1. katina

    katina Banned Contributor

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    the ideal number of characters in a novel

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by katina, Feb 5, 2019.

    I am fascinated with numbers and have been trying to work out the ideal
    number for characters in a given story/book/novel.

    What is according to you the ideal ratio for character numbers in any given story?

    This is for purpose research. :)
     
  2. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'm reminded of a scene from the film Amadeus, in which the emperor tells Mozart that his opera was good but that there were "too many notes". Mozart replies, "there are just as many notes as I require, neither more nor less". So it is with novels. There are as many characters as the story requires.

    If you mean POV characters, that's another matter, and one that depends on whether the story is written in 1st person or 3rd. Generally, it's safest to only have one 1st person POV character, only one "I" in the story. That's not to say that multiple 1st person books haven't been written, but writing multiple 1st person POVs requires that each voice be distinctive and instantly recognizable by the reader. If writing in 3rd, I'd say anything beyond 6 POV characters is tricky, although doable.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2019
  3. Just a cookiemunster

    Just a cookiemunster Active Member

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    I don't know what is considered ideal but I like to read books that has alot of characters and I tend to feel lonely when I read a story that only focuses on one or two. The story I am writing currently has about 8 main and the rest are minor. And I switch between the POV of all of them (in third person) but not too often, only when required because I also think it's important to spend quality time with the most important ones. I don't like books that switch back and forth too often or too fast. But to answer your question I would say my ideal number personally would be around 8-10.
     
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  4. Spirit of seasons

    Spirit of seasons Active Member

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    Write 300 pages of exposition without any characters. :D

    Build your protagonist and maybe a sidekick or a villain. Then see where it goes.

    Or write in first person with yourself as the protagonist and see if anything interesting jumps out at you.
     
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  5. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    What are we calling a "character"? Just the ones that have action within the narrative, just those with agency, every person mentioned or seen down to the bellboy and the guard on the rooftop?

    I think the OP is looking for a number like "three", but a typical novel might mention hundreds of different characters while it only really containing one or two fully formed people.
     
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  6. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    It depends on the genre. My wife writes cozy mysteries and those have TONS of characters. It's just one of the tropes for that genre. I write maybe a third as many characters. There is no right or wrong answer here.
     
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  7. Reollun

    Reollun Active Member

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    There's no such thing as an ideal number of characters, in my opinion. It pretty much depends on the genre and the story. A psychological novel, for example, may focus on one character only, while all the other characters are of secondary importance. Think about Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, for example.
    Fantasy novels, on the other hand, usually involve a large number of characters, especially in an epic setting. Still, there are no rules in this regard, a writer is free to create as many characters as he sees fit, if he thinks it benefits the story he's writing.
     
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  8. Hammer

    Hammer Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    42

    Finally!
     
  9. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don’t like more than two or three important/POV/arc characters. When there are more I start wanting to skip stuff. (In GoT I’m really only interested in Arya and Tyrion. Everybody else just interests me to the extent that they interact with those two.)
     
  11. katina

    katina Banned Contributor

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    ouch!! I can hardly believe that but there you go haha :D
     
  12. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "Empire of the Sun" by J.G. Ballard
    If there can be an answer and this isn't some exercise in the art of Zen, I always liked this . . .
     
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  13. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I think, the ideal ratio is however many characters are needed to tell the story and not one more. I tend to prefer a smaller cast of characters that I can get really into - whether I be reading or writing.
    Once my book is ready to be written, I just go through my characters and ask myself "do I need you?".
    I often mash two characters together to creative one deeper character with more of a story arc.
     
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  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I read an interview with an editor who said too many stories are underpopulated. Ever since then I've tried to work with a larger cast of characters in both my short stories and novel. I think it's kind of important to listen to what industry experts are saying when it comes to the stories they buy and what they want to see.
     
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  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm curious to see that. Do you happen to remember where it was?
     
  16. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak -- I think I remember reading the interview on duotrope and I want to say it was the editor of Zoetrope which is the literary journal owned by Francis Ford Coppola. I took an online class through them a few years back. So, it could have been part of that reading material. But I'm not 100 percent sure. It was an interesting piece of advice wherever it came from. It made me think about how many characters are really part of any given story. I've read some great stories with a limited number of characters. But I do love a well-populated story myself. It's hard to publish. If an editor says they want to see stories with more characters, that's something I want to be able to deliver. My novel has quite a few characters. I'm sticking with one point of view, but I've got characters. Stories are about people (or creatures). I don't want my stories to feel crowded. At the same time I want them to seem full, populated and complete.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2019
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  17. mfrankj3@gmail

    mfrankj3@gmail New Member

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    I have trouble with the word ideal, prefering to think there is no ideal, either in the number of characters of in how those characters are presented.
     
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  18. Zombie Among Us

    Zombie Among Us Active Member

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    I like to think of the Warriors series by the group Erin Hunter. Four main large clans of cats, their version of Heaven and Hell, Kittypets (housecats), and then some. In the third season, The Power of Three, it follows three of the cats, switching the focus but never using the word “I.” There’s so many characters, and this series is incredibly popular with all ages! I loved Warriors as a kid, and I kind of want to get back into it someday.

    My point is a bunch of characters works extremely well for that series. The amount of characters you use, as many already said in their replies, is based on what the story requires.

    Do what feels right!
     
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  19. Reece

    Reece Senior Member

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    Not so many that I can't keep track of them or have enough room in my heart to GAF about them all. Particularly frustrating when the names are similar. Then they all just morph into one confusing blob of a character.
     
  20. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman Extradinor Contributor

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    As many as it takes.... but keep it organized and don't confuse your reader.... my current story has over 100 characters in it, ranging from MCs, 2nd, 3rd, background, etc.
     
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  21. Just a cookiemunster

    Just a cookiemunster Active Member

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    Omaiga! I thought I had a lot with 8 to 10. I can't believe you have that many! :supershock:
     
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  22. John-Wayne

    John-Wayne Madman Extradinor Contributor

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    Nether did I till I took count. LOL. but to be fair some of those characters are children and grand children of characters as well. (and inversely, parents and grands)

    and they don't appear constantly, but spotted, some die and some are temproary.
     
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  23. katina

    katina Banned Contributor

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    The meaning of life!! Is that it?:pop::write::cheerleader:
     
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  24. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

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    There's no specific number to tell you an ideal amount of characters in a story. But think about this. Put all your characters talking with each other. If someone doesn't interact or have minimal dialogue with others, it means is useless. So you cut that character until you realise those who have dialogue. I hope this helps. :supersmile:
     
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