Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Holo, Sep 4, 2011.
Is five too many, or does one generally lose character depth with more main characters?
Yes, you will lose character depth witn more than one main character. But that isn't always a problem. Sometimes the interactions are more important than a deep dive into characters' craniums.
A question to ask: Are all five necessary as main characters? If not, reduce the number. That doesn't mean eliminate, but rather 'demote' them to secondary character status.
If you believe that five are needed, find other published works that you enjoyed that have as many or more (and is similar to what you're trying to accomplish) and study how the authors did what you're hoping to do...how did they switch off, how did they make each one separate and individual so the main characters didn't blend, what part did each play in revealing the plot to the reader and why was each main character necessary, etc.
Then, apply what you learned to your story and your writing style.
It depends what sort of story you're writing. Some stories are concerned mainly with characters' actions and interactions and less so with the development of their personalities and suchlike. Others are concerned mainly with character development, and generally stories fall somewhere in between.
Interestingly I find the two earliest extant literary works in the 'Western' tradition (if you will forgive the anachronism) reflect these parallels. The Iliad has a huge cast of characters, and though it does revolve largely around Achilles and Hector there are many other arguably 'main' characters (Odysseus, Ajax, Patroclus, Priam, Paris, to name but a few). The Odyssey on the other hand is centred almost entirely on Odysseus, with his wife, son and patron goddess (respectively Penelope, Telemachus and Athena) acting as secondary protagonists. Even after nearly three thousand years both are considered to be among the greatest works of literature ever composed, and neither is clearly superior to the other. So I wouldn't worry too much about how many main characters you have.
Lord of the Rings had more than five and I don't think the depth of any character was really scarified. But then again it is epically long. So I guess it depends what and how you plan to write.
Thankfully, George R.R. Martin didn't take Cogito's advice.
In my novel I have six main characters: they tell the story from their different perspective and I like this approach that could be called "choral novel". Of course, more main characters more characterization you have to do, give them and their point of view the necessary space in the story and you need to try to make them very distinctive and definite, not carboard, not characters who are too similar etc...
Exactly what "advice" did I give?
Seems to me that I described alternative ways of looking at it.
Not necessarily. It depends on the length of your novel and your skill as a writer in conveying character depth.
Skill, of course determines what we can do with story length. An unskilled writer can have a whole novel with a main character whose more like a cartoon than a real person while a skilled writer can have a a main character with depth in a short story. It's all about knowing what to do with our writing tools.
Of course the customary approach is to give our main characters the most depth. But how many will receive that depth and to what extent depends on the requirements of your story and only you as the author can determine that.
In the Novel "The Scarlet Letter" for example, Hawthorne provides several characters withe approximately depth of character and none of them suffers character- deficiency because of it. All are well-rounded believable characters whose motivations are fully explained in detail.
It could work, depending on how you do it. Five main characters may sound like too many, initially, but, with proper execution, you can make it work. All five can be explored in depth as long as you give all five characters equal attention to development (or lack thereof?) and a unique personality from the other.
It also works better with certain stories. Big epics that take place over decades across a wide setting probably will have quite a number of major characters all at once (and all throughout), for instance. But I don't think that doesn't mean you can't have a lot of characters for stories with a smaller focus. However, regardless of what your story is like, you will have to be careful so that you balance them all - that is not to say you can't focus on some more than the others, but you have to know why you prefer to focus on certain ones, and/or if you make sure all of them are developed enough as characters, and so forth.
You can't have more than one main character. That's like saying that you have more than one best friend. Only one can be the best, and only one character can be the main one.
Lord of the Rings had one main character, Frodo, and several major characters. The main character is the character around whom everyone else's life revolves during the story. If you took the main character out, the story could not happen at all.
Donnie Darko is the perfect example; (SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER) without Donnie, the story cannot happen, and that's exactly what happens. Donnie stops it all from happening again.
There's nothing to say you can't have a lot of major characters, though. It's your choice. You just need to make sure you can handle it, and that you can do the characters justice.
I agree with this. From my own experience you do lose depth to an extent but I think the interactions between those characters speak volumes.
It's not something I would recommend doing unless you've had some practice because it can be difficult to have that many characters at once. When I first started writing I only had one main character then moved on to two and so on. Now I have four.
It's interesting to say the least. It's also challenging.
I don't agree. You can have more than one main character, particularly if they are in a balanced adversarial relationship. It could be a romantic conflict, or a ideological conflict, or multiple suspects trying to unmask the real culprit among them. Consider a show like Lost, where every major character has his or her own story, but all of them are intertwined.
But it's an inevitable consequence that you must divide the focus in order to do so. So the depth of each character will be diminished, but that does not mean the characterizations need be shallow.
This! (Lost junkie)
Besides, going by the definition that "there couldn't be a story without this character" being a qualification for the main character, that would likely make many characters in many stories the "main" characters, even minor ones. A lot of things, when taken away, would take away the story.
I repeat: it's like saying you have more than one best friend. Only one can be the best.
You can't have two main characters. If you've got more than one, it's a misnomer.
I don't doubt that a minor character could be the main character, actually. But I'm talking about the baseline of the story; the events that set it in motion, the people the main character meets.
I most definitely believe that the protagonist (The leading character or a major character in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text) can be someone who isn't the main character.
Case in point: the Great Gatsby. Gatsby is definitely the main character, but he's not the protagonist.
When I say main character, I mean the characters that are always involved in the plot and tend to be around my protagonist. I have one protagonist, but multiple main characters at the moment. For example, Harry is the protagonist and main character in Harry Potter. But Ron and Hermione are main characters as well. I think you can have more than one main character, but I'm wondering what the cap number is or should be before you loose character depth.
In Spice and Wolf, the main characters are Lawrence and Holo and their characterization and personalities make the story. They are very fleshed out as opposed to works with too many characters so that you lose the depth that is so apparent in works with fewer characters.
Well, your definition of "main" seems to differ from quite a lot of people's. So that might be causing the confusion. Still, even by your definition, I feel it's possible to have several main characters.
As many as you can handle.
In one of my stories, I have six MCs that all work together. The chapters are divided up so readers can see the perspectives of all the MCs.
If you can juggle all five major characters, by all means go for it. I can never handle more than two, myself.
As someone else asked before: Is it necessary to have five main characters? Or can some be demoted to secondary characters? Just because a character isn't the main focus of a story doesn't mean it has to get totally pushed to the side. Using your Harry Potter example, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are the main characters of the story, but there's also Dumbledore, Snape, Malfoy, and a ton of other secondary characters who are pretty important to the story. Not everybody has to be in the spotlight.
Five sounds like it'd be a lot to handle, but it might work. I wouldn't advise having more than that, though. Too many main storylines can get really jumbled and confusing - Needful Things by Stephen King comes to mind. It wasn't bad, for a Stephen King novel, but it had about ten plotlines all going on at once. I remember having to flip back a couple of times because I lost track of who was doing what, and it was a bit of a pain.
Thank you everyone for your replies and advice. I will have two main characters but very important secondary characters. Just because they are not a main focus does not mean they are not important.
Absolute nonsense. Have you read song of ice and fire? That has several main characters. And I'm sure many people couldn't name a best friend. They could have friends they like equally. Same here.
I have not read a Song of Ice and Fire, and I'd be more inclined to call them major characters. The very definition of the word "main" disallows there to be more than one. Again, it's a misnomer if there's more than one.
As for best friends, have you seriously never seen a girl on Facebook or in real life who refers to several best friends? Even some guys do it, and it's totally against the definition of "best".
I am currently struggling with the same problem. I have a story revolving around a family in ancient times and I want all the characters to be very personal and deep. Don't shoot me for saying this, but I watch True Blood and I like how they can have such a detailed character profile for so many people, and that's kind of how I want to be able to portray my characters. Someone mentioned something about character interactions being just as important, and I agree.
If you give them depth and feelings with truth behind that, and as long as it doesn't get confusing, it'll be okay. Enjoy, and post it when your done!
Well they're not really "best" friends are they. They are equally good. The person is just mistaken in terminology. And really you'd need to read a song of ice and fire to understand. To give you an example, the closest character you could call a main character is Daenarys (spelling?). She so far has had no contact on any other major characters and has only affected the actions of one (indirectly).
Separate names with a comma.