Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Too Many Characters

Now that a little time has gone by since the revision retreat, I've started working on the revisions suggested by my group. One of the comments was that it was initially difficult to keep all the characters straight because so many are introduced at once, so I counted. In my first chapter (which is very short, about one page) I introduced two characters. In the second chapter, I mention nine new names and one character who at this point is known only as the main character's sister's boyfriend. Whoa - ten new characters in one chapter. No wonder they had a hard time keeping everyone straight!

After I took a serious look at the chapter, I saw that five of the names are mentioned in conversation but those characters never come into the story at all. It was pretty easy to eliminate most of those and cut down on some of the confusion. A few others, like the main character's best friend, is called by name in the second chapter but doesn't actually show up until the third chapter. By holding off mentioning her until she actually appears, I was able to cut out one more new name.

Hopefully those first two chapters are a lot less confusing now. Even though I know I have a tendency to throw too many characters at the reader all at once, I still have to really work to cut down on the number. How about you? Are there any mistakes that you fall into repeatedly? Do you have a hard time limiting the number of characters you introduce at one time?

30 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

At least you were able to adjust.
I usually don't have a lot of characters (not named anyway) in my books, but this latest manuscript introduced quite a few. Enough that I had to write down who was who! (In my defense, they are all alien names, and my main concern was consistency in spelling throughout the book.)
It just went to my critique partners, so I'll find out soon if it was too many or not.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I was told by readers of my last WIP that I had too many characters and used too many names. They kept mentioning who they were confused about, and I have to admit, for awhile I thought they just weren't reading carefully!

Then I looked at how characters were called by their first names sometimes and last names others. I noticed I used nicknames that were unnecessary. There was only one character I could eliminate entirely, but for the rest of them -- I realized I could pick one name and stick with it!

Hopefully this made a big difference!

Vicki Rocho said...

I worry about creating too many characters. Not sure where the thresh hold is, but I have to constantly ask myself if I'm creating the person because I like them or because they're crucial to the story...usually it's because I like them. :)

Anne Gallagher said...

I've done the same thing. And like you, I cut a lot of them out and then reintroduced them later.

Trisha said...

Susan, I've been advised of this in my own writing. The novel I just rewrote used to have a massive stack of characters, and I was told to eliminate at least half of them. Sometimes various characters basically served no purpose, or could be 'merged' into another existing character. And characters' purposes in the novel changed during my revision, too.

I love getting great revision advice & implementing it. It is so satisfying!

Good luck with the rest of your revisions. :)

E.J. Wesley said...

I think the story arch/type really dictates the number of characters that can be supported. If it's a massive and complex story (like George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones/Ice & Fire series), you can really run wild with lots of characters. If it's a basic murder mystery, etc. too many will water things down.

Brian said...

That was some very nice advice, especially for those of us who confuse easily!

Bossy Betty said...

I also am guilty of trying to introduce too many characters at once. I also go overboard making sure my readers know how they are related to one another too.

Happy Revising!

Carolyn V said...

I tend to only focus on a couple of characters at a time. I guess that's a good thing.

Bish Denham said...

This has never seemed to be a problem for me. But I suppose that could change! :D

SueBE said...

Susan,
As few characters as I have in my own work, I do sometimes discover one that just doesn't do enough and can be eliminated. Or who takes up too much space in a crucial scene. Dad's presence will be greatly reduced in Rat Race. I want to see how the change with Dad is reflected in the whole before I make a decision about Ryan. Decisions, decisions!
--SueBE

Ellie Garratt said...

I try to keep the characters to a minimum, and the lesser ones don't get mentioned until they appear. I ended up writing this way because as a reader I dislike too many characters. I loath having to go back because I can not remember who somebody was.

You have made the right decision in my opinion.

DEZMOND said...

Ough, I've recently translated a book called ONE WEEK IN DECEMBER which also had way too many characters so it was also very difficult to follow them all. Glad you've managed to solve the problem, Suzie!

Kelly Polark said...

Oh, wow! Good thing to check in a manuscript. I'm revising today, and I am going to count characters! Thank you for the tip!

Old Kitty said...

Lovely Susan!!! I'm currently reading The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre and I've lost count as to how many characters pop in and out! LOL!! But he holds the narrative together by setting up a most intriguing mystery on the outset and that's what's keeping me reading! So I don't really know about whether it's the amount of characters per se so much as the set up! It certainly seems to be with this book!! Take care
x

Rose Munevar said...

My problem is more of a lack of description. I have a picture in my head but it doesn't always get put down the way I want it to.

Madeleine Sara said...

Glad you could look at your MS objectively and see those mistakes, sometimes it takes an outsider to point them out to you.
The lovely Micheal Di Gesu checked over my eBook MS and pointed out some things that needed amending and to him I am most grateful, as they just did not leap from the page until he highlighted them.

Theresa Milstein said...

Susan, it's great you caught it and fixed it. I'm working on a YA 3rd person omniscient. It's from the POV of 4 sisters. I need to introduce them all in the first chapter + the mother. Not easy to get in their minds enough to add depth right from the get-go.

Romance Reader - Nas said...

Good luck with the rest of your revisions. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm going to have to check. In the ms I'm currently revising, I'm pretty sure I'm good - but the one that's marinating right now will probably have some issues with that! Thanks for the tip!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

At least you weren't using hard to pronounce fantasy names, right? Those are always the worst. I was totally lost when reading The Hobbit.

I've had to kill off a few unnecessary characters in my first chapter before. It's hard when the chapter takes place in a classroom and the mc is going to know everyone's names. She can't just refer to them as the girl behind me, unless she really don't know the girl behind her.

Catherine A. Winn said...

Oh, my, I've been through that too many characters problem more times than I would like to remember. I think I've finally got that problem solved. Good luck in your revisions.

Jai Joshi said...

I think it's something everyone does at some point, Susan. We get so enthusiastic about our characters and their lives that we forget the reader has no idea who they are yet!

That's good that you were able to correct the problem though. Good luck with the continued revisions.

Jai

Lydia Kang said...

I've done that too--removed characters that don't actually play a major role in the story.

Medeia Sharif said...

I did that in my earlier writing, but I'm careful not to do it anymore. I read books that have character dumping in the beginning and it's confusing, enough to make me put the book down.

Marcia said...

I've done this at times. Actually, my first published book starts out with a family of seven kids rushing to the dinner table. There, I think all the names added to the chaotic effect. At least, my editor didn't ask for changes.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I'm so glad you took something away from the retreat. :) I'm sure you will be sharing more wisdom with us.

Livia said...

I always add too many characters to my memoirs and it drives me nuts. It's very confusing to figure out who is who. This is one of many things I need improvement in my writing: less characters and more personality :)

Deniz Bevan said...

Now that's interesting. I don't think I have that many characters, but I'd better go check!

Margo Berendsen said...

I'd better check the number of names in my first few chapters, too! That novel revision retreat sounds so amazing. 4 other novelists got to read your ENTIRE manuscript???!!!