1. Montag
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    Montag Senior Member

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    Too many characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Montag, Feb 12, 2008.

    I hate reading books that have so many characters that I forget which is which, so I try not to do it myself. One of the recent ones I'm working on though has a lot.

    There are two main characters, seven more very involved characters, and so far thee minor chararacters, all in the space of 20 pages.I've done my best to introduce them in stages, first just four of them, and making sure they are fully covered, then added annother two and covered them.

    Then I switched to a different group, and added those ones one at a time.

    They are all very different people, and have (what I think) names that are easily remembered.

    But how many is too many? I'm thinking of books like the Harry potter series, which have dozens of characters, and trying to make my characters distinguishable like that, but still I don't want to end up with 30 boring characters that don't know whats going on.
     
  2. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    To this, I'll add that my book has/had many characters. But, as far as I could evaluate, I couldn't cut a character from the story because each character was an essential part of the story one way or another. If you're going to add characters just for the sake of grouping, then you'll end up confused. Make sure that you're adding characters because they have a role. Then the boring part. Make sure that you give the deserved attention to each character in the story. It's not necessary that you throw them in in the first few pages, but it's important that where ever they come in, they leave an impression on the story and the reader without being passed by as 'too much information'. It's how you deal with your characters, introduce and express them and shape them that matters. Sometimes a 5-character novel can become too crowded while a 30-character novel sounds just fine. If this is in relation to short story, one should abstain from adding a character which has not pivotal role, even if the urge moves you. If the urge is strong then make it a longer story.
    Hope I helped.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's no rule and no magic number... it will all depend only on how well you write... a good writer can juggle any amount of characters and a poor one will lose readers with just a few...
     
  4. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    I guess I'm the opposite. I love lots of characters, espeically if the wirter can make each feel distinct and unique. Immortals Edge over the course of its story line has four main characters, another 2 dozen major characters, upwards of 4 dozen more characters who have varying degrees of importance.

    Many of these four dozen have an important roles to play but usually show up once or twice and are then never seen again and some are only mentioned by name (The main characters father for example never appears in the story but is important because of things he has done prior to the start of the storyline have long reaching effects and he is frequently mentioned by name).

    I like large casts but I suppose their not for everyone. The big thing with a large number of characters is making sure they have a role in pushing the story forward and have some level of uniqueness to them. They can't just be some random character you threw in.
     
  5. Raven
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    Raven Banned

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    In my story Rybok there are 13 charactors the main been Rybok and the twelve convicts. Obviously its hard to focus on 13 so I tend to write as the story flows and the charactors best suited to the individual story will stand out the most.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The idea of introducing them one or two at a time has merit. You might determine if it is absolutely necessary to introduce all twelve characters in the first twenty pages. JK Rowling was mentioned...is that the way she introduced all of her characters?

    One method of introducing characters is to have them somehow related to already established characters...either as allies, friends, confidants, foils, antagonists. Introducing groups of characters can be troublesome as when the characters reappear later in the novel, they may be a name only vaguely remembered. As writers, we are very close and understand and can visualize all of our characters, often before they've even interacted in the story. Readers, on the other hand, don't have that luxury.

    As has been indicated, it can be done. Just might be on the difficult side to do well.

    Terry
     
  7. Raven
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    Raven Banned

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    The thing with Rybok is the 12 penal convicts are all introduced usually in chapter 3 as the good Colonel walks from cell to cell. Basically like in the dirty dozen book. From there the story moves on and the more suitable will stand out.

    Of course now Rybok enters the world of Publication things will be changing a great deal the whole lot will be very different.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    J.K. Rowling introduces important characters in reasonably small numbers. With classmates, she has been known to throw too many at once, but they usually don't matter much to the story; if they are, they will be reintroducrd when a more opportune time arises.

    There are also many names that are tossed outr quickly, and sometimes one or two become significant later. This is done deliberately, so when someone re-reads the story, they realize they HAD heard the name before for a name whose importance is hidden.

    Sometimes the significance is only apparent in a subsequent book.

    I definitely favor a phased approach to character introduction, to make sure teh reader has a clear picture of each significant character before the thick of the action.
     
  9. Raven
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    Raven Banned

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    Dan Abnett also does this in his gaunts Ghosts series. He will introduce new characters who get a little paragrapth enough to be noticed then in the next book or a book down the line he'll put them up front.

    An example is a character called Merrt gets a mention in Guns Of The Tanith and then a bigger part in Straight Silver and finally in book 10 he gets a bigger part straight through into book 11 The Armour of Contempt Merrt has a hugh part. Abnett does this with a lot of characters and it works well in my opinion.
     
  10. lessa
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    lessa Contributing Member

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    Too many characters and I lose either my mind or the book.
    I also hate books that in the first section Prologue I guess it is start telling who they are who they decended from for 6 generations back.
    I figure if I get lost in that part then there is no way I will be able to follow the story.
    I don't mind a lot of characters but don't make it so if I lose sight of one the story is going to make no sense.
     
  11. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    I've got a second opposite problem (such a concept does exist, i think)- I tend to be obsessive about cutting down my character list to the absolute minimum. Currently, I've got (this is grand total for my entire novel) five major characters and around ten (not precisely sure whether some of them will make it into the novel) minor characters. Should I put more in, or is a minimalistic character list preferable? You know, on the sliding scale

    handful-X---all things in moderation-----need a list-----cast of thousands

    where should one aim to fall? I've put an X where I hit.
     
  12. Raven
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    Raven Banned

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    It only works well if the charactors and the storytelling warrant so many.
     
  13. Montag
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    Montag Senior Member

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    Wow, thanks everyone, I'll take that all on board. Thing is that one character from group 2 has to cross paths with group one, and all of group one are very important, which is why I've introduced them all so soon. I guess I had started with the first five, and then added the other ones where they were needed, so they aren't there just for the sake of it.

    I can think of one that I might take out, because she's very minor, but she is the subject of a couple of deep discussions that help to guide the whole story, so I dunno.

    I've just killed one of my main four today, but he is the most evil one, and therefore interesting. I may have just killed him out of spite. I might change the death to someone else.

    Anyway, thanks again everyone.
     

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