1. trimarine

    trimarine Member

    Mar 31, 2015
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    How quickly can side characters be introduced without overwhelming the reader?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by trimarine, Dec 13, 2015.

    The question the title poses. I am building the outline of a story, and I plan on introducing a total of eight characters relevant to the plot in the first ten chapters. I plan on introducing another in the eleventh, making a total of three main characters and six side characters. I would like a second opinion.

    Are characters being introduced too quickly to keep track of, or is it safe to introduce one or two more characters?

    On a side note, I would like an opinion on a name for a mercenary: Vincent Graves.
  2. Ben414

    Ben414 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 1, 2013
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    It depends how differentiated the characters are. If each has their own unique characteristic or there are at least groups within the characters with unique characteristics, introducing 9 characters in 11 chapters doesn't sound excessive to me.

    Thinking about it now, it also depends if there are differentiated settings for different groups of characters. If the chapters switch between a group of 4 characters in setting A and a group of 5 characters in setting B, that's easier to digest than a group of 9 characters together.
  3. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

    Nov 30, 2006
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    Ohio, USA
    If you're able to create a connection in the reader's mind...Say, a main character's cousin. Then the next is his former love interest's employer...you have to have more than a name, description and 'job' or they'll all blend together. Another thing to do is provide 'reminders' when a character is brought back into the mix after being introduced.

    Pick up one of your favorite books where the author did something similar (had 3 main characters and a handful of secondary characters).

    The mercenary name, Vincent Graves is fine. It depends on the story and character, really, how well it fits.
  4. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

    Oct 21, 2008
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    Cave of Ice
    Obviously, like most things, it depends on how you write it.

    I usually don't have more than 5-6 noteworthy characters in any given story, but I usually introduce them all within the first few chapters. Unless the story demands they appear later, of course. Your method seems much more spread out and much less likely to confuse the reader, just by the description of it. Again, though, it depends how it's written. I think you're probably fine.
  5. SethLoki

    SethLoki Retired Autodidact Contributor

    Jan 1, 2011
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    Manchester UK
    It's a pet hate of mine: too many characters introduced too soon. In fact I'd go so far to say it's the no. 1 reason for me putting a book down when I'm only 20 pages in or so. I think I've been kind here in using the word introduced, maybe it should be termed 'appeared'. There's often an assumption with some authors that their readers can hold a whole bunch of people in their working memory differentiated only name, and a smidgen of spoken words, without ever having seen them. That's the crux—our brains have to create the new folk. We work with faces and cope better when we're outside of books, we've evolved to. And thus we are handicapped to a fair degree when settings and people are conveyed into us by our minds'/mind's ear.
    I'm mighty pleased when I finish reading a book, realise I know all the MC's, have an affinity for the sides, and haven't even broken a sweat in doing so. I used to think it a dark art; but, having taken up the pen, have forced myself to reduce some writers' methods to bare bones so I can see what they're up to and be sure I don't fall into the trap of assumption.

    Kudos for your forethought @trimarine and @Ben414 I agree with your methods. Can I add that I think it's a good idea for a little overkill with name and trait repetition when kicking off a character rather than opting for pronouns. Usually a no no, but trust me it works.
  6. Acanthophis

    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

    Feb 11, 2011
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    That is too many, in my opinion. Mine isn't doubt of the author's abilities, instead I just think in some ways it would feel like a weird version of an info dump. The simple fact is, none of our characters are going to be liked by 100% of our readers. If I like the character you introduce in the second chapter, waiting until the ninth chapter to see them again would be sort of annoying.

    I think the most recent example for me is A Game of Thrones (the book). It's split into points of view, and sometimes we don't read a character's chapter for quite a while. This wouldn't be a bad thing if all characters were equally as well written - but that's not realistic. I don't like having to read through five chapters of people I don't care about.

    Sure, you will probably mix characters around so we won't be departed from them for too long. I just think it's something to keep in mind.
  7. SuperVenom

    SuperVenom Senior Member

    Nov 11, 2010
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    South Wales
    When ever the story dictates.... but not so much for reader but u i would say dint introduce too many at once as it makes your job harder,
  8. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

    Sep 30, 2015
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    Let's see... in my first four chapters of an 80 chapter work, currently under professional edit (i.e., not by me or my wife) I introduce:
    Chapter 1.
    a. Marcus Lucius and his sister Marcia Lucia, Chinese with Roman ancestry, two of eight similar translators for Chinese diplomatic mission to Rome, their citizenship affirmed in a ceremony before the Senate. Marcus is a major supporting character, Marcia becomes the major leading female character and the heroine.
    b. Senator Galba, who lead the Roman return diplomatic mission to China, one of three major leading character
    c. Emperor Trajan, a minor character who will play a brief but important role at the end of the book.

    Chapter 2
    a. Gaius Lucullus, senior tribune (Lt Col equivalent) of 12th Lightning Bolt legion and cousin of Senator Galba, who requested him to accompany him on his legion, a major supporting character
    b. Antonius Aristides, senior centurion of the same legion (Warrant Officer equivalent), tapped by Gaius to accompany him. He is the second of three major leading characters of the story
    c. Lucius Julius Maximus, the (historically actual) commander of the 12th Lightning Bolt, issuing orders detaching the two, and explaining the importance of the mission, a minor character whom they will debrief when they get back to Roman territory three years hence.

    Chapter 3... no new characters. Gaius and Antonius travel with a cavalry detachment from the legion's forward position in Syria, through post-war Judaea to Alexandria, to arrive at the 3rd Cyrenaean legion on the outskirts.

    Chapter 4.
    a. Lucius Servilius, a young soldier working as clerk in the 3rd Cyrenaean Legion in Alexandria, an "dead drop" for communications for bad guys, who directs Antonius to a tavern in the city for shipping information, to "seek out Hasdrubal and avoid the pirate Ibrahim," the coded message inadvertently given to Antonius rather than the intended agent for rendezvous there. He is a minor supporting character later murdered. Antonius goes to the rendezvous and meets, to his shock:
    b. Ibrahim the pirate, initially the villain, then evolving into the third major leading character and the hero of the story.
    c. Hasdrubal, the major villain.

    So I introduce quickly: the major leading female character, three major leading characters, all four of whom change significantly, two major supporting characters, supporting because they don't change much, two minor characters that will reappear at the end, and the villain, nine in all.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2015
  9. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

    Jun 7, 2015
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    To address these in reverse order...

    Vincent means 'conqueror,' so that's a good name for a character who kicks ass. I know this because its my middle name (the meaning of my full name is royal conqueror of the Earth, but I have yet to live up to it; I have no idea what my parents were thinking).

    If you read Blake Snyder's Save the Cat!, he talks about giving characters a 'limp and an eye-patch.' In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain calls these things 'tags.' I'll leave it to you to read these books to get the details, but the long-n-short of it is, give each character identifiers in appearance and speech, refer to them each time you bring a character into a scene, and your reader won't have any trouble telling them apart no matter how quickly you do it.
  10. Aster

    Aster Member

    Dec 30, 2015
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    George RR Martin laughs at your pitiful cast of 9 relevant characters.

    While I feel this sufficiently answers your question I guess I'll elaborate :p

    It isn't how fast you introduce your characters that matters. It's how meaningful you make those introductions that matters. You could have someone formally introduce your protagonist to each character. Or they could blunder into the room covered in sauce screaming about the raccoons and crash through the opposite window and never be seen or heard from again for several chapters.

    The reader doesn't need to "see" the character for them to be "introduced". A character might be mentioned off-handedly by someone and not seen until halfway through the book.

    Your protagonist can be anticipating meeting certain characters. The reader is "introduced" to this character as a concept. There will be a character. So the reader is prepared for it and doesn't even realize just how many characters they've already been "introduced to".

    For example, on the very first page of Harry Potter and the Philsopher's Stone the reader is introduced to 6 main characters. On one page.
  11. GoldenFeather

    GoldenFeather Active Member

    Aug 10, 2012
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    I personally don't like it when too many characters are introduced too quickly. You want your readers to get familiar with one or two characters first, and then slowly add the additionals. If you introduce too many, not only will your readers not get the opportunity to get to really know your characters, but it will be difficult to keep track of who is doing what, why etc.

    My only recommendation would be to introduce your characters in groups. So instead of introducing each individually (total of eight), you can introduce three at once (let's say they're all in a cafe) and then the rest in pairs or another group. At least that way it might be easier to categorize the characters.

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