1. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    The Number of Characters Per Story

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

    what is the perfect balanced number for characters in a story?
    I chose not to have MCs in my stories because then I do not burden myself with the idead of 'leader/hero/subhero/antagonist/protagonist and so the list can go on and I cannot stop inventing more and more characters to make my story bounce.
    I do not rely on a number of characters to make my stories fun and thrilling.
    I tend to rely on the idea/concept behind the story.

    I would say for my short stories I would have an ideal number of 4 to 5 maximun in a short story. My ideal to start with would be 3.


    what are yours?
     
  2. Amphigory
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    Amphigory Member

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    I don't think there's any "perfect" number. Depends on what you're trying to achieve.

    As I usually write stories of 700-1200 words, they generally involve anywhere between one and four characters -- and usually only two. Any more and it's overwhelming. I have no doubt there are some who can and do write more characters in that space of time, but that's just the level I'm comfortable with.

    For a longer piece, it depends both on the story and the skill of the writer. George R. Martin is able to weave many, many character viewpoints together exceptionally well, for instance. However, I have read other books where there are so many (often boring) characters been thrown at me that I just have to give up. It's a balancing act!
     
  3. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    Amphigory what would you say is one fo your best story in terms of plot and number of character and what happened to the lead character?
     
  4. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    I like stories with lots of characters. I think even fantasy needs some realism to it and the real world has lots of different players that often never meet. It gets a bit contrived when telling world spanning stories if the same five characters keep on bumping into one another.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there is NO 'perfect balanced number'!... and i wouldn't pay any attention to anyone who says there is...

    a great novel can have only one character ['the old man and the sea'] or any number greater than that...
    imo it's foolish to set any limits, if one wants to call oneself a 'creative writer'...
     
  6. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    would you say that the old man and the sea can be interpreted as more then one underlaying themes/characters
    the man,ageeing,the sea and the marlin?
    There is a lot going on so I would propably say it is more then one character because the marlin albeit a fish, is a character of his own right.
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ I wouldn't count the fish.
    There's no "magic number", but generally speaking, the shorter the novel is, the fewer major characters there are. There are clear recommendations given in some publishers guidelines, though, for certain genres.
     
  8. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I was not aware of guidelines over that.Thanks for the imformation.:)
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I agree with Maia that anyone who tells you a guaranteed number of characters to have is full of crap. Writing is not cut and dry. There aren't black-and-white rules -- even the commonly-held "rules" can be broken, but first you have to know what you're doing.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed, it just totally depends on the story, usually with a scale of less characters to shorter things, more to longer things. With, of course, exceptions because of brilliance.

    Perhaps it's more important to consider if you do have characters or elements in the story to represent things such as what you listed (protagonist and antagonist etc). Not all of them are needed, but for any story there has to be 2 things to rub off each other or nothing happens. Characters usually fill this role though they don't have to. It really depends, I suppose, on the type of story if we group them starting off with socially inverted ones where the character requires little interaction to get from start to finish, to a story where you need to introduce characters to provide every facet of the story. You should probably know if a story is going to be character heavy or light before you begin for that reason, so I'm not even sure why you'd need to ask for opinions on this. :p
     
  11. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's no "perfect" number. Write however many your story needs, which will vary from story to story.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Try applying Occam's Razor to this. Don't use more characters than you really need. If you have two characters filling more or less the same role in the story, see if you can consolidate them into one.

    I think I mentioned this earlier on this forum, but I'll repeat it here. Sometimes you see movies based on true stories in which several real people are condensed into one. An example is the movie "Apollo 13". The character played by Gary Sinise is shown doing a lot of things that were actually done by several real people, but the filmmakers thought it better to consolidate them all into Gary Sinise. This makes it easier on the viewer - you don't have to keep track of so many people, remembering their names and roles etc.
     
  13. Daryl
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    you know i always wondered about that..i write short stories myself usually about 3000 words..and i keep reading that 3 or 4 should be the max..but i have this story that i've been wanting to work on but i know its goin to involve quite a few characters so i've been putting it of for a while..it's good to know that i can move forward with all my characters because they are essential to my story...thanks for asking this question and thanks for all the answers on here...:)
     
  14. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    Mallory is right, theres is no right or wrong answer to how many you can have. In fact, that is a part of the reason why we become writers. Theres no limit to what you can do.
     
  15. MegTheLedge
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    MegTheLedge Member

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    I'm struggling with the "No MC/no Antag" thing, but maybe that's just a personal issue. As for your question, I don't think there's such a thing as a perfect anything, much less a number of characters. As long as you know and can keep track of what and who you're talking about, you're golden.
     
  16. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can only say that I found it very helpful when I was told by a Mills and Boon writer (see, I'm being completely open here!) to have a male and female lead (A characters), a confidant for either the male or female, and an antagonist (B characters), and up to 3 more colourful 'extras' (C characters) for a work of approx 70,000 words. Now, I know that this kind of writing is decidedly on the lowest scale (or doesn't even register) for most/many people who seem to think it's terrible writing (which I agree it often is), or like falling off a log (so, why don't they give it a try if it's such easy money), but this (and other advice she gave) changed my life with regard to writing commercially for a market. If you analyse a lot of novels this length you'll notice this number and balance. Even works of high literature often have around this number for a work this length. I'm not saying this is something rigid, and fantasy seems to prefer a cast of thousands (although e.g. Harry Potter more or less keeps to this, if you count Harry and Hermie as leads, Ron as confidant and Valdemort as antagonist). I'm just saying it is often the case.
     

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