First ‘If I Stay’ poster
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!
"The average writer has three plot holes a story" factoid actually just statistical error. Steven Moffat, who lives in a cave and has over 10,000 plot holes an episode, is an outlier adn should not have been counted.
Conflict in Literature
mom can i borrow money to buy you a present
Boring stories are often boring because they lack tension. If your story doesn’t quite pack the punch you wish it did, you should take a look at how much tension you’re creating. It’s important to remember that you don’t need an explosive scene to create tension; it could also be something simple. As long as you stay true to your characters and plot, you’ll be able to build scenes that will put your readers on the edge of their seats. Here’s a few ways to jolt your characters to the next level:
Make them question their beliefs
Nothing shocks your characters quite like giving them an identity crisis. If a character has believed something for a long time only to find out they’ve been misinformed or lied to, their world shatters. If you can make your character question who they really are, you’ll add tension and intrigue your readers. You’ll also succeed in giving your character the motivation to figure things out. The need for self-understanding is often a good motivational factor and will shock your characters into action.
Raise the stakes
The best way to add tension to your story is to raise the stakes. Say your character needs to get something from your antagonist, but you don’t know how to make it more exciting. Add something to it that will make your character need to act right away. Maybe the world will end in three days if your character can’t get whatever they need to get. Put a time limit on something. Force them into acting fast. There are countless ways you can raise the stakes for your characters, so you can come up with something that will fit your story.
Take away something they love
A great way to shock your characters is to take something away from them that means a lot. However, be careful not to create a character just to die for motivational purposes. For example, setting up a weak love interest and then having them die, so that the main character will want revenge. Try to focus on something that will help with your protagonist’s characterization. Say your main character really loves their job and they’re climbing up the ranks, but then suddenly they get fired and they don’t know what to do next. You’ve taken away something they love and understand and also made them question their beliefs and their place in the world. You can add more to this. Maybe the antagonist got them fired. This might motivate them to seek revenge. These are just simple examples, but taking away something important to a character will help add tension.
As writers and readers, we know this to be all too true!