1. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2017
    Messages:
    62
    Likes Received:
    33
    Location:
    Denver, CO

    How Many Characters is Too Many?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Alex Brandt, Apr 18, 2017.

    As the title said: How many is too many? At what point have you found that you are approaching territory where your characters are essentially just statistics (ie: mid-40's black man, mid 20's gang leader) instead of, y'know, full-on characters?
     
  2. Jack Semmes

    Jack Semmes New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2017
    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    19
    Characters to a writer, are like balls to a juggler. How many can you keep in the air while making it look easy?
     
  3. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,282
    Likes Received:
    5,805
    Location:
    On the Road.
    Never. They are people, but I concede writing little pieces of backstory from their POV helps :)
     
  4. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2015
    Messages:
    1,667
    Likes Received:
    1,527
    I count thirteen that played a major role in E&D, plus a whole lot of supporting characters that got brief moments, but not much development. And the historical figures and their support staff were background, but some of them, like King Vima Kadphises of Bactria, I got to embellish him into a hard-drinking, good-living sort of guy. Drank the Senator into oblivion on their first night in the palace in Bagram. Yes, that is the same as the airbase in Afghanistan now... 2000 years ago it was an imperial capitol.
     
  5. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    4,620
    Likes Received:
    3,808
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I keep a handful and the rest are kinda organized by their place and function in the story. For instance in my WIP my mc is a 14 year old boy who becomes a TV star. The characters that start the story - his friends at school might be mentioned later on but for the most part they're held by their location and what they're to accomplish. And when he's on set he'll get to know certain people but then others like gaffers or something, I don't need to turn them into characters they're only there to prove he's in a busy active workplace. It's all a matter of what's needed for the story and for the scene. If I was to count out how many main and secondary characters I have there is probably about 10.
     
  6. Homewriting

    Homewriting New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2017
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Home
    I think it depends on the KIND of story you're writing. Look at Game of Thrones as an example. There's a whole host of characters that each have backstories and not just the ones we read from their PoV. There's literally a little bit of detail about everyone. And we feel it's a grand sweeping story because of the type of world that it's in and everything, and it wouldn't feel as epic if it only focused on 2-3 characters.

    Likewise, if you're writing, let's say a period romance type of story, it can get bogged down in details if you have a lot of characters when the story focuses mainly on 3-4 characters and their struggles.

    Basically, a rule I write is if it distracts from the narrative it might be too many characters.
     
  7. ArgileSocks

    ArgileSocks Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2017
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I was going to mention Game of Thrones as well, but another example is the Harry Potter series. There are plenty of characters across the seven books, and each of them seem to have a little quirk or idiosyncrasy that gives them a unique personality. Plus, many of them do help drive the story forward - Cedric Diggory plays a love rival, Colin Creevy takes photos and gives the main characters some insight on the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, and on and on.
     
  8. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2015
    Messages:
    2,419
    Likes Received:
    3,884
    Location:
    SC, USA
    If your characters are turning into 'statistics', that not a sign you have too many - just a sign you're not fleshing them out. You could easily have thirty fleshed out characters in a cast, or two that're still shallow. I don't think there's a correlation between number of characters and depth of characters.

    There was actually a very recent thread over here that you might find interesting.
     
  9. Joe King

    Joe King Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2014
    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    41
    I think if the character serves a purpose to the overall story then they're fine, can give them a little backstory and whatnot but if they're literally in the story for one scene and then never to be seen again, I wouldn't spend to much time on them.
     
    Alex Brandt likes this.
  10. Miscellaneous Worker

    Miscellaneous Worker Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2017
    Messages:
    59
    Likes Received:
    25
    Location:
    Where there is work...
    Doesn't matter as long the characters are as good as the story.
     
  11. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    18,048
    Likes Received:
    27,246
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    As many as you think you can handle.
    My limit is 3 MCs. But you can have
    as many as you want.
    Though the more MCs you have the more
    confusing things could become.
     
  12. Lemie

    Lemie Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2015
    Messages:
    1,836
    Likes Received:
    2,778
    Location:
    UK
    I've notice I tend to go minimalistic when it comes to my "casts".

    But counting background characters that do their bare minimum (brings the plot forward but not much else), there could be an ocean of them. It all depends on what kind of story and setting. One of the more developed ideas I'm having in the back of my head (not my WIP) contains five people alone in a "ghost city". Guess how many characters I'll need.

    I've heard or read somewhere that all characters in the scene must want something out of the scene, whether it's getting out of the situation that is probably your MC's fault, or crossing the street (which your MC probably ruins, because MC's are usually attracting problems). So if you feel like the background character are just a age and occupation/ethnicity/other then, rather than spending time writing backgrounds for them, figure out what they want out of this scene and how that influences how they help bringing the plot forward.

    Then again, if the character is there only to fill a room, they don't need much at all. The club was full, we don't need to know unimportant people you may pass along the way.
     
  13. karldots92

    karldots92 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2016
    Messages:
    187
    Likes Received:
    86
    Location:
    Ireland
    My WIP has 13 main characters plus 4 principal villains and they all have extensive backstories to flesh out their characters and personalities. There are a host of other smaller characters who have some minor interaction with main stories or are henchmen/allies of the principal characters. But this is a fantasy novel and the genre lends itself to having large casts. I think it depends very much and the genre.
     
  14. mrieder79

    mrieder79 Probably not a ground squirrel Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    544
    Likes Received:
    377
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    Characters are limited by space. Your book can only be so long. Tolkien and Martin have volumes and they can support a larger cast of developed characters. The typical 70-90k stand-alone novel will have more difficulty developing more than a handful. Your skill as an author will also come into play. If you are a beginner, may I recommend one main character, one villain (if appropriate) and, perhaps two large supporting roles.

    Hope this helps and best of luck.

    ...or if you are tweeting, 141
     
    Commandante Lemming likes this.
  15. socialleper

    socialleper Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2017
    Messages:
    95
    Likes Received:
    50
    Location:
    Canyon Country CA
    It seems like this is the gist of it.
    Some writers can have an enormous number of characters and not have a problem. Some of Anthony Burgess' books had a ridiculous number of characters because they take place over a long period of time and large expanse of geography. George RR Martin's books have dozens of characters. A good writer can spin that many plates and make it work. Others...well...should stick to a smaller cast of core characters.
    You also need to think about your audience a little. If you are writing a children's book, don't throw a truck load of characters at them in the first few paragraphs. If it is a romance novel, the reader isn't really after handfuls of characters with intertwining arcs.
    Finally, consider the work. How many characters does a 50 page short story need? Longer stories can deal with a large number of characters more easily than a simple 300 page novel.
     
    Commandante Lemming likes this.
  16. Odile_Blud

    Odile_Blud Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2017
    Messages:
    163
    Likes Received:
    132
    I don't think there is a limit to how many. I think it's what you do with them.
     
  17. Rickard Eriksson

    Rickard Eriksson Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2017
    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    12
    Robert Jordan has over a thousand characters in his series - I was told that the character amount doesnt count, its about their meaning to a/the story..
     
    Alex Brandt likes this.
  18. Teresa Mendes

    Teresa Mendes Member

    Joined:
    Apr 22, 2017
    Messages:
    76
    Likes Received:
    48
    It depends on how many you can manage without making them bland (for the main characters of course). I read in two or three places that usually 6 main characters is a good threshold. If you're just starting try not to go above that I think.

    I guess the best answer is "as few as you can to tell the story right". If you need a lot, go for it, but work them out and make them feel real for your readers =)
     
  19. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1,601
    Likes Received:
    1,306
    Location:
    Washington, DC, USA
    The answer is as many as you want - with some BIG caveats.

    To the degree that a character is important to the story, you're going to have to develop them, flesh them out, and make them integral to the story without slowing it down or being choppy.

    The more you have, the harder it gets. I have a ton. I think I have like nine POV characters, which is absurd, plus some very important non-POV people. I think I pulled it off decently for what it is, at least according to my first full beta-read (and it's a first novel, so it probably needs some serious work yet) - but the only reason I did that was because I set out to have that many characters ON PURPOSE, and spent a lot of time figuring out how to do that without being ridiculous. It also left me with a hard manuscript to sell, because even the ruthlessly chopped version I have now is 131,000 words - and I think it probably needs that length to sustain all of the character building required to have a cast that large and hold the plot together.

    Granted, that's my opinion as a writer who clearly made some selfishly unorthodox decisions and is just now getting to "attempt to sell the darn thing" stage. So, don't take my word for much.

    Still, speaking from what experience I do have, this definitely falls under the heading of "just because you CAN, that doesn't mean you SHOULD." I have a crazy-huge cast because my entire GOAL was "write a crazy-huge cast and get away with it." If that's not your goal, I wouldn't recommend having a crazy huge cast. If you can do one POV character, go for it. And if you can handle only four or five major characters and still execute on your plot, do that. I think @Teresa Mendes was probably right when she said "as few as you can to tell the story right." You shouldn't have people that gum up the works or that don't need to be there. I know I ruthlessly eliminated a few people from my narrative - I even had one who was a big POV character and now he's not even there. I probably will get rid of more before I'm done. Actually, part of the challenge of the whole "large cast on purpose" thing for me was having a plot that was sufficiently complex that they all NEEDED to be there (and some of them probably still don't). So, yeah, make the cast as lean as you can - unless you're purposefully going for cast-bloat, in which case make your plot so massive that "as lean as you can" still requires 15 people. :p
     
    truthbeckons likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice