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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Why Fiction Needs More Than the Humdrum

Bringing fiction to life

by Annette Young

Normal life is filled with all of those deadly dull tasks, you know the ones, house cleaning, shopping, washing or the excitement that is mopping the floor and although fiction emulates real life, the last thing readers’ want is to be reminded of the drudgery that occurs in life. Fiction is about escapism.

Irrespective of the genre, a good story helps the readers’ to forget their own problems. It’s about their sitting back and putting others in the front line and watching them combat the perils of fluctuating emotions, experiencing the dark depths of inner turmoil and overcoming the deadly or dangerous obstacles of your making. Somehow, following a character across war-torn countries, watching them dangle precariously from snow-capped mountains or wrestling alligators in the mosquito-infested swamp is a lot more interesting than reading about a character who is battling boredom while ironing. 

You get the idea. 

Of course, there has to be some mention of real life.There have to be some similarities between the plot, the characters and the reader’s experiences. They have to like or loathe the characters to the point that they are captivated – if they feel indifferent then no doubt the writer has failed. The readers have to witness the scenes around the characters come to life, they should be enthused by the imagery, the colour and the feel of the story as it unfolds. If there is mention of an ironing board, it should be relegated to the corner and not play a main role in the midst of the room unless someone is being bludgeoned to death by it. Draw the readers’ attention to what matters. They needs to be whisked away to a fictional world that  is all-consuming and one that seems real. 

Even the most vibrant and imaginative fantasy story has its roots in reality and each genre should have its foundations in realism. The author has to comprehend which essential components should be included so that the story feels credible and to know the elements of normality that can be discarded. 

Want to learn more about the art of fiction? Check out the Novel Writing Blueprint and the Fiction Masterclass

Killed but Resurrected

Axing a character

Annette Young Author

by Annette Young

Last night I killed a man and then today, I breathed life back into his fictional bones. No, I’m not kidding, I committed the cardinal sin of taking a life –albeit someone that I had made up, sometimes the prospect of being ruthless is just too strong to deny.

But then, the power of the writer is extraordinarily strong; in fact, let’s be honest, it’s one of the perks of writing, having fun with your characters, making them living, breathing entities, watching them fall in love, then dashing their romantic dreams in an instant. You can make them beautiful, vibrant or just plain nasty, you are in control after all. You can even wield an imaginary sword and in one swipe of the ultra sharpened blade…the character’s head will be rolling across the floor.

But should you really kill off your characters? Only you can answer that. Think about your story and those characters that you have painstakingly created, do you want to keep them all or is there someone that you just dislike? What do your characters add to the story? There may be many reasons why you feel it is necessary to eradicate one, but here are some reasons that spring to mind:

  • If the character is unimportant
  • If the plot has led naturally to this point
  • If the character is just driving you nuts

Killing a character can be quite satisfying, I’ll admit it. You can plan the character’s demise in a multitude of ways and it’s easy to imagine that final moment as the character gasps his last. Whether the act is sad, emotional or a sheer relief, a death can actually breathe new life into a plot and perk up the remaining characters.

Axing a character

Fortunately, it’s easy to resurrect a character if you suddenly develop a pang of conscience about this tragic act, or if you realize that you have made a mistake and really, your novel is so much better with this character playing an active role. Don’t kill off a character just to incite a shock reaction or to cause drama for the sake of it, each character has to be believable – whether good or bad, the character should add something to the plot.

If your story is really weak and you need a sudden surge of fictional excitement, re-work the story –something has gone horribly wrong. If you are bored writing the story, then again, you have a problem. Re-write the story or start again. If your character is insignificant and adds nothing to the story-line, then by all means, give him ….or her the chop.

Every character plays an important part in a novel, if they are not pulling their weight, then you know what to do.

Image courtesy of [Boians Cho Joo Young] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net