Anonymous asked: I am currently writing a novel/trilogy. It’s fantasy, and I’m afraid that the number of characters is rather large. All are very important, and play main roles. Some die over the course of the story, and the way I’ve laid it out, they’re separated into two or three main groups at the very beginning. You get to know each individual group before they’re all joined. But. Is 14 major characters still pushing the limits?
As a general rule, there are very few general rules in writing.
In keeping with this theme of general non-generalness, there is no set limit to how many characters you can have. Nobody is going to say that fourteen is bad, but if you cut out one and make it thirteen, you’ll be fine. Like so many things, the question is a matter how this problem contributes to the overall effectiveness and readability of the piece.
- Don’t confuse your readers. Remember, you’ve put years of thought into this story. Your readers probably haven’t. Even though you know exactly who everybody is and what they’re doing and what they’re like, your readers are looking at this all for the first time. This is why we have exposition, but this is also why you should be cognizant of how confusing your story might be getting. If you have loads of characters and relationships floating around, people are probably going to forget what’s going on, and characters are going to get lost in the shuffle, which they don’t deserve (I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien).
- Don’t chunk. Stories can be told in parts, to be sure, but having a large number of characters and splitting them up into groups can damage the narrative in terms of overall smoothness. It shouldn’t look like you have a bunch of sections and then you tie it all together at the end, it should all look like it’s one unit.
- Get a grasp on your expository needs. A precarious balancing goes on with having a large number of characters and how you handle describing them.
- Please don’t be boring. It isn’t super interesting when you have a lot of explaining to do. You know when you read a book and say, “Well, the first fifty pages were slow because you just have to get the general idea, but I’m hoping it’ll pick up soon”? That isn’t very much fun. Those first fifty pages should be interesting. Granted, you have to discuss your characters and introduce your reader to them, but you should do it in a way that isn’t slow. Conversely…
- Let your readers know what’s going on. Characterization is crucial. With a large number of characters, some of them might end up getting shortchanged in their description. Don’t let that happen or, at least, let it happen with style. If you have so many characters and cannot cut the number down, they are presumably all important. Give them the attention they deserve and make every detail about each character count.
- Characters are the neediest people you will ever meet. Just as you cannot jump into the climax of the story without the readers knowing enough about the characters, it might be difficult for you yourself to start writing anything unless you have a firm idea of who the characters are. These characters are the forces that are shaping the progression of your story, and, ideally, you should have them all fleshed out before you set pen to paper. Having a large cast can make that hard, so be prepared.
- Be honest. All writing needs honesty in revision. Is everything you put in there necessary?
How many of these characters are going play a part in the climax? And, conversely, how many are going to end up as loose ends to be tied off? With that in mind, are there any characters you can combine? There’s also the painful matter of realizing some characters serve no useful purpose and should be deleted altogether for the good of the book. Lush casts are fun for both authors and readers, but the more streamlined your cast, the tighter and more powerful your story is likely to be. (x)
Being able to kill parts of your story is going to cut out the fluff and the things that annoy you as a reader.
In the end, the most important thing is that your story not only being readable, but enjoyable. Having too many characters can muddle the story, slow it down, and confuse your reader. You might need to keep all of your characters for the sake of your story, and so it is necessary to understand the implications of a large cast so that you can avoid them.
- Does Too Many Characters Spoil the Story?
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Character Redundancy
- Does Your Story Have Too Many Characters?
Thank you for your question! If you have any concerns, questions, or suggestions about this post or writing in general, feel free to use our ask box!
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