Can you have too many characters?

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This is another one of those writing questions I worry about too much. I was advised not have too many and certainly not have a room with more than three in. I’ve managed to break both rules, my book has quite a few and in one scene I have a meeting of eight heads of the different wizard orders all of whom speak. I know some books work with just a few but have read some excellent ones with a large cast, Game of Thrones being the obvious example, it has a bewildering array of characters, most of whom seam to die! Pearseus, Rise of the Prince by Nicholas C. Rossis is another good book that has a large cast but gets away with it.

Is there an accepted wisdom on this or is it just a case of if the books good enough you can get away with it?

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29 thoughts on “Can you have too many characters?

  1. I think it depends on the story. If your storyline is complicated and has a lot of things going on, keep to less characters; sometimes more characters plus a twisted storyline makes the story feel cluttered. If its pretty simple, you can work with some more characters

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      1. The side charcters will be many many. In a daily interactive basis, yes there will be a lot. I thought you were asking about the forefront characters.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I find it easier to write and understand plots where there are only a few characters with complex storylines. That’s just my preference.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Amen to that. Especially with novels about mythologies. I become lost in translation a lot without an explanation of terms or a glossary.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I only have three characters…mind you two are women and I’m struggling to handle more than one…literally that is. Books with too many characters for me can become a wash of bubbles that burst with no lasting memory, save a handful.

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  3. I am always a little apprehensive commenting here, wondering if you’d object to my interruptions. But in my opinion there is no real wisdom to it that comes down from learned sages. Here is the thing, even in that scene with seven wizards, is there one wizard who stands out from the rest? Or, are they all equally impressive (in which case, none of them really are)… ? Commonsense mostly. Who are the central characters? If they are all in the same scene, would you as the movie director give them all good lines? or would you try to focus on one “leader” character and give him the juiciest lines? Think of it from a movie director’s perspective and your problem is solved. If you want it to be some kind of egalitarian literary democracy with all the characters having equal say and importance, then good luck at the box office 😀 Might I suggest the title Tower of Babel aka the Towering Infernal… 😛

    Nah, go with your instincts… they are always good.. break the rules by all means..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First off, I always look forward to your comments as I know it’s always honest and often wise.

      As for the scene it’s in the POV of a important character who up until now has only been referred to but we have not meet. There is another important character in the room and the scene is a conflict between the two with the others playing supporting roles. The scene is pivotal to the plot and who the other wizards in the room support drives the the plot on. There are few minor things that happen in the exchanges that becomes important later on as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There you go, then 🙂 Since you are using cinematic terms, you are already doing it… the PoV then automatically makes that character the central one and the rest are “scenery”, even if they are important enough. So in one sense you are guiding the reader into understanding whose perspective matters and why they should take sides too… etc..

        Wow, I hope I get to read your book soon enough.. 🙂

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  4. I love lots of characters, and write and read plenty of examples with more than three. Not all the time, but certainly some of the time…All I would say is not to dump them all on a reader for the first time in big batches, otherwise it can get a bit confusing, and avoid similar sounding names. Just my humble opinion 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I personally feel that there is not a specific number that is “too many” as long as it doesn’t interfere with character development and that character having an integral part of the story line.

    Liked by 1 person

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