How Many Characters is Too Many?

Vik Rubenfeld#AskVik8 Comments

Ray asks:

In world building for an epic fantasy. I’m using the characters thoughts and actions (both heros and villains) to reveal more off the world. My biggest problem is too many characters. I already cut like 6. How can i tell if there are still to many?

…and adds:

This is a great question.  There are over 2000 characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, the series of novels on which Game of Thrones is based. There are 150+ characters in War and Peace. So there is no hard limit on number of characters.

If you want to be extra-cautious, make sure each character is contributing to the story by making the main characters’ lives easier or harder. That will ensure that they are meaningful to the story you are telling.

8 Comments on “How Many Characters is Too Many?”

  1. I’m writing 2 separate novels revolving around 2 heros working together. They are also fledgling lovers. Debating on should i give their dif perspectives on romantic moments They shared? Though in reality dif memories may mean more to the other…hope you understand my question. Ty!

  2. Hi Ray,

    These are excellent questions.

    As you know, I teach the principals of how to break a story into scenes that maintain plot and suspense in each scene. In teaching people how to break a story, I try to be careful not to cross the line into writing their stories myself. In this case, I think these are questions that only you, as the writer, can answer!

  3. Thanks again. Because both books parallel each other in parts I wondered if i should delve into how the other char. feels about that incident in their own feature. Think I’ll do a lil of both! Like you said sometimes you just have to work it out yourself!

  4. Villain interaction– and now parallel books showing how two characters’ experience of the same incident is different. You are doing interesting and original work!

  5. Vik-My story is not exactly a biography as I’ve changed names & a few other things. It is a true story & a rather bizarre one- It follows a child from age 6 to ? I doubt that any similar story has been written- It is not about sexual abuse-It goes far beyond that-There are 7 main characters & then 4 secondary characters-After that, people come & go as they did in reality-My question is how much to develop these extraneous “people” that are necessary to tell story?

  6. Hi Bonnie,

    How you treat these extraneous characters will be very specific to your story, your personal preference, and your choice for the STYLE of your story. Style (as opposed to GENRE) is determined by what your goal is as an author in terms of the effect you want to have on an audience. Here’s a list of STYLES:

    http://www.vikrubenfeld.com/style/

    At the same time, if the characters are extraneous and not going to be around long in the story, it may not be necessary to ask the reader to invest a lot of thought in learning about them in detail. It may be the effect they have on your main character that needs to get most of the reader’s attention!

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