Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Many Characters is Too Many?

I have wondered just as you have. After how many characters will my reader flip and have to be sent to a psychiatric hospital? *blowing things up here yep*

The most I tampered with is two MCs and let me tell you even two is hard. Especially if they are of the same gender.

I read a book called, "These Things Hidden" by Heather Gudenkauf (which will make you want to cry if you read it...in other words, it was a good book) and she switches between same-gender characters constantly and I do remember that at first it was hard to understand why there were so many and to remember who was who and how they were related or not related. She switched between four different characters.

Four. And I have heard from other writers that FIVE is probably the limit. Six is pushing it and seven is a no-no.

when you have THAT MANY characters basically talking into your reader's head at the same time, you want to make sure that each charater is pretty distinct.

Also, you need to decide whether or not each character's chapter will start where the last character left off or go back a few hours or so.

For instance, John was just meeting up with Jared and they decided to have coffee together and talk about their project saving animals, and then you end John's chapter. Now, there are two ways to start Jared's.

1. Rewind and then Continuation
Jared says "coffee sounds great let's go talk" and continues the story from a few paces back.

2. Press Play and then Continuation
Jared sips his coffee and says "So what did you have in mind" as the music of the cafe plays in the background.  THEREFORE, continuing where John left off, basically. You could continue right off too, like Jared nodded his head. John sounded like a good guy. "I know a great place," he told him about this coffee shop he'd just recently found. "Sounds great, why not there?" John's encouraging voice assured him that yes, John was a great guy.

(Pause for a moment to say "Those characters are SO BORING" thank you, yes, they are stupid example characters and I didn't even try to make it interesting for your learning sake)

When I had two MCs (Writerly Jargon explained here) I had an old man and a younger man and their distinction was that the old man did a lot of thinking and quietly observed everything going around him. He was good for describing the village life.

The younger man did more of the interacting. He talked with people and that's what his role was, to show the reader the other characters. And he had some flaws and maybe people could relate to that.

When I started out writing this I naturally chose Number 2: Press Play and then Continuation. It wasn't until...probably my second or third time editing that I started to play around with continuation and was doing both depending on what I thought fit.

Today, I only have one character. Yes, I have identified my true MC and it took me 7 years to get my story in place so...don't panic, you'll get there, too :)

So let's sum this up. IF you are going for more than one MC, you should:

1. Have AT MOST five characters.

2. Identify your characters BEFORE you put them in the story so you can write them clearly.

3. And, decide how you will continue each chapter. Rewind or just Press Play?

4. Also I would suggest that if you have so many MCs, you don't need too many minor characters. Keep those background guys at a minimum. Of course, you can always have "store lady" or "the nurse" just don't name them or give them much stage time.

Happy Writing, and see you later alligators! :D

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