Tag Archives: main characters

When You Have Too Many Characters, Let the Zombies Loose

 

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I’ve been commenting on a friend’s work in progress. It’s a fantasy novel, and the number of characters is large. The novel is the first in a planned seven book series, and many of the characters are important. There are ten children/teens and three adults, for a total of thirteen main characters.

While there is no firm rule about how many characters to include in a novel, oftentimes fewer characters is better. Fewer characters tend to mean increased readability and emotional power.

When you have too many characters, several things can happen:

  • Reader confusion. While you have thoroughly thought out your story, readers haven’t. They don’t know all the ins and outs of every single character. As more characters get involved, plots and relationships grow more complex. It’s a lot easier for readers to forget what’s going on. Characters are forgotten and readers get frustrated.

 The most recent chapter I commented on for my friend’s book was one scene that contained ten characters. The chapter was about twenty pages because my friend wanted each character to get an equal about of time in the limelight. However, this novel is in limited third-person point of view, which means that the story is told through the eyes of one character. This sole character should have the lion’s share of the story. By my friend attempting to give all the characters equal show time, the protagonist’s voice was lost in the shuffle.

  • Tedium takes hold. When you have a large cast of characters, you need to take time to introduce them all. Characterization is pivotal. But, each character should get a percentage of readers’ attention. The more important a character is the more she should be in the story. Spending too much time explaining isn’t interesting. You don’t want readers to say that your novel was slow.

Many of my friend’s novel chapters are intense. I want to keep reading. Yet, I find that the characters spend too much time conversing. I want action, and too often I get five or more characters in a scene and for some reason all of them have to voice their opinion or I have to know what each one is doing at all times. This slows down the action and the tension.

  • Too much fluff. Writing characters is fun, as is creating playful banter and showcasing each character’s viewpoint, for the writer. Readers are only interested in characters that serve a purpose. If you’ve got characters in your story that don’t add to the plot, get rid of them. It’ll do your book good. The tighter your cast is, the more impactful your story will be.

As I’ve been commenting on my friend’s chapters, I’ve used track changes to delete swaths of text. At first I felt bad, but after a while, I realized that what I was doing was cutting out the fluff. There are so many characters that many times the important parts of the plot were pushed to the side. And, too often, when I wanted to know what the protagonist was thinking and feeling, I couldn’t find the protagonist anywhere in the story.

Having a large cast of characters is fine, as long as you’re honest with yourself. Do you need all those characters? How many of those characters will be in the story’s climax? Will anyone miss character 13 if you cut him out?

Like the title says, when you’ve got a huge cast, it might be time to let the zombies chow down on a few of your characters.

(Photo courtesy of Birgit Fostervold.)

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Books Galore: Writing a Series

Writing a book series takes time and effort. It requires commitment and consistency. A book series is more than keeping the same main characters. It’s introducing new obstacles, pushing character development forward, and bringing innovation to the table.

3089196_1354260677808.78res_400_176A few examples of book series are Harry PotterThe Southern Vampire Mysteries (Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, etc.), and Alex Cross (Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, etc.). From those examples you can see that book series are very wide-ranging. Harry Potter is young adult fantasy (the first book actually counts as middle grade, while the rest are YA). The Southern Vampire Mysteries is a paranormal romance/mystery series, while Alex Cross is mystery/crime fiction.

Despite book series varying so greatly from one another, there are commonalities that make them successful.

Premise/Concept

One of the first things to do is to spend a little more time on the premise, the idea making up the story. It’s harder to maintain a series than it is a standalone, and for some series – those that build off of each previous book – it requires more forethought than series that aren’t so tied together. By spending some time on planning out the series, it’ll make it easier to sustain the series.

This forethought can be as simple as a paragraph or single page synopsis for each book.

Regardless of whether you’re in the middle of book five or just starting book one, the overarching premise is carried throughout each book.

A different way to think of this is as the premise being the core of each book, like the inner core of Earth. Just as this planet has layers covering its inner core, so does a book series. But, no matter what, there is always that inner core, that center that remains despite how much the tectonic plates shift.

Characters

A series typically follows one to three characters.These characters will evolve over the course of the novels, but they ultimately know who they are and what they have to gain with each goal/action they make.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to compete in the Hunger Games in order to protect her sister. This need to protect her family is a key part of her personality. It fuels her actions throughout the trilogy.

Also, make sure your main characters encounter enough conflict and a variety of conflicts to hold readers’ interest. I was reading the second book in a YA series not too long ago and was disappointed to find that about the first half of the novel was the same conversation taking place over and over again in different locations (the second half of the novel was great though).

Readers will only keep reading if they’re interested in the characters and what is going on in the characters’ world.

The World

The world the book series takes place in must be consistent. If in book one people can’t fly, then they still shouldn’t be flying in book three, unless something happens that gives them the ability to fly.

Know the rules, government, history, environment, etc. of the world. The world can change over the course of a series. Karen Marie Moning drastically changes Dublin, and the entire world, in her Fever Series. However, certain elements do remain the same. Those common elements help ground readers in the world you create. They also help prevent confusion and frustration on both the author and readers’ parts.

A well-developed world also lends more to the story. If three hundred years ago an ancient, magical medallion that belonged to an evil sorceress vanished, and there’s a legend that the medallion could open a portal to the underworld, well that’s interesting. Perhaps this medallion is only causally mentioned in book one, but then it comes back with a vengeance in book two.

If you’re only going to take one thing away from this post, take this:

Keep track of all information pertaining to your series. Whether it’s writing it all down in a notebook or typing it up onto a word document, write out descriptions of your world, characters, etc. Include the main plot and any minor plots woven throughout your books.

While writing book two, you might remember that your town has a deep-water lake to the north of it, but by book five, you may remember it as being west of town, or you may have forgotten about it completely.

Having a document to serve as a reference for all your story information will make your life easier, a lot less stressful, and will decrease the number of plot holes you have to fix.

Are you planning a series or in the process of writing one?

(photo courtesy of fanpop: http://bit.ly/1wQ5gml)