1. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Too many important characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by spklvr, May 2, 2011.

    I have a huge cast of characters. This has never bothered me before. However, I recently read a book that kind of changed my mind. The core story of this book was brilliant and beautiful and kept me hooked so much that I finished the relatively long novel in two days. But the story had one major drawback that actually ruined several scenes, including the ending. Too many characters. It was like the plot got lost in all the clutter these absolutely unimportant characters created. I wanted to just throw them out so that the four mains would be the single focus, but they stuck around and ruined an otherwise beautiful ending. And I just know this author got away with it because she was already quite known. And I know the only reason they were there was because the author based them on her family, which she said in an interview in the back of the book, and because of that she wanted them around for the happy ending.

    So because of this story, I decided to see if I couldn't remove some of my characters and have already existing characters do their job too. I started by removing the seemingly least important character from my cast, and the story fell apart. Seriously, I didn't even realize how much of an impact she had on the story and how much wouldn't even happen if she wasn't around, because there simply was no one else who could do her job.

    I then figured maybe I should get rid of the minor characters instead. That's when I realized I barely have minor characters. They usually just serve their brief service and die a horrible death a few pages later.

    Too be honest, I'm not sure what my question is. Maybe what you think of this? Could you stand to read a novel with 14 characters, most of which are mains whose viewpoint we see through at various times? I'm pretty sure I have a good grasp of them all. I reuse my characters over and over, so they have all been mains at some point in their own stories. Because of that I know them very well and I know their voice. I think maybe my saving point is that they are all split into groups that have their own stories until they all merge together towards the end. They aren't all thrown at you at once, and I don't think it ever happens that absolutely everyone is in the same scene at the same time.

    I have a single reader at this point, and she actually said she felt giddy inside when the characters started to cross paths. Like when a character from story #1 entered the shop of a character in story #3. And when people from the various stories goes to the same places and looks at the same things. This naturally encouraged me greatly, but this girl kind of already know many of the characters from other stories and have helped me through many writing blocks and plot holes. So it would be weird if she felt confused by the amount of characters.

    Maybe I'm just ranting... sorry for wasting cyber space :redface:
     
  2. Eurlo
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    Eurlo Banned

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    I'm in the same boat, but my problem is I introduced them all too close together:( So I have to try and put distance between all of them(6-8 characters, all are main characters)
    I can't take any out it just would destroy my whole story right now(5 chapters into my story, 1 chapter has been removed due to nothing but filler:p)
    So now I have to write and fill in the huge gap:(
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Honestly the coolest quote I've seen all day and I've been watching Supernatural for most of it. :p

    I'd not sweat it if the characters are vital to the story and are developed, and used. Like you said with the novel you didn't like - the characters were clutter. People should have no problem with lots of characters as long as the reader never ends up drifting from them. If you have a cast member who's important at the beginning but drifts in the middle, some people aren't even going to remember him at the end. :p Not everyone reads a massive book in a day or so. The important thing is to build up to having a big cast, and then to use them. Like in the Harry Potter series, pretty much each and every character had at least a shout out later in the series - it made the 7th book so fun precisely because you didn't know who would show up next. :p Even in earlier books she was tying up loose ends such as re-introducing Lockhart in the 5th book to show what happened to him, and because of him some vital plot stuff was conveyed. So he played a part way past the book he was main character in. And I'm pretty sure she was still making jokes about him here and there throughout so no one would forget him.

    Recapping might be annoying to write and occasionally annoying to read if not handled right, but as long as no one forgets who a key player in the story is, you should do fine. :)
     
  4. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    What book are you referring to? Just asking out of curiosity.

    Personally, there isn't exactly a limit to how many important characters there are in a story. And the fact that you split them all up (hopefully into small groups of 2-3), sounds quite intriguing. Have you posted anything of yours up yet?

    To answer your question, I'm not too bothered by a huge cast of important characters, as long as I can clearly grasp the character's significance and he or she is entertaining or at least fascinating. My two cents.
     
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  5. Eurlo
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    Eurlo Banned

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    *lightbulb moment*

    it may have been sparked by the person to comments above me, but I think I owe you a thanks:)

    I now have decided to devide my characters into groups and intro duce a new group every so many chapters/pages and focus on a group at a time till maybe i can put them all in a scene(will probably only be fighting scenes) but yeah I think m "Writer's Block" is lifting:D thanks!

    Edit: opps, my bad it was Kio who I should be thanking....SO thanks Kio!:D now to sort this out correctly;)
    (goees to get character list and sorts things out....)
     
  6. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I, too, wrote too many characters, especially in my MC's "inner circle", and felt I needed to rid some of them. I found many different options for dealing with this, but first you should determine which characters to keep. I asked my girlfriend and other people who read my book which characters stood out as the strongest in their minds, and I kept them. I also kept other characters that had a key role in the story.

    1) Merge two similar characters together. I've had a couple instances of this. Two characters were almost identical, so that was obvious, I just merged their roles into one person. Another case, I had two characters that were not too alike except for one shared commonality, and now I have a much more interesting character.

    2) Bring them back in another book. I'm planning a short series, so I hope to add back these characters that I love so much. I didn't have the space in my book to really develop them anyway, so it'll be better in the end

    3) Re-write them so they contribute more to the story/ending. I had one character I really liked that showed up in the first chapter to accomplish one thing, but I didn't need him any more so he wasn't in the rest of the book. Obviously, you should bring back characters whenever possible. He now is going to give the MC some valuable information that moves the story forward later in the book, and also plays a small but important role in the conclusion.

    4) Kill them off. As long as their death moves the story forward, of course. I haven't done this yet, because I like keeping my characters, but just another option I've toyed with.

    Can anybody think of other options?

    Also, it doesn't really matter how many characters you have, so long as it doesn't seem like too much. Do you think your story works with 14 characters? Can the reader follow and keep track of them all? Maybe it works, or maybe it's like that book you read. Also think of the difference between dynamic and static characters. A book can have a whole bunch of static characters, but only so many dynamic characters. How many of those 14 are dynamic?
     
  7. Eurlo
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    Eurlo Banned

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    hmmm...funky you may be giving me yet again great ideas,
    I think i need to kill off two more characters (and i will resurect all of my killed off characters for one last scene in my book) so with that said (i had two characters picked out when I read that quoted part, so that will make this story alittle easy now:)

    wow...wierd all this help is popping out of nowhere and most help is not even directed at me:p I love this site:D thanks to you too Funky!
     
  8. Show
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    There's only too many if you can't handle them all. If you CAN handle them, then go for it. It's more about quality versus quantity.

    I tend to have a significant amount of mains in my books. Maybe not so many at any given time, but still it's significant.
     
  9. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Great, but cluttered story.

    I'm gonna finish my second draft and then leave it for a while before I look at it again. Maybe I can see if everyone is needed more clearly then.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you say you saw the film first I will actually hunt you down and punch you. :p

    Mind you, I read that book 6 dozen times then lent it to a friend when I was 14 or something and haven't read it since because she vanished it into thin air. So I may be mis-remembering, but it was one of my favourite books. :p I saw nothing wrong with the side characters - they were important to the premise, and it'd have been worse if she'd forgotten they existed after the opening.
     
  11. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lol, I did see the film first, but it had been so long ago I didn't remember it when I read the book.

    Have you ever read a book or seen a movie and really loved it while you read/watched, but then when you finish you start thinking and realize it actually wasn't that good after all? That's pretty much how I felt about that book. And while I agree the characters served a purpose early on in the book, them all coming together at the end in the way they did felt really weird and cluttered. Not to mention, Howl is off to fight the witch and they all calmly decide to clean... I also felt there were a few things in the book that was uneeded and just added to the clutter. Maybe if you read it again you'll see my point. I think if I had been younger I would have just ignored most of it, even if I didn't like it. It was like that for me when watching Buffy. I loved it so much I ignored and forgot the flaws, but the when I rewatched them when I was older they were suddenly really noticable.

    I think the movie and book were too different to be compared, but the movie's plot was a lot more clear and straight forward than the book. The only thing that really bothered me with the film was that since Sophie didn't have magical abilities in it, the way she saves Calicifer no longer makes any sense.
     
  12. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a vendetta against the film for ruining my childhood and then all my friends raving about it when they'd never even heard of Diana Wynne Jones. Then I lent my only copy to the wrong friend, rather than the one who'd have read it in a day... She finally bought her own copy this year and *finally* agrees me, but it was painful in the mean time. :p

    Anyway, I haven't read it in years so I'm just going off memory, but I really loved that part with all the flowers and the emotional kind of weighting at the end. It really made me well up as a kid. :p I really liked how all the characters came back and were there... I loved the kooky adventure in the middle with the castle and all that, but it was so lonely and Howl was clearly in need of a family, and suddenly there was one all ready for him. :p It made the stakes just a bit higher than basically just going back to an almost-empty castle.
     
  13. astrostu
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    I've been reading a story online that's now into "Book 2." There are about 4 MAIN characters, and then there are well over a dozen secondary characters and just a very few tertiary characters. The problem is that the secondary characters just kinda blend together and don't really serve to advance the story despite the author contributing a few chapters to their development. They're filler. They do give more insight into the world the author is creating, but there are so many that I tend to forget who is who in the two or three chapters they aren't mentioned.

    That said, I think the guy is writing this for fun, not profit. If it's what YOU want to write and it's how YOU want to tell your story and you don't really care about making a publisher happy, then I would say go for it. If it's a good plot that people like, they'll put up with the minor annoyance of forgetting who is who.
     
  14. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    Not a problem. I didn't think I'd help anybody with that one. Always a pleasure!
     
  15. Eurlo
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    Eurlo Banned

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    I know I said it already but thanks Kio! You don't know how bad I have been wanting to write and now I can thanks toyou and some other people;)

    THANKS!:D
     

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