How many characters are just too much?

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Who much is too much?

1 to 3
0
No votes
4 or 5
1
7%
6 or 7
2
14%
8 or 9
2
14%
10 to 13
1
7%
14 to 17
3
21%
17 to 20 (good grief, huh?)
5
36%
 
Total votes: 14
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JillStar
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How many characters are just too much?

Postby JillStar » Mon Aug 23, 2004 4:09 pm

I'm writing a story that incorporates quite a few characters into one novel. Several of them are "possible" main characters however some are killed off throughout the story. The way it is being written, a reader could get involved easily into the life of a character who is not necessarily the main character and still go back to other characters for comfort if the one they like is killed.

My question... how many characters do you personally feel you can become a part of while reading a story... how many can you identify with without getting lost or confused... how many keeps you interested without getting frustrated?

Thanks everyone!

PLEASE take the time to tell me why if you can.
Last edited by JillStar on Sat Jan 07, 2006 3:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Mlou
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Postby Mlou » Mon Aug 23, 2004 4:14 pm

It all depends upon the setup of the narrative.
If there is one main plot with strong characters, I think it can carry several subplots, each with two or three characters, comfortably as long as they tie in periodically with the main story line.
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Postby JillStar » Mon Aug 23, 2004 4:19 pm

It starts with 10 people who begin the story together but each take off in different directions to gather information, etc. to help save the life of their queen. The story takes the reader on a journey with each of these 10 people (some coming together throughout the story) and all the people, creatures and events they must encounter along the way. Some succeed, some fail and some just plain die.

I can see how a reader could get frustrated if they don't enjoy one of the characters and skips ahead to some other part of the story... missing out on important events.
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Postby Mlou » Mon Aug 23, 2004 4:23 pm

Not necessarily. Consider the long scifi/fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. These characters who are all friends (or enemies) are apart over looong periods, pursuing their own ends and yet, as a reader, you keep track of them and easily pick up when the action/locale shifts from one to another.
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Postby pengwenn » Mon Aug 23, 2004 4:34 pm

Have you read Tad William's Otherland series? The first book is "City of Golden Shadow". He has a lot of characters in his books and they are coming and going all the time. Whenever 2 groups of people come together the people in the groups shift around and they splinter out again. Sometimes into more groups.

For me as long as there is one person in a group for me to care about or have some interest in then I can put up with the ones that I don't like. As a writer you can leave a group or person hanging in the middle of a crisis and move on to another group. That way the reader has to read on so they find our what happened to the characters they liked.
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Postby pengwenn » Mon Aug 23, 2004 4:36 pm

Mlou - good example!!! :) I've read those books and there are some main characters that are not even in some of the novels in the series.
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Postby JillStar » Mon Aug 23, 2004 4:44 pm

Thanks Mlou and Pengwenn... that helps put my mind at ease a bit.

Just have to make my characters interesting... well noted!!
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Postby April » Mon Aug 23, 2004 6:45 pm

And give them each just ONE name....
And stick a cheat sheat in the front or back of the book.....
-April
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Postby Mlou » Mon Aug 23, 2004 8:41 pm

And don't make the names similar! A failing with some authors that drives me mad.
Emily and Emlyn, Hassan and Assar, and so on. Unless they're twins or something. I just critiqued a ms for a friend and he had a woman and a child with almost the same name. Very confusing.
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Postby JillStar » Mon Aug 23, 2004 8:42 pm

Good advice!
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Postby Erin Lemley » Tue Aug 24, 2004 12:39 am

I agree that if you give the reader one or two to care about through out your story then the rest won't matter. We all need expendable characters to move our story along whether they survive or not.

One story I'm working on, the main character's best friend and her love interest causes her alot of conflict in the first half of the book but the second half they are hardly present. One of them is loveable and the other isn't. I am sure some readers won't like the disappearance of one or both of these characters, but that's life.

As long as their places and purposes in the story are clear and their names are distinguishable as Mlou pointed out I think you'll be ok with 10 characters. Look at LOTR....

good luck
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Postby Sossity » Tue Aug 24, 2004 4:51 pm

I just read a book recently that introduced 8 characters in the first 6 page chapter. I have to admit that I had to keep going back to that first chapter to figure out which character she was talking about.

Lots of characters are great if you put them in the book in their own individual scenerios so the reader can get a feel for each one.

Food for thought:If you have ten characters can you stretch it into ten individual stories, or five, all leading to the same conclusion. Publishers like it when they know they can get more than one book from an author, like Harry Potter.
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Postby Hyker » Tue Aug 24, 2004 7:06 pm

I like stories that are character driven, so thath means there are less characters and they can be developed more throughout the story.

I think the more characters you have, the more the story has to be plot driven, because less time can be devoted to character development.

Harry Potter is a good argument against this theory because there are several characters, but they are developed very well. Then again, read a Stephen King book and you only get a few choice characters, also very well developed.

I'd like to try a story with several characters just for the challenge.
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Postby Daysaver » Tue Aug 24, 2004 7:11 pm

And now I'm wondering if anyone else also doesn't do this?
Last edited by Daysaver on Thu Aug 26, 2004 7:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Hissmonster » Tue Aug 24, 2004 8:38 pm

ok guys there is a general rule of thumb when it comes to characters in a novel..

Three well developed characters is best..for you can do many, many scenarios...

This doesn't mean that your story can have only 3 characters...it means that you should only have 3 main characters that move the story from beginning to end. Secondary characters can come and go so long as they move the storyline...


Now I know that there are many books you can cite that have more than 3 main characters, but they do get complicated and sometimes hard to follow...remember it is a general rule not a law...

If you have well defined characters that are key to the story then let that dictate the number, but don't put in characters just because...thier roles for being there should be important to the story. Superficial characters are like the "new guy" in all the old Star Trek episodes...the main characters plus one newbie head out on the expedition and only the newbie dies...

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Postby CycoMerlin14 » Tue Aug 24, 2004 10:17 pm

Okay, what I want to know is who put 4 to 5 as too many characters. It's driving me crazy and/or up a wall.
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Postby Violinagin » Wed Aug 25, 2004 2:26 am

Don't look at me, I put 17 to 20 cuz that's how many I counted in mine *giggles*
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Postby TheMudge » Wed Aug 25, 2004 9:00 am

Depends on the length of the book?

I once wrote a full-length play that had something like 65 speaking roles. Not practical--especially when I wrote it for a drama troupe with 12 people--but it worked on paper . . .
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Postby Hyker » Wed Aug 25, 2004 1:05 pm

I think readers want to connect on a deep level with the main characters in a book. So when you try to develope too many, the readers could become bored or frustrated.
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Postby CycoMerlin14 » Wed Aug 25, 2004 9:45 pm

Hyker wrote:I think readers want to connect on a deep level with the main characters in a book. So when you try to develope too many, the readers could become bored or frustrated.


Best written in first person. :wink:
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Postby JillStar » Wed Aug 25, 2004 9:57 pm

I think I'll just write and worry about how many I've got later. ;)
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Postby Anblick » Thu Aug 26, 2004 9:42 am

jillstar wrote:I think I'll just write and worry about how many I've got later. ;)


It seems there's no consensus...

I say include as many/few as is necessary to tell YOUR story...
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Postby Tupwen » Sat Sep 18, 2004 11:22 am

IMO, it depends on how well developed the characters are. I can easily keep track of 12+ characters if they are interesting and well-drawn. But even three characters who have no personality, I could get just as confused as if there were 20 characters who just had names and no more character…

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Postby JillStar » Sat Jan 07, 2006 12:31 pm

I remember this... I have a story where I have 10 possible "main" characters. Whoa there Nelly!!!
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Postby Jeffrey Allan Boman » Sat Jan 07, 2006 1:41 pm

An older series now (Julian May's The Many Colored Land) introduced many characters as well. Some just faded into the background over time.

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