One of the first things I did “wrong” when I started my books was have too many characters.
“Too many characters?” You ask with a startled gasp. “How can you have too many characters?”
I know, right? I don’t get it either. But it is a thing. I’ve seen it on Goodreads over and over. “Too many characters. I can’t keep them straight. I had to stop reading.” Okay, so here’s the thing. I do get the too many characters argument. I don’t think you should toss in a couple of dozen characters just because you feel like you have to, but I also think you shouldn’t cut down your cast for the same reason.
The thing is, the number of characters in a story varies wildly. It depends on the genre, how you operate as a writer, and what your story needs. Some stories need only a handful of characters, if that. Some stories have to have a honking cast to operate.
So how many characters do you need? How many characters are too many? Too few? What’s the proper ratio of flat to round characters? Do you have to have lots of characters for a large series? Can you write a large series without an exhausting amount of characters?
That’s up to each writer, and each individual story or series of that writer.
“But AEMs,” you say. “Isn’t there a point where enough is enough?”
I’m sure there is. If you notice that your story is feeling sweaty, smelly, and cramped, then you might need to thin the herd. If you have a bad dream in which dozens of identical heads turn and stare at you with red eyes, then you might need to thin the herd. If you cannot keep the story or characters straight, then you might need to thin the herd. But I’ll leave the point of no return up to you. You’ll know. You’ll feel it in your author marrow.
I write large casts. I really do feel like it’s an intrinsic thing for me. As of my count this week, The Endeavor Series has officially topped 100 nameable characters. I’m on book 5 of 12. Pray for me.
Is my cast too long? Well, it probably is for some readers, and that’s okay. It’s a reader’s right to discard a book for whatever reason. (On a personal note, I like reading books that have lots of characters. There’s a higher chance of me connecting with one or more of the characters, and it provides more room for a fan girling.)
Do I lose readers because of my abundant cast? Yes, I do. But I attract others.
Am I worried about that? At an early point, yes. I’ve come to embrace who I am as a writer and trust my own process since then.
Am I crazy? Very possibly. Oh, wait. You meant writing wise. It seals the deal, I suppose.
Why do I create so many characters? Part of the reason my cast is so large is because I’m covering magical creatures all over the United States. I have dwarves and fairies and elves and giants and hobs and centaurs and more and other creatures I have created. It’s the nature of the story, I’m afraid.
Don’t you know what causes that? Yes, but I enjoy it too much to stop. Sorry.
Is my brain-uterus tired yet? Nope.
Do you even know who they all are? I adore every single one of them.
I have to keep organized with such a large cast.
Right now I’m working on a master list of characters.
My hand might be there to cover up death spoilers.
Or is it there to look pretty? I’ll never tell!
Writing a large series is a ton of fun, and it gives you the room to have more characters, settings, and arcs. If you do decide to have a large cast, here are some things that can help:
- Stay Organized. I have lists and folders all over the place to keep characters (and the loose ends that can result) straight.
- Make the characters memorable and important. I like to think of each character thinking that they are the most important character in the book. Adding details and quirks really helps, too.
- Include a character list in your book. I waited until the 3rd book to do this, but I wish I had done it sooner. It’s nice, as a reader, to have a reference point.
- Family trees. This can also help with large families. I will be adding this to my blog next year for about three groups.
- Do character bios. Again, this is something you can do on a blog. Provide extra, fun info to give your readers a little extra!
- Bonus stories and novellas. There’s never enough room in a book to cover all the cool side stuff going on, and readers enjoy diving in the same world over and over again. Plus, sometimes you never know what secondary character your readers might adore.
- Make a board on Pinterest to keep character inspiration. This way you have a look for each one, and gives readers more insight.
- Do what works for you. Above all, you cannot make yourself fit into another writer’s box (or lack of box). Do what works for you. Learn more. Collect ideas. Disregard what doesn’t fit you and your story. Be proud of your cast, no matter the size.
That’s it for today! Wish me luck on giving 100 characters birthdays this week. You are formally invited to celebrate January Endeavor Series birthdays with me. See you then!