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seun
11-14-2006, 06:35 PM
When does a book have too many characters? I know it depends on the scope of the novel, setting, plot and all that good stuff but even so, is there a rough guideline we as writers should be aware of?

I've been thinking about a series of my books which feature a large number of characters (mainly in two worlds) and while I've been careful to ensure each character is justified and that the reader doesn't meet more than a couple at a time, I'm wondering if an agent/publisher would have a problem with this.

Lyra Jean
11-14-2006, 06:58 PM
I read in one of those learn how to write a novel books. Three main characters the protagonist, the love interest/sidekick, and the antagonist. Everyone else is supporting characters.

I would say do what works. If you have beta readers and the majority of them are saying you have to many characters then maybe you do. If they don't say anything or only one person says something then you are probably okay. If an agent says I'll take your ms if you take out x number of characters then I would take out x number of characters.

seun
11-14-2006, 07:31 PM
So far, nobody has told me there are too many characters although in an early draft, I did introduce two groups to one another. A reader mentioned that it was a little hard to follow as there were twelve people in one scene.

janetbellinger
11-14-2006, 07:38 PM
The only problem I can see in having twelve major characters would be that the reader might not be able to identify with them all or develop sympathy for them. If your character development is divided up twelve ways, will any one character really be able to reach out and grab the readers?

wordmonkey
11-14-2006, 07:41 PM
Didn't we just leave this party?

A couple of weeks back we had this very question. I don't have time to link the thread, but it's there, not too far back.

seun
11-14-2006, 08:15 PM
The only problem I can see in having twelve major characters would be that the reader might not be able to identify with them all or develop sympathy for them.

That is a danger but the characters are in distinct groups. They only meet in one large group in a particular scene. While it's not quite in Lord of the Rings territory, I suppose that's an OK comparison.


Apologies for starting a thread that's already been brought up. I had a quick look before starting this one but couldn't see anything similar.

ChaosTitan
11-14-2006, 08:52 PM
When you, as the writer, start to confuse your characters and lose track of them, then you have too many. If you can't keep track of them, how is the reader supposed to?

My current WIP has a fairly large cast, and there are times where upwards of eight people are in a room at once. But the majority of scenes occur between two or three characters, so the reader should be familiar enough with who's who to keep them straight.

seun
11-14-2006, 11:41 PM
:Shrug:I didn't say anything about losing track of my characters. One of my readers did in an early draft but that scene has been edited since.

John61480
11-15-2006, 02:10 AM
I think having many characters will add a whole new dimension to your story. As a reader, it can get very lonely if there is only one character featured. Two or three is enlightening and adds warmth (along with the extras that appear). But having five or even six gives a scope that is big. As I read a book with this many characters, I get an inner feeling that the story has much depth and a plot that will reveal much with these many characters. Most of every Stephen King book I have read has featured this. And then from reading books with two or three character limits, it feels like a fake, shut down world where nothing happens except for these people's lives. Very unreal and doesn't suck me in.

However, one thing I learned and took away with me is introducing too many characters too soon. I did this in one chapter I posted here in the SYW forum area and I came away very disturbed. I learned a lot because I had introduced four characters in one chapter! A word of advice: never try that unless your chapter has three scene breaks and is 2000 words each.

Thus I have spoken...

bylinebree
11-15-2006, 02:18 AM
The only problem I can see in having twelve major characters would be that the reader might not be able to identify with them all or develop sympathy for them. If your character development is divided up twelve ways, will any one character really be able to reach out and grab the readers?

Oh, GOOD point!!

In "Writing the Breakout Novel," Don Maass studied many of these "breakouts" in various genres. He suggests that combining characters is a mark of a break-out. You assign more than one role to a secondary character, such as -- she is the MC's best friend and also the MC's doctor. Perhaps she is also related to him/her and is a victim of a crime (or even one of the perpetrators)

This adds depth to your characters and keeps them from being "cardboard" or "wallpaper."

Dave.C.Robinson
11-15-2006, 06:04 AM
If everyone can follow everything, you may not have too many characters. If they can't: you probably do. One good idea is to see how many of the roles really do require a character all to themselves and look to combining some.

It really does depend on the book-- but too many is definitely too many ;)

CBeasy
11-15-2006, 06:58 AM
I think it depends how many story lines are running at the same time. I once read a book with eight main characters, but the characters were split into two groups whose stories collided at the end. Overall, I really enjoyed the book, however, if those characters had been together the whole time, it probably would've given me a headache.

TwentyFour
11-15-2006, 07:08 AM
I used to read alot of Stephen King novels, he had so many characters! It was like a whole town in his head. I have a bunch of characters but most are around later on. I have bosses who are around and have back stories. I have families with at least seven people...I just don't go into detail on the unimportant ones.

ChaosTitan
11-15-2006, 08:46 AM
:Shrug:I didn't say anything about losing track of my characters. One of my readers did in an early draft but that scene has been edited since.

My apologies, I didn't mean for my post to sound as though I was implying that. I was stating my personal rule of thumb for dealing with large casts of characters.

The day I can't keep them all straight in my head is the day the cast gets pared down. That's all.

travelgal
11-15-2006, 11:16 AM
I think the secret is not how many characters you've got, but how they are portrayed in your book, and what purpose they serve. Easier said than done.:tongue

I've used Maass' recommendation to combine characters. Unfortunately, not all can be combined.:(

seun
11-15-2006, 02:19 PM
My apologies, I didn't mean for my post to sound as though I was implying that. I was stating my personal rule of thumb for dealing with large casts of characters.

No worries. I thought I'd missed something.

I think each character serves a purpose either as support to the main characters or to the plot. As nobody has told me (yet) I've overdone it, I'll stick with what I've got. If other readers tell me there's a problem, I'll have to make some changes. It's been a while since I've killed anyone off...evil laugh...