1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    only a few characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by deadrats, Feb 1, 2017.

    So, in my short stories I like to have a lot of characters. I think I've developed a way of storytelling that can handle a big cast, so to speak. But now I'm working on a novel, and I don't have a lot of characters. I don't really see a need for them in this story. But is it harder to pull off a novel with only a few characters? I have basically two main characters and a handful of other characters with smaller roles. Is this something I should worry about? How many characters do you have in your novels?
     
  2. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    Your story needs the number of characters it needs. Most of my novel projects have no more than 6 characters of importance, so I'm used to dealing with small casts. I don't think there's anything inherently bad about having a large or a small cast--you just have to make sure each character pulls its weight.
     
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  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Yup.

    I tend towards larger casts, but if your story only needs / is only about a couple characters, that's all it needs to be about. I'd only worry about the lack of characters resulting in a lack of plot, and by extension, wordcount. But f your primary cast has enough development and story to go through, that shouldn't be an issue, and I certainly wouldn't advocate adding in 'filler' plots/characters just to hit a novel-length wc.
     
  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Needs the number it needs? Thanks. If I felt like I knew that, I wouldn't have asked you fellow writers what you thought. Six does sound like a good number. It just sort of hit me tonight how focused I have become on this two-character world. And it's a little worrisome that I can't think of any examples similar to mine. I think that means I have a problem. Shit!
     
  5. Samunderthelights

    Samunderthelights Active Member

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    I personally prefer to write (most of the times) two main characters, and then the 'supporting' characters, which are only a few. So not too many characters. I prefer it that way because when I read a book, I sometimes get confused when there are too many characters. And sometimes characters feel like they are only there as fillers. So I try to avoid that.
    But you say in your first post ; 'I don't have a lot of characters. I don't really see a need for them in this story.'. So I would say, then don't add any more characters just because you feel like you should. Because if there's no need for them, they will, more likely than not, be 'filler' characters, or take parts away from the characters you have written now, characters that you actually need for the story. So if you don't feel a need for them, don't add them. It's your story, you can write as many, or as few characters as you want. :)
     
  6. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    Like the others said, this is totally contingent on the story you're writing. I don't think anyone can say if your story has too few or too many characters without knowing anything about the story.

    I'll give two polar examples:

    Game of Thrones- HUGE cast. Tons of main characters, POVs, supporting roles. It has everything you could think of. And it works because the story demands that number of characters.

    Dark Matter- Obviously lesser known than GoT, but it has an extremely small cast because the main conflict of the novel is one guy, Jason Dessen, traveling through alternate realities in search of his reality. There's really only three or four maybe five characters that affect the plot in any meaningful way. This story works with few characters because the story demands it.

    So, like the others said, your story needs the number of characters it needs. I can't think of a better way to put that.
     
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  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, I get it. Dumb question. But I was hoping it would spark more of a discussion on the number of character we choose to work with and how we feel about these decisions. I can't be the only one to ever wonder if a WIP ever needed more characters, can I? I really want this novel to work. My plan is to finish it by summer. That still gives me tons of time to play with things. And I'm wondering if a two-person story might be lacking in some ways.
     
  8. Samunderthelights

    Samunderthelights Active Member

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    I don't think it's a dumb question at all. And yes, a two-person story can be lacking in all kinds of ways, but so can a hundred-person story. It just depends on how well you write the characters, and the story itself. :bigwink:
     
  9. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Misery, by Stephen King. Two characters and quite a successful novel.

    I still don't know why you feel you need to add more characters. It seems like you feel a need to follow some rule or adhere to some convention that just doesn't exist. Can you explain this in more detail?
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @deadrats - I know you can write really well, and your subjects are always worthy, so I'm wondering why this is an issue for you? If you have developed the idea and/or the partial writing of a novel, and it doesn't really need more characters than you already have, then just carry on. If you pad the novel with unneeded characters, then you dilute your story.

    A novel allows scope for many characters, but it's not a requirement. @minstrel's example of Misery is a good one. Going back even further, you've got Robinson Crusoe! :)

    As you would in any other storytelling medium, just tell your story. If it's a story with few characters, don't worry about head count.
     
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  11. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I can't say I've ever wondered if a project needed more characters - usually I'm arguing with myself over potentially having too many ... But, okay.

    My thinking is that every character has to serve a purpose. If my story has a need that a character could fulfill - forwarding the plot, say, or helping to develop another character - then I'll introduce one (or at least think about it). For example, a character needs softening: maybe I'll introduce a parent or sibling, someone who tempers them by being nearby. A character needs vital information to drive the plot along: maybe I'll create a character who can impart that information. But if there aren't any holes that a new character could fix, I try to restrain myself from involving any more.

    More often the case with me is that I idly come up with characters that I think are cool, and then I want places to put them. Stories branch off of them whether I do or not, so I tend to try to slot them into a story as soon as possible to keep them from sprouting an entirely new one. Because of this I end up with larger setting populated by various groups of characters - the sf setting has about five discrete stories and casts in it. From what I understand, you don't work this way, so I doubt my methods would be much help.

    That said, one of the stories I've planned I do intend to only keep to two main characters, because it's explicitly about them - two siblings - searching for their mother, who will never actually be onscreen. There's a 'villain' of sorts and a few supporting characters, but the story is about the siblings and their absent mom, and I feel that including more characters and more plots would only muddy the waters. I don't know if it'll be novel-length or not; I doubt there'll be a lot of subplots. But I'm not really concerned about that. All I'm concerned about is the story being good, and I think it'll be best served by focusing on the main duo. Any plot issues need to be resolved by them; any character development needs to be driven by them. That's what the story I want to tell needs. If what your story needs is to focus on only two characters, then ...

    If you don't want to focus on just the two of them, I'd ask yourself why. Because it seems like you just feel like you need to fill a quota, and that way lies bad writing. Why can't these two characters carry the story? Have they done an okay job of it so far? (If not, then sure, consider changing something.) Is something arising in the plot that they can't handle for some reason? Is there a gap that needs filling by another character? If what you've got is going well, I'd say just go with it. Make sure you understand why you're feeling that there may be a problem. In my opinion, not being able to think of anyone else doing it isn't a problem.
     
  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    When I'm reading, it's often the side characters that give a novel its spark, so I like to include them in mine. They don't get a lot of 'screen time' compared to the main two characters (I write romance) but their scenes are often my favourites.

    I usually have a cast of:
    - Male MC
    - Female MC
    - A sidekick for one or both of them
    - An antagonist for one or both of them
    - Recurring background characters like work colleagues or family members
    - 'Extras' who appear in one scene and I usually use as comic foils. Waiters, doctors, receptionists, whatever.

    The MCs will get probably 80% of screen time and they share the other 20% with the rest.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2017
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  13. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    For the record, all of my novels have had a single POV character. The other characters are secondary and vary in level of importance. A small cast allows an extremely deep dive into each particular character, which can be a huge draw (that's what I like about only using a single POV). Every character matters, every character has significant weight.

    One of the best examples I can think of is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Sure, there are other people in the story here and there, but realistically there are two characters--the man and the boy. And believe me, there is no shortage of material to work with. Those characters get developed.

    So I'm just not sure what the worry is. Less dialogue? Not a bad thing--hell, I routinely have to pare down my dialogue. Less interaction? Maybe, but you still have the ability to get introspective. POV characters have thoughts, and just because a character might be alone at any given time doesn't mean he or she can't react to his or her environment.

    It would certainly help to know more about the story, because right now it's just all assumptions and guesswork.
     
  14. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The following is purely supposition on my part:

    Perhaps you are noticing this difference (short story - lots of characters vs novel - fewer characters) because in a short story you have less time/space/room to develop characters and characters end up doing double duty as plot points, and in your novels you are knowing that now you have the room and space to really get into the fleshing-out of the people, thus fewer of them because you're spending more time with each, and the plot points are more external.... ?

    This is the way it often is for me too, hence my supposition.
     
  15. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Everything I write basically consists of two MCs with a supporting cast of characters.
     
  16. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I went through my WIP as I was thinking of this thread and realized a pattern that may or may not relate to this topic.

    I have:

    Guy A - Guy B
    Family Members A1 & A2 - Family Members B1 & B2
    Gal-Pal A - Gal-Pal B

    o_O
     
  17. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks for the examples and replies. I've read both those books and now I can think of others. I don't know why I just sort of panicked over this. I just don't want to get to the end and have really big problems to fix.
     
  18. texshelters

    texshelters Active Member

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    Crime and Punishment and Hunger Games have only one main character. Harry Potter? Three main and dozens of others. Sherlock Holmes? Two, three if Moriarty is in the story and four if Irene Adler is in there as well. Too many main characters is hard to make work, but a few, sure. Peace, Tex
     
  19. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    I've panicked and worried several times over my novel, and every time I have, my brother told me he liked the thing I was worried about. Relax, enjoy the novel, and don't let your fears control you. Write your novel how you want it and don't worry about the rewrite. The novel might even turn out better than you anticipated!
     

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