentaly posted from another website.

    And I will have to agree with Minstrel and Theo that adding unecessary characters will put too much storylines on the manuscript. Any other thoughts are welocme. By the way, I think personally that keeping characters at a minimum makes the story better. I don't think that we should just only be talking numbers of characters either.
     
  5. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    The quality of the story isn't dependent on characters at all. They're just an extra part of the medium, a conduit for the story to be channelled through. They're essentially our link in the realm of fiction, giving us the necessary emotional grip that makes the story powerful. But the story elements themselves don't depend on characters.

    So, the question of amount of characters really just comes down to how many you can personally handle. I know from experience that I can handle around three major characters. I'm okay with three or so.
     
  6. Enerzeal
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    Enerzeal Member

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    Often in movies, books, plays etc - you always know who the main character is. It is a given nearly 100% of the time that they will live to the end scenes where they "might" die, but usually live to see the bad guy die. When I read a book I like to have plenty of characters in there, with a nice even spread amongst them all. To know that there is a chance that the character you really enjoy might die or leave inside the next chapter adds something to a book for me.

    George RR Martin has a really great way of just killing of characters left and right. If he deems it necessary for the plot then they go; no matter how much you believe they are the "main character".

    I would say this. - Add as many characters as the book needs, flesh them out well. So long as they are well done, they can last but one chapter or half a chapter and still add something.
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll say that perhaps that bit of advice needs to be reworded. I'd say, "Use as many characters as the book needs ..."
    Add gives the wrong impression when I read it. Just sayin'.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    You answered the post yourself, by saying there are too much of them in the first place ;)
     
  9. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    The pedant in me wants to point out that the title should be "The fewer characters the better", and it should be too many characters, not too much (characters are discrete concepts, rather than continuous...).

    But I think it very much depends on the story. If the story needs lots of characters, then there is no problem. But putting more characters than necessary into a story will overload it, and probably kill it.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thanks for saving me the typing, banz!... i was just about to make note of the grammar lapses myself... hugs, m
     
  11. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    In my experience as a reader, too many characters is bad. I'm not going to say exactly what the number is, but a number exists. You could do it such that each chapter has different characters and leaves the old ones behind. Maybe it's someone that is traveling from city to city. But if at any point in the story you have like... 20+ distinct characters that are involved in the plot, it's probably too much for the reader to keep track of.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's interesting to watch movies that are based on real events to see how they handle characters. Often, the screenwriter and director will condense three or more real people into one movie character in order to keep the number of people the audience has to keep track of to a manageable level (and probably to keep the cast to a manageable minimum, too!). For example, in the movie Apollo 13, the character Ken Mattingly (played by Gary Sinise) does things that, in real life, were actually done by Mattingly and several other astronauts and technicians. While the movie exaggerates the importance of Mattingly in the drama, it brings a tighter focus to the story than the real events had, by reducing the number of characters.
     
  13. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Also... TV shows do the same thing. You notice a show like CSI:NY it's basically just the lead boss Mac Taylor (also played by Gary Sinise, lol), a few CSIs, 1 or 2 lab guys, 1 or 2 medical examiners and the one cop/detective on the show that does all of the cop stuff. In reality that's not going to happen. There are probably far more than just 3 or 4 CSIs that work in the crime lab there that Mac Taylor has to oversee/work with... there are definitely more than just 1-2 lab guys. And it's not going to work out such that you work with the same detective for every single case. That's not how things work. They do that for TV for money reasons I'm sure. Although if you had 15 CSI characters and 20 detectives, there is no way to make the readers care about each one of them individually.
     
  14. Sacrosanct
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    Sacrosanct New Member

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    To reiterate what a lot of folks have already said, a lot of it depends on the story. However, in my experience there can be too many characters, especially if the characters have unusual names that the reader isn't familiar with.

    Let me give an example. I'm currently reading the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series from Tad Williams. Within that series, there are dozens and dozens of important characters. I understand the need for this because the series is pretty epic and Mr. Williams does an excellent job in creating a believable world, but sometimes it gets hard to remember which character did what 500 pages ago and how they are related to another character when all of the names are unusual.
     
  15. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    As someone who focuses on characterization above all else, I have to disagree with this. There is no such thing as a story without at least one character. To imply that severely limiting, altering, or removing that element won't affect the story is something I simply can't wrap my head around. Yes, they're a conduit for emotions. When we personify objects -- and that's really all a character is; a personified person, place, or thing, engaged in an action-reaction cycle with the plot -- we develop a connection with our readers, who are, of course, people as well. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but I can't see a way to screw with that formula without the quality of the story being affected.




    As for how many characters is too many... I believe problems arise when a writer tries to squeeze in more characters than personalities. The end result is a novel clogged with cardboard cutouts, each the same as the last, and none of them are memorable. If the cast starts to seem like it's all the same guy/girl cloned ad nauseum, with a different name slapped on, something has gone awry. That's when it's time to begin scaling back. Make characters, not crowds! ;)
     
  16. picklzzz
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    picklzzz Senior Member

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    I would think if you're trying to put distractors in for a crime story or some sort of mystery, having more characters would be better. When there are only a handful in any story and it's a whodunit, it's easy to eliminate and guess the person who committed the crime. I sometimes put in more characters just to throw the reader off. I don't develop them all, though. I guess they're called "walk-ons"? I wrote a story recently where there were three distractor characters, but one played a vital role at the end. I mentioned the three once, but then the ending made sense. Is this okay?
     
  17. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I agree with all of this.
     
  18. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Well yeah... but even at that point you still are only going to have like less than 20 total characters that are relevant to the story at any point in time. You have the 5-6 core characters to the stories that are in most of the chapters. Maybe another 5 support characters (like a Mayor or boss that appear in only a few scenes), then 6-7 people involved with the crime/mystery. I guess maybe more that appear and disappear in the story if the story is long, but its not like you need the reader to think that 5+ people could have done it. Even if the reader "suspects" due to process of elimination (maybe he's 'playing' the book and eliminating any 'obvious' red herrings) who the real killer is... he's not truly going to know until he gets to the end.
     
  19. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Personally I like many characters. I plan 8 POVS for me, heh.
     
  20. walshy12238
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    walshy12238 Senior Member

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    I think this basically sums up my point of view as well. If you have unnecessary characters, scrap 'em!
     
  21. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    It does not matter how many characters you have, but whether or not they are essential as a character, tool, or plot device.
     
  22. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course "too many" is bad, because that's what the "too" means. But how many is too many? It depends entirely on what you are writing. A tight plot-driven thing needs very few characters, but an ensemble saga needs lots. Both have their places.
     

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