How many Characters do you have?

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JohnDurvin
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Post by JohnDurvin » December 22nd, 2012, 12:09 am

Before I do any writing, I tend to do a lot of world-building, to a degree that I've wondered sometimes if maybe I should be making video games or something. As a result, I tend to end up with a huge cast list of characters I'd like to visit, and it gets whittled down from there to what the plot requires (or sometimes allows). My current WIP, a YA fantasy series based on American folklore instead of European, has had its world in development for years now, and I've gone into levels of detail comparable to Rowling and Tolkien--brands of alcohol, a list of ingredients for their hoodoo-inspired magic, and a semi-complete history of the republic including names and bios for all twenty-some presidents. (I'm expecting a Harry Potter-style septology at this point, so a few of these are only part of one chunk of the story.) So:

One protagonist, an orphaned teenage boy that decides to become a hobo
Three party members (the ones that stay with him through most of the story), fellow hobos
One primary villain, a robber baron, plus the requisite idiot son
One love interest, daughter of the villain
Minor characters:
Dozens of other hobos with names and quirks, to be called up as needed
The hero's jack-ass uncle who's been watching him since his mother died and his father disappeared
A traveling medicine show and small circus, including "doctor", strong-man, dwarf, shill, and security
The ghosts of the villain's former business rivals
The villain's assorted minions and monsters
The unfathomable spectre of evil that invaded the republic a decade ago and its assorted minions and monsters (many shared with the main villain)
A former war hero turned spokesman for the villain's organization
Corrupt politicians
An ancient fortune teller who speaks to the dead through her deceased husband, one of the founders of the republic
A circle of novelists that have been stealing stories from hobos and getting rich off them
The roving criminals that occupy the ruins of the cities destroyed during the last war, one faction following the ghost of the deceased president, the other following an undead lynched Supreme Court Justice known as "the Hanging Judge"
The eerie populace of the Lost City of Phagus, a hybrid of Las Vegas, Gold Rush San Fransisco, and Purgatory

And then I thought of another possible protagonist, a hybrid of a number of Cinderella-type stories, and I'm not sure if she's a minor character, a deuteragonist, or maybe even a better candidate for protagonist than my original one.

Anyway, there's a lot of them.

AND WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT...if you're going to do third-person-omniscient, try to keep the number of characters in a room at any given time to a minimum. I'm currently reading "The Dark Lord of Derkholm", and it got really confusing when two humans and five griffins were all talking and thinking at the same time, especially since none of them has an especially unique "voice" (and they all have human names). I'm two-thirds through now, and I've gotten a handle on some of them, but I'm really glad they've all gone in different directions.
Everybody loves using things as other things, right? Check out my blog at the Cromulent Bricoleur and see one hipster's approach to recycling, upcycling, and alterna-cycling (which is a word I just made up).

SunnyE
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Post by SunnyE » January 26th, 2013, 2:36 pm

My WIP is a YA fantasy with 3 main characters and a large cast of supporting and minor characters, including those that are non-human. I really struggled with the question about giving them last names, and ultimately decided against it. I just don't think it's important in my particular story, but I can see how it might be in others.

mockingbird
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Post by mockingbird » January 26th, 2013, 8:02 pm

I'm in the process of editing a YA book in which each chapter is split into 3-4 POVs. There are a total of four narrators, three of whom have a section in basically all the chapters, one of whom narrates only a bit more than half. There are quite a few side characters as well, but not (I hope) so many that it's confusing.

danu1
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Post by danu1 » January 30th, 2013, 12:59 am

I usually do not go any further than 20 characters including main characters. since it is a bit hard to keep track of each and every character.

thewordsmith
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Re: How many Characters do you have?

Post by thewordsmith » February 1st, 2013, 9:44 am

Hmm. Let's see. Just to give you a few …

Book 1: Fantasy - ONE, count'em, one Main Character(s). Then there are perhaps eight or nine secondary, critically important and named characters. All of these characters are named and have surnames as well because lineage is of great importance in this story so, likewise, last names are important as well. Then we have maybe another two or three tertiary characters who have first names and who play an important part to the progression of the story but have their moment on the stage and then are no more. Then there are the un-named groundlings. The background fillers who may make some momentary contribution but, other than that, are totally unnecessary to the story as a whole.

Book 2: Spy thriller - TWO Main Characters, both of whom have a first and last name. Three secondary characters, two of whom have a known last name, and a small handful of tertiary characters who may have a last name or no name at all.

Book 3: Historical Fantasy - One Main, maybe two dozen secondary, numerous tertiary. The secondary characters have first names. Some have a known last name. Not as confusing at it may sound, the secondary characters only appear one or two at a time over a progressive timeline. Once their phase of the story is finished, they are not seen again and only once or twice one might be referenced at a later time. They are cubbyholed, as it were, into their own individual slots.

Book 4: Family Saga - Because this story crosses three generations, there are a large number of characters. There are Two Main Characters, however, whose lives the story follows through decades. All of the characters are, almost exclusively, members of the family so they are all named and, obviously, their last names are known as well. The few non-family characters who interact with the Main Characters have first names but no last names. The rare incidentals have no name, just a job to do then get the hell outta there!


Whether or not a character has a given surname is largely dependent upon the circumstances of the story, their relationship to the Main Characters, and the importance of the extended identification to the story and the reader. Likewise, the number of characters and their level of 'play' in the story is dependent on the requirements of the story … and the quirks of the writer, of course. ;^)

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