Author Topic: is there a limit for named characters?  (Read 5962 times)

Offline 007 fan

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is there a limit for named characters?
« on: July 08, 2014, 12:16:50 AM »
So, I have a bunch of characters in my book.  A main of course, several mini ones, two who are dead - but you learn of them throughout the story because of the importance of the roles they had before the time the story actually covers. 

Count isn't perfect because of where I'm splitting the novel, but there's probably 30. 

If I somehow manage to trim my whole 206k down to one story, I would have just over 40.  Some are only mentioned a few times, but they have a continuing role for later, and the rest have greater significance within and past first book- if the first one gets picked up.

Too many?
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Offline bodwen

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2014, 12:42:09 AM »
Battle Royale has at least 45.  Many of whom have similar names (Yuki, Yuko, Yuka) and almost of all of whom were introduced in a single chapter... 

...And it worked brilliantly.

Offline 007 fan

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2014, 12:58:41 AM »
Thanks so much.  Such a relief.  I was trying to avoid so many 'the woman said, the man said...', not to say I don't have any of that.  lol  It's a large tribe of people in my story, but only named those of significance.

karma point for taking the time!   :)
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gckatz

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2014, 01:01:22 AM »
It's one of those "long enough to reach the ground" situations.  When do you have too many characters?  When people can't keep track of them.

Offline 007 fan

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2014, 01:28:04 AM »
It's one of those "long enough to reach the ground" situations.  When do you have too many characters?  When people can't keep track of them.

I feel a little better after Bowden's post.  One issue I won't have - the character names are not similar as those in the story example Bowden gave.  Plus, once a character is introduced, I gently remind the readers who they are by saying something, for example...Donan, sister to Tohdory, or mate of so and so, whatever the case might be.  I also gradually brought characters in for the most part, except several pages in when readers are introduced to MC's family, two closest friends, the cruel chief, and his awful son.

Never heard of 'long enough to reach the ground' before, but appreciated the humor in your obvious statement after it.   :)

I imagine the amount of characters that can be remembered varies from person to person.  I think one of Jean Auel's later books has over 70, and a guide included to remind readers who is who.  I think I'm safe from having to do that.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2014, 03:47:53 AM by ece007 »
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gckatz

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2014, 02:10:40 AM »
It's a saying: "How long should a man's legs be?  Long enough to reach the ground."

Naturally it'll vary from reader to reader, but if everyone (or almost everyone) can keep track of all the characters, then ipso facto you do not have a problem.  If they can't, then the cast may need work.  But if you are including reminders about their role, which I think is a good idea, then you probably won't have a problem.

I have about the same number of named characters as you and in a work half the length, so if you're in trouble, I'm in much worse trouble!

Offline 007 fan

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2014, 02:23:33 AM »
It's a saying: "How long should a man's legs be?  Long enough to reach the ground."

Naturally it'll vary from reader to reader, but if everyone (or almost everyone) can keep track of all the characters, then ipso facto you do not have a problem.  If they can't, then the cast may need work.  But if you are including reminders about their role, which I think is a good idea, then you probably won't have a problem.

I have about the same number of named characters as you and in a work half the length, so if you're in trouble, I'm in much worse trouble!

HaHa...I feel even better.  I think we will both be fine.   :)  And the man's leg thing - I have heard that before, just not shortened like that!  I laughed when I read it.     karma point for making me laugh!  :rolf:
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Offline 007 fan

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2014, 03:52:47 AM »
So, I have a bunch of characters in my book.  A main of course, several mini ones, two who are dead - but you learn of them throughout the story because of the importance of the roles they had before the time the story actually covers. 

Count isn't perfect because of where I'm splitting the novel, but there's probably 30. 

If I somehow manage to trim my whole 206k down to one story, I would have just over 40.  Some are only mentioned a few times, but they have a continuing role for later, and the rest have greater significance within and past first book- if the first one gets picked up.

Too many?

So, my original question should have included for a first time author since I knew some books have more characters than what I have, but there weren't first-timers.  Either way, question answered by Bowden who never said anything that my count was bad if I were a first-timer.
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Offline Blatherskite

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2014, 04:20:36 PM »
In George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, I can't keep track of all the Freys. And I'm very glad that there's a character list in the back, especially when there no fewer than three characters named Brandon Stark. (Only one alive at the time of the story, but the others are referred to.)

If you have a lot of characters, consider a Dramatis Personae list at the novel's end.

Certainly, if your reader can't keep track of your characters, you have a problem. But there's also another limit on your characters: you should have no more than you need. How many is that? It depends on your plot, of course, but it's easy to multiply characters by creating a new one every time you need someone for a plot development. Instead, think about the characters you already have, and try to make one of them do the job. You may have to jiggle the character's personality or history or position in the story, but this also has the advantage of making the character a little richer and deeper, if they're not just used once and thrown away.

Offline bodwen

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2014, 05:13:26 PM »
I have a feeling the number of Freys might go down significantly in the next few books...

Offline Falthor

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #10 on: July 08, 2014, 05:19:18 PM »
Naming characters is fine...   but if it gets to the point like Battle Royale or "Song of Ice and Fire" a list would be helpful.

  sometimes a name is just that and you should be fine throwing it down knowing someone doesn't need to remember it, you'll know you have to many when people start getting confused.

  In my head, everyone (and I mean everyone) have names and basic backgrounds for my book.  in the book, other than the 5 mains, I think I named 2 or 3 others...  it just wasn't necessary for my book, or for the audience.
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gckatz

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #11 on: July 08, 2014, 05:43:33 PM »
Quote
But there's also another limit on your characters: you should have no more than you need. How many is that? It depends on your plot, of course, but it's easy to multiply characters by creating a new one every time you need someone for a plot development. Instead, think about the characters you already have, and try to make one of them do the job.

Pravda (truth).

Hmm, I wonder if the named character threshold is lower if your story is set in a culture with really obtuse naming conventions...

Offline bodwen

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2014, 07:05:37 PM »
One trick I've seen is to make something about them physically memorable or make something about them remarkable, and then keep referring to it when you bring up the character.  I've seen it a lot in both BR and GoT.

So even if you don't know your Tywins from your Tyrions, your Brans from your Bronns, or your Oshas from your Ashas, it doesn't take you long to get your bearings.

Another trick is to leave off the name if you want to clue the reader in that this is a minor character.  If your protagonist is talking to a guard scene one, and that person will never appear again, its best to call him 'the guard' instead of Fabio Goldenhair, in case the reader starts crushing on him and is eagerly awaiting his return throughout the entire novel.

Offline violet

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #13 on: July 08, 2014, 07:10:50 PM »
A friend of mine was just pubbed by SMP. I forgot how many characters Book 1 had (a lot), but Book 2 has 99 named characters. I. Can't. Even.

Offline Blatherskite

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Re: is there a limit for named characters?
« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2014, 05:52:58 AM »
Quote
One trick I've seen is to make something about them physically memorable or make something about them remarkable, and then keep referring to it when you bring up the character.

I think this is what's sometimes called 'tagging'. Lester Dent mentions it:

Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader's mind. TAG HIM.

Source: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html
'
Now, taken literally, this is WRONG. The Turkey City Lexicon calls it 'funny hat characterization'. I.e., the character is never developed, and is only distinguishable by their funny hat, their stinky cigar, the raven on their shoulder screaming, "Corn!", or some other tag. Dent was writing 1930s pulp, and more is expected by the modern reader. However, I agree that giving a character a memorable tag in addition to other character development is a good idea.

And yes, we have definitely passed Peak Frey.