Novel Writing – Too Many Characters?

Characterisation

by Annette Young

As many of you will know, I spend a great deal of my time providing manuscript critiques or editing manuscripts that come in through the Creative Competitor or  Creative1 Publishing and I often see a very common mistake, that of having far too many characters.  Although there’s no hard and fast rule as to the number of characters within a novel, you have to think from the perspective of the reader. Where there are many characters, it is difficult for the reader to truly connect with any or all of them.

It also makes it difficult for the writer.

How much emphasis can you place on each character if you have a great many milling around within the plot? Each character should have a definitive role to play so you need to consider this. It’s true that some books do have a lot of characters and it’s up to the writer to be able to craft and then pull the layers of these creations together to ensure that they add to the storyline rather than to detract from it. In a novel, it is possible to have main characters and secondary characters and those, as I always think of them, who are bit players, these are the characters that are only relevant in certain scenes so the readers do not need to know them that well.

if you are new to creative writing and have the desire to start writing a novel, try to limit the number of characters and make it a little easier on yourself as a starting point. Above all else,  spend time developing these characters so that they feel real as you are writing and so you are able to portray them with confidence. At the core of crafting 3-dimensional characters is your ability to lay the foundations of these beings and to bring them to life slowly by adding essential layers until you truly believe in them. You don’t need lots of  characters to make it interesting for the reader, you simply need a good plot and strong characters that are believable.

If you feel that your characters are weak or that you have too many in your novel, spend some time considering the importance of each one and lose some if you need to. Spend time working on those that are intrinsic to the plot and  you’ll see the difference.  If you can, always try to view your writing through the eyes of any potential reader and assess what they will get from your story, then you’ll keep your writing and intent honest.

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Characterisation – Falling Out of Love

Life as a writerby Annette Young

It’s not a great feeling. You prepare to start writing and then you have to face up to the feeling, you have lost belief in your characters and worse, you don’t even really like them that much.  If you feel this way, stop, there’s no point plodding on because the finished result is likely to be that your readers don’t care a jot about your characters either.

 Good characterisation is vital. You really have to care about your characters and be prepared to invest in them in respect of your time, your energy, your experiences and your desire to bring them to life. If you have done all this and yet, still, you feel a little flat, you need to identify what’s wrong with your creations and consider how to make vital changes. 

If you have created character profiles, then take the time to review them. It may be that your character profile is insufficient and your focus has wandered a bit throughout the developmental stage. It may be that your plot has digressed and your characters no longer quite fit with your initial vision. 

It’s easy to make changes, as long as you are honest about your waning interest. Battling on and gritting your teeth determined to finish will always make the end result a little lack-lustre. There’s no cheating the steps towards creating great fiction and characters that do your story proud. Writing fiction can be difficult enough but when it comes to characterisation, you really do need to consider what you want to achieve and go all out to do just this. 

I would always recommend creating character profiles if you are working on a lengthy piece of fiction. It will keep you on track but enables you to really get to know your characters quickly and easily. If you feel that your characters just don’t do it for you, stop, think and then amend some of their traits. Remember, for a character to be believable, they have to have likable traits as well as traits that are irritating. In real life, we are never all good or all bad. We have good and bad habits as will your characters.  Think about how you would like your character to be viewed and add in a few quirky but nice qualities and you’ll soon enjoy writing about your characters once more. 

If you have a clear vision of all that you are trying to achieve, you’ll spot any potential issues sooner than later. 

For more information on fiction and good characterisation, take a look at the Fiction Masterclass

Writing Fiction? Don’t Forget the Building Blocks of Characterisation

foundations of writing

Author Annette Youngby Annette Young

When writing fiction, one of the trickiest elements is being able to create the solid building blocks of good characterisation. Even if you are eager to dip into the writing process, you shouldn’t bypass this stage because you will only end up performing an awful lot of re-writes.

Failure to consider these building blocks will certainly impact your ability to create characters that seem real. If they don’t act naturally, are not compelling or believable, then you will certainly lose that connection with the reader.

I’m a firm believer that you should get to know your characters well before even starting the writing process. This doesn’t mean you have to sit down for hours, furiously scribbling out a back history; you can think and create important character traits while you tackle the mundane chores of everyday life. Alternatively, if you work better by creating an in-depth profile, do so.

You have to know all about your character if you are going to write with authority. Trust me; the words are likely to flow once you know how your character should act and why.  If you are writing a novel and know your plot, it’s easier to create a character that is going to respond to the various traumas and obstacles that you will throw at them, if you don’t, then you may suddenly get inspiration for a plot through creative characterisation. There are no rules as to which way you should work.

When writing fiction, consider the following points for characterisation:

  • What was your character’s life throughout childhood, those teenage years and into adulthood?
  • How does your character make a living? Does the character enjoy this work? Has your character had problems in the work-place, before or currently?
  • What does this character do for relaxation or for enjoyment?
  • Relationships – does your character have a serious relationship already or, are there issues when it comes to dating i.e. bad relationships, serial dater, broken-hearted?
  • What sort of outlook on life does your character have?

When writing fiction and, in particular, novel writing, you have to consider just what makes the character tick. The points included today are only a fraction of the elements needed but it’s a good starting point. You need to understand that former experiences will impact perception in life and will affect how the character thinks and acts. But there are many components that make an individual unique. It’s important to know how to build in the back-story and to create a character that is rich in layers and that has a unique voice.

The next time you are writing fiction, try writing a profile for yourself and consider all the elements that make up a character that almost walks off the page.