You’ve started writing your book. When writing our stories, we can sometimes get carried away with ourselves. We overcompensate in some areas and completely skimp over others. This is something that can be fixed with lots of practice and constructive criticism.
You have the main character set in your mind, you’ve added in their cohorts, you have a set enemy and their cohorts. Before you know it, you end up having too many people to keep track of. If you look closely, most of them are either hollow shells or the exact replica of another character. These are the characters you need to remove from the story altogether. If they are absolutely necessary, make them a fleetingly passing nobody character and move on without them.
Here are some things to look at when deciding whether you need the character or not.
- Do they have a personality? Are they around enough for their personality to shine out to the readers through their actions? Or do you find yourself calling them “noble, vindictive, or cruel” in the text?
- Are they the one who always magically comes to save the day for the other characters, but then continues their way out of the story?
- Are they truly necessary? Do they have a purpose besides coming in for a one-liner or lurking around a group of important characters?
These are just a few ways to tell if you have too many characters lingering around. If they don’t accelerate the story, your supporting cast doesn’t need them. If you can delete them without feeling like you’re cutting off an arm, you don’t need them. Point blank. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they’ll be extremely important in one more scene in Book Four when Book One isn’t even finished. Trust me, the reader will forget they ever even existed by the time that character appears again.
For those who came to this article perhaps looking for an exact number to abide by like a bible, there is no perfect number of characters to have within your cast. There is no precise limit either. As long as you only keep in the characters necessary to write the story, you’ll not only have an easier time writing it, but your readers will have a better time reading it as well.
Do not restrict yourself or your characters on the fairytale ideals of the perfect amount of characters to have in a story. Sit down at the keyboard and just write.
2 thoughts on “How Many Characters Are Too Many?”
My tendency is more to write unnecessary incident than unnecessary characters. One book I wrote earlier this year ended up with a whole chapter and a half I eliminated from the second draft, due to a sequence I desperately wanted to include, but it turned out it just bogged down the rest of the story and didn’t reveal anything that couldn’t be gleaned elsewhere. So I cut it and it massively improved the pacing.
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