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Old 09-17-2012, 05:59 AM   #1
frahse
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How many characters will you use?

How many is too many?
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Old 09-17-2012, 07:06 AM   #2
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Umm well my wife is complaining in my current book I am at to many. I just counted, there are 16 people in my current book that I am actively tracking in my notes. Tons of people that come and go as filler and back drops of course.
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Old 09-17-2012, 11:08 AM   #3
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It depends on a great many variables. How long is the story. What type of story is it? In a long work, usually try to keep to no more than four primary characters, though there may be a dozen or more major supporting characters and many minor characters.
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Old 09-17-2012, 11:54 AM   #4
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It depends on a great many variables. How long is the story. What type of story is it? In a long work, usually try to keep to no more than four primary characters, though there may be a dozen or more major supporting characters and many minor characters.
Thats a good point. I only have 3-4 characters whose POV is tracked closely, the rest are support characters that the mains interact with.
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Old 09-17-2012, 12:34 PM   #5
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I seem to recall War and Peace had too many characters for my taste.

More recently I read Neal Stephenson's "Reamde" and I was impressed by how well he maintained my interest despite almost too many POV characters. I'm thinking there were perhaps six real POV types. At first I was thinking there were too many pages (what could possibly happen that can't be resolved sooner?) and then later I was thinking he needed more pages. He could have explored the T'Rain stuff even further.
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Old 09-17-2012, 08:20 PM   #6
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I know in my current works that two problems have arisen from too many characters and/or POV. The first is that in a group of protagonists (just six in this case) one in particular sometimes doesn't seem to get much of a look-in: little of the dialogue or action: it risks making the character look shallow or unimportant and yet, in my head at least, they are neither. The second is that the book has branched into more separate threads than I had planned (about 6 at the moment), and that makes it more difficult to tell the story: trying to keep up that many distinct voices, trying to fit the story of each thread in without dragging out the entire thing too far.

Having written the above it appears that "6" might be what I think is too many, but I'm guessing this will vary with the author and the context.
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Old 09-17-2012, 08:45 PM   #7
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You use as many as is necessary. If you are writing about two people trapped in an elevator, it will differ considerably from a story about twenty-five people in a lifeboat after their ship sank.
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Old 09-17-2012, 10:49 PM   #8
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But as the writer of fiction you get to choose how many people you want in the lifeboat. And even if you 50 crowd in there, that doesn't mean you can comfortably give good depth, back-story and voice to each one of them (and still keep the reader in interested) - at some point some of the characters inevitably fade into the supporting cast.
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Old 09-17-2012, 10:57 PM   #9
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Quote:
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But as the writer of fiction you get to choose how many people you want in the lifeboat. And even if you 50 crowd in there, that doesn't mean you can comfortably give good depth, back-story and voice to each one of them (and still keep the reader in interested) - at some point some of the characters inevitably fade into the supporting cast.
Yes, I suppose that you could have them turn cannibal and dispose of some character with a burp. Or maybe have a man eating shark (why are there no woman eating sharks?) chew its way through some superfluous characters.
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Old 09-18-2012, 04:50 AM   #10
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I know in my current works that two problems have arisen from too many characters and/or POV. ---
You have to maintain control or your efforts chance becoming tedious both for you and the reader or even sloppy.

If necessary, try random character elimination.
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Old 09-18-2012, 06:53 AM   #11
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You have to maintain control ... try random character elimination.
Oxymoronic advice?

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Old 09-18-2012, 07:02 AM   #12
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As a reader (I'm not a writer), I find that when there are more than 3 or 4 primary characters that I need to follow, the story becomes overly complex. I read novels for pleasure; when I read nonfiction, such as a biography, I expect a gazillion characters and thus my reading becomes slower and more intense. But when I read a novel, I do not want to have to exert that same effort and intensity as the biography requires.

Too many characters are like too many cooks -- the characters spoil the plot, the cooks spoil the broth.
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Old 09-18-2012, 07:09 AM   #13
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As a reader (I'm not a writer), I find that when there are more than 3 or 4 primary characters that I need to follow, the story becomes overly complex. I read novels for pleasure; when I read nonfiction, such as a biography, I expect a gazillion characters and thus my reading becomes slower and more intense. But when I read a novel, I do not want to have to exert that same effort and intensity as the biography requires.

Too many characters are like too many cooks -- the characters spoil the plot, the cooks spoil the broth.
Yeah, I am having that problem right now in my currently being written book (vol four) ... I think I might have to use Frahse plan and kill some main characters off... I think next book will revert back to 1-2 main chars...
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Old 09-18-2012, 07:33 AM   #14
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I'd say use as many as you need. I used to try and keep it small, but my latest project keeps spawning minor characters who need costumes and somewhat fleshed- out backgrounds. I think I'm up to eight now, but I'm going to need at least four more.
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Old 09-18-2012, 10:33 AM   #15
Nancy Fulda
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The number of characters your book can support without confusing the reader depends a great deal on your skill at differentiating characters. If you are careful to make your characters distinct, memorable, and easily identifiable -- and if you are adept at dropping subtle clues to remind readers about the character -- then thirty or forty named characters is not out of the realm of possibility.

Most authors aren't that skilled, though. (I'm certainly not.) For beginners, I'd recommend sticking to ten or twelve named characters, and be sure to introduce them one at a time.
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