How many Characters do you have?

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How many Characters do you have?

Postby dios4vida » 24 Oct 2012, 10:46

My curiosity is getting the best of me here, so I'm just gonna go ahead and ask.

In your WIPs, or finished projects, how large is your cast? I know some people have these massive casts, with lots of main characters and myriads of minor characters, most of them named as well. I am definitely not one of those people. I usually only have four main characters, give or take, and a grand total of maybe eight named characters in the whole book. It isn't for lack of trying, either. They just usually end up working that way.

And on the subject, do you give your characters last names (especially in sci-fi/fantasy)? I don't, just because it hardly ever feels right to do so.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby klbritt » 24 Oct 2012, 11:26

In my completed MS (in editing phase), I have 2 main characters, 3 supporting characters, 3 more semi-supporting characters, and 6 minor characters, so I guess that is 14 characters in total. Obviously there are more since there is a high school and a couple parties, but those people are unnamed. My minor characters have names, but first names only.

In my current WIP, I have 8 currently, but the novel is only at 33k words.

I guess I gravitate towards a larger cast in my writing, I find that interesting. Great question!!
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby Amanda Elizabeth » 24 Oct 2012, 12:59

Two main characters, two characters who are more important than supporting characters, but the story does not evolve around them. Two more "good guy" supporting characters. The 3 villans are all supporting characters. Then about five minor characters, many of whom are only in one scene and are mentioned more than are "seen" in the story. The ms is 85k words. Mine is YA urban fantasy and my characters are mostly modern day teenagers, so most of them have last names.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby Aimée » 24 Oct 2012, 13:18

Interesting question! My current project has a large cast: 5 POV characters and numerous minor characters.

I like to give all the main characters surnames, but I don't necessarily use them all, and I give the minor characters names only if I need them. A coffee shop barista doesn't need a name if they are simply serving coffee and no other purpose, but a college professor (one of the main characters is a college student) needs a name, especially if the main character will interact with them in more than one scene. I guess that's my general guideline: if a character appears only once, there is no need to give them a name unless it serves a distinctive purpose, but if a character reccurs, even if only in one other scene, it's important that they have a name so the reader can keep track of them.

The stories I've been most proud of have had a small cast of very well-developed characters. The projects that need more work and tend to frustrate me, even to the point of me not completing them, have much larger casts, but they are usually more memorable stories on the whole. I think there is no difference in the quality of a story, as long as the characters are all developed to the extent needed (i.e. a minor character needn't not have a fully-developed personality, only a few stagnant quirks).

The last project that had tons of characters failed due to the characters not being developed well enough, not because there were too many of them. None of them were speaking to me, and none seemed to grab me--extent of personality strength is super important! My current project, with 5 significant characters, is complex and frustrating, but each of the 5 has a distinctive personality that continues to develop and strengthen the more I write. I have a really good feeling about it.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby JustSarah » 24 Oct 2012, 14:07

As of the last three years, I currently have about thirty five characters, and that does not include minor characters like family. But that's spread through out seven 350 page books. So I hope I give each character their due diligence.
Last edited by JustSarah on 24 Oct 2012, 15:52, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby Philabuster » 24 Oct 2012, 14:48

Wow. I was wondering about "number of characters" just the other day and now it finds it's way into the forums.

In my most recently finished MS I have two main characters, eight minor characters, five supporting characters, and about ten miscellaneous characters.

I don't purposefully tell my reader what their last names are but in certain instances the last name is revealed. For example, in my story there are a group of men in a bachelor party who are all referred by their first names. However, while in a hotel, one of the men is approached as "Mr. Roznick" by a bellhop and it is revealed to the reader his last name is Roznick. What's ironic is of all my twenty five or so characters, the one's whose last names are revealed are two minor characters and a miscellaneous. Neither of my main characters have their last name's revealed.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby Hillsy » 24 Oct 2012, 16:00

<<<<*I'll go with me first trunk novel cos that's the largest and the one I probably know best*>>>>

OK - well I guess this constitues "epic" as it's 195K at last revision.

2 POV characters (Yep, that's all. I've yet to top 4 in any novel, and I don't write small)
Now I'd constitute a major character as someone who has affects both the plot AND the protagonist. And a Minor Character as someone who only does 1 OR the other. Everyone else is just a named character. Sooo....
6 further Major characters.
18 Minor characters.
....which leaves possibly about another 6-10 Named Characters who are largely there for flavouring, background, to give a lived in feeling to the world (e.g I have one character who's sole role involves being punched in the face by 1 protagonist, then insulting the other 2 hours later when she tries to find out what happened. She has a name and just a scrap of backstory, two sentences I think, maybe 3, just to show there's a history and complexity to the location)

As for surnames - most of the time I do, but then often times I'll know they'll be in situations whereby military rank might be involved, or reports, or family history, or false identities, or some such scenario where it's natural to refer to both names....so I almost always have a surname there in case I need it.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby ladymarella » 25 Oct 2012, 00:57

Argh!
well, i have five main story strands, and each of those has its main characters, and supporting cast, but they do overlap.
How many character's exist all up is a very daunting number, and now I will actually count it up once the draft is done!
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby Sommer Leigh » 25 Oct 2012, 05:55

This is unusual for me, but I have a pretty large cast in the superhero story. That's primarily because there's the The Heroes, The Villains, The In-Betweens, and The Very Bad Guys, plus all the people that support them. A handful of them are dead, which makes it interesting that they are supporting characters. They are kind of like Hamlet's father. Constantly manipulating the character's actions even though they aren't around anymore.

I am separating them into a couple of different piles because in this case, there's a difference between the villains and the antagonists.

2 protags, a girl and a boy.
4 major supporting characters (they are alive and in many scenes)
3 minor supporting characters (they are dead but still make a HUGE impact on the characters and plot)
11 minor characters, all named, some more minor than others
2 antagonists

I have approximately 7 other named characters who are very minor but serve a purpose of setting up things for the 2nd and 3rd stories or as flavor that may or may not get cut during editing.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby LizV » 25 Oct 2012, 11:20

In the finished novel, I've got one POV character, four main or major secondary characters (the line between those gets pretty blurry), and... eight? no, ten, I think, minor characters who get names. There are some other warm bodies wandering about. Oh, and some names that are mentioned in briefing reports and such, that we never meet. In the current WIP, there's three main characters and one major secondary so far, several very minor ones (mostly unnamed) that may or may not turn out to be more significant later, and one who's extremely important to the plot but actually has very little screen-time.

Lord knows what the NaNo project's count is going to be; I'm pantsing that one much more than I usually do.

Aimée wrote:that's my general guideline: if a character appears only once, there is no need to give them a name unless it serves a distinctive purpose, but if a character reccurs, even if only in one other scene, it's important that they have a name so the reader can
keep track of them.


Seconded. If a character's a one-off, why distract the reader with a name they'll never need to know again? It saves me having to make up more names, too. ;) Though I have had to go back and name a minor character when it turned out he'd be useful again in a later scene. (It's like recycling!)

As for last names, if they're major characters I usually give them full first & last names; the less time I spend with a character, the more likely they are to get only one name (first or last, depending on context), unless giving them more will tell the reader something useful about them. Most of my SF still deals with Earth-originated cultures, so the same rules apply; for aliens, it depends on the world-building behind them, and the levels of interaction I'm going to show. (Would they be called one thing by their CO, and another by their best friend? If so, they need two names.)
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby JustSarah » 25 Oct 2012, 13:19

Ok so its looking like the story is going to have around 19 characters for the first three timelines.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby knight_tour » 26 Oct 2012, 09:59

In my fantasy novel I used 3 primary POV characters (with two instances of minor POV characters) and a fairly large cast of named secondary characters.

In my sci-fi thriller I use three primary POV characters, one minor POV character, and a smaller supporting cast than I used in the fantasy.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby trixie » 26 Oct 2012, 14:29

Ohh... interesting question.
My MG story takes place in a school, so by default, there is potential for many characters. I haven't ever counted, though!
Let's see:

1 main character
4 supporting characters
1 antagonist
6 2nd-tier supporting characters
a handful of first-name-only students in the school my MC meets
2 characters who are important, but have no actual scene in the story.
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby Flip » 27 Oct 2012, 15:46

Great question! So many good answers... And yikes...looks like I'm ringing in at 26 and 1/2, or actually just 26; one character is a duel personality! This question made me ask whether he should count as one character or two... definitely one, because the duel complexity is what makes up his single character as a whole, right? lol

As to last names, I think that's something personal you have to decide? It depends if it sounds good, imho. Maybe no last names for younger kids' stories, but then we'd be throwing Junie B. Jones and Encyclopedia Brown out the window!

Mysterious or lesser characters really only need ONE defining name (eg. Kevin, Mr. Robinson, CREEPER GUY ;)).

I like my main characters to have last names; it can define them. eg. Dicken's "Philip Pirip" or "Pip" has a defining, 'underprivileged' last name, which is so obscure he's not even really entitled to it. ;) While Dumas' D'Artagnan stands with his last name, alone, heralding his fortunate background.

Cool discussion!
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Postby afamiliarletter » 28 Oct 2012, 08:55

This very question's been at the back of my mind since starting my WIP. So here goes:
I count 17. That's:
1 main
4 supporting
11 or 12 minor?

It's confusing. :)

A bit of a balancing act. Can't have too many or too few. And for this WIP, probably ten or so more on the way, at least. Ugh.
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