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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