Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday's Writer's Tip - How Many Characters Make A Story?


Last week we looked at the way characters come into being. Now it's how many characters does the story need? This question needs a bit of thought because each story is different and for each story there needs to be the right amount of characters.

I suppose you could write a romance with just two characters but that would seem straightforward and there would be little room for interaction with others and this is where some of the tension in the story happens. Each story needs enough characters to make the story happen. So how do you figure how many characters to people your story.

Too few characters makes for a very short story and too many and you could have a very long story. Each character introduced takes words. Having too many uses words you need to reach the end of the story. Too many characters can confuse the reader, especially if they're introduced in the first few pages of the story.

So look at your story and see which characters are necessary. There's the protagonist and the antagonist both are needed. Then there are the characters who can be combined to cut down on the number needed. Do you need the grocery clerk, the cab driver, or the walk on character. If they don't have a purpose in the story, don't give them a name or a description. They're really part of the scenery.

So look at your story and determine if you have enough characters to make the story reach the end. If a character isn't for or against the main character leave them out. Remember all these people in the story should have a function for they are figments of the writer's imagination and exist to keep the reader turning the pages.

7 comments:

G W pickle said...

How many characters does it take to make a story? In my first book, it was a military Sci-Fi and it started out with 1 then 3 and eventually leading to about 30 as I added more personal to the newly commissioned Jackwell prime base station. You would assume that there were more base personal, but they were not needed to be mentioned in the story. My 2nd book began with 2 and I had only a couple of scenes that had more than 4. One scene had around 35 but most of them remained nameless. So I guess my answer is as many as necessary.

G W pickle said...

How many characters does it take to make a story? In my first book, it was a military Sci-Fi and it started out with 1 then 3 and eventually leading to about 30 as I added more personal to the newly commissioned Jackwell prime base station. You would assume that there were more base personal, but they were not needed to be mentioned in the story. My 2nd book began with 2 and I had only a couple of scenes that had more than 4. One scene had around 35 but most of them remained nameless. So I guess my answer is as many as necessary.

Sandy said...

Okay, you have hit up on a failing of mine, so I had to read this post. lol I like a lot of characters, but then that means some of those characters need their own stories.

I have to make sure the characters
show up at the appropriate time in my story. Not always an easy thing to do.

Janet Walters said...


I've been known to write casts of thousands. Not quite that many but my YA series moves from 5 viewpoint characters to 8 plus all the others I thought should be there. Villain grew from one to six.

Marianne Stephens said...

Finding the right mix of characters can be tricky....but you have to get the correct number and build interest in each one.
I once read a RITA entry that had so many characters in the first chapter that I had to write down names so I could keep them straight. Had my head spinning and not much fun to read.

Melissa Keir said...

I agree with GW... as many as needed. I like to have a few extra family members in all my stories. These are the family members of the two main characters and show how important family is to me.

Kallypso Masters said...

Hi, Paloma! Saw the link on twitter and (since I just finished the draft of Somebody's Angel), am playing a little today. :)

I agree that the number of named characters varies by story, definitely. And it's best to sprinkle them in (unless you're revisiting characters from earlier books). Only characters who are necessary to telling the story need to be there.

The rest of my post may be more about POV characters than merely named ones. Usually I only go into the heads (POVs) of 3-4 characters per Romance. (I was in the heads of five in my introduction.) I write long (epic size) novels (not unlike comments on blogs ), so subplots are a given. And the Rescue Me series is an ongoing saga where readers want to know how the earlier couples are doing--and they don't expect everything to be perfect for them just because they got married or engaged (or reached Happy For Now, in the case of the couple in books 2 and 5). So, in my books, the couples from the past are usually working on issues even after Happily Ever After and readers want to see that up close and personal.

In my December release, I go into EIGHT points of view--all six of the couples who have had Romances written about them in the series so far (including the couple who were the main characters in book 2 who are also the main characters in this one--book 5). But I also go into the heads of the couple featured in the next Romance (which I haven't even started writing yet).

Just showing the earlier characters on the page in cameo appearances without letting readers get back inside their heads (with their own chapters even) just doesn't work in a saga, IMHO. (And I've read any number of reviews lately where readers complained that they didn't get to feel what the earlier characters were thinking or experiencing, only saw them thru the lens of the main H&H's POV. Just wasn't satisfying to the readers, but that's how stand-alone novels in series tend to be. I tell readers they have to read it in order. It's like trying to follow a soap opera!)

And, of course, this is just what works for me. Maybe it works because I introduced five of the saga's main characters in the introduction and got readers to care enough about them to want more. *shrug* Whatever. It seems to be working!

Kally