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  1. D.C. Perry

    D.C. Perry Member

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    How Many Characters is Too Many Characters?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by D.C. Perry, Apr 2, 2014.

    I was reading an article about adivce for starting out your novel, and one of these tidbits of advice spoke of not introducing too many characters within the first chapter or so.

    Checking over what I have so far, a chapter and a page of the second, there are five characters I have introduced.

    Too many?
     
  2. T.Trian

    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, that depends. Are they all POV characters or otherwise important characters? Do you introduce them in great detail from the get-go? Or do you focus on one POV, introduce that character, and the rest are just along for the ride with minimal description and not much interaction with the POV character?

    My and KaTrian's current WIP starts with a small unit tussle: a squad of six enters a closed stripjoint where they encounter a waitress and a bunch of hostiles (which are never seen, they just fire from concealment), so all in all there are 7 characters who are introduced (only the waitress is described in more detail as everyone in the squad wears identical outfits and their heads/faces are concealed by helmets), one of them is the POV character, and his squad mates are named and they partake in the dialogue (a bit) and action as does the waitress.

    To us, that number of characters felt close to the limit of too many, but since we focused only on the POV character, his squad leader, and the waitress while the rest of the characters took a backseat, according to our betas, it's not too confusing. That being said, five should be perfectly doable as long as you do it well (i.e. don't force the reader to remember a ton of info right from the start).
     
  3. D.C. Perry

    D.C. Perry Member

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    Would you be so kind as to read what I have so far? Don't worry, it's not very much, and I promise I'm not a terrible writer. I myself am looking for some betas or similar.
     
  4. T.Trian

    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You can PM me what you got and I'll take a look at it. I'm studying for an exam and working on my and KaTrian's manuscript, but I think I could fit yours in there too if it's not too long.
     
  5. plothog

    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Depending on how you define "introduce", I've got quite a lot more than five. About 12 characters are mentioned by name in my first chapter.
    I suspect I do have to many.
    Some of them aren't very introduced though. There's a certain sub theme of small town in a crisis. (a bit like Under the Dome) and the first chapter ends in a town meeting. Some characters who will be used later just get their names dropped and a line or two of dialogue. I was aiming to make it feel like lots of different town members were chipping in with their opinions, but maybe it'll be to confusing. Something for me to think about as I edit anyway.
     
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  6. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don’t think the number of characters should be a specific issue of concern. I would be more concerned about the amount of arbitrary information. This would include character names as well as job titles, place names etc. If you introduce a character as, ‘John Smith, the vet from Bainbridge’, you don’t need many such introductions before I’d start losing track of who was who. Introduce him as, ‘the vet’ and it’s less of a problem. Also, the style of introduction will denote how prominent the character is perceived to be. Some characters will be significant and in the foreground of the story while others will be more part of the scenery.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2014
    D.C. Perry and plothog like this.
  7. peachalulu

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think it all comes down to what you can handle as an author. I think that's why a lot of articles and books advise against it - because writer's reading the advice are usually newbies.

    Everybody has given good advice.

    I'd just add that you have to watch you don't loose sight of the mc or interest in the mc. As long as you stay in his boots, it shouldn't be a problem. I've seen some ms' where the author got distracted, made minor characters more interesting than the mc figuring they had plenty of time to 'talk' about him later.
     
  8. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    1 more than the story needs...
     
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  9. Bryan Romer

    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    A great deal depends on how they introduced to the story, how long your chapter is, and significant they are to the plot.

    Five isn't a lot. A couple meets another couple, that's four, the axe murder who runs up to them to borrow a cup of sugar is five.
     
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  10. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Ain't that the truth!
     
  11. Burlbird

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is always the good old flat vs round characters categorization to consider. In a way, there is nothing stopping you to introduce any number of flat characters ("constructed around a single idea or quality"), but the number of complex, dynamic entities you can handle in your text is more a question of your capabilities and experience than anything else. Personally, I believe that managing and mastering a single full, round, believable character is pretty hard even for seasoned writers :)
     
  12. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    An Englishman, an Irishman , a Scotsman, a Welshman, a Rabbi and a Priest walk into a bar.

    There. Six characters introduced in the first sentence.

    And the barman said, "What is this, some kind of a joke?":)
     
  13. Thomas Kitchen

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    1.) A Roman soldier walks into a bar, holds up two fingers and says, "Five beers, please."

    2.) A termite walks into a bar and says, "Is the bartender here?"

    It took me a while to understand both. ;)
     
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  14. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    got 'em both in under a minute... must have a warped mind, huh?;)
     
  15. Thomas Kitchen

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Not bad, Maia, not bad! :p
     
  16. TLK

    TLK Active Member

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    This is my new favourite joke.
     
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  17. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's a good 'un all right!
     
  18. DeathandGrim

    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    I'm gonna say there's no maximum amount of characters, just don't introduce any that aren't even used.
     

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