Popular answer: there is no such thing as too many – your character needs friends!
Honest answer: It depends on your story and writing style.
Characters are a crucial component of any narrative, but an overabundance can squelch the plot. The worst is when they all have similar names (I’m looking at you, Dostoyevsky), or worse – even the author gets confused. To avoid this, you’ve got to know your characters inside and out. Also, think about what your reader might like in your story. Do you like having so many people to keep track of? Or would you prefer to focus on just a few? I know it’s been said that three’s a crowd, but I’ve found that 3-5 main characters is a good place to start.
All that being said, your story is yours and yours alone – so no one can tell it quite like you can! This week, I want to share some helpful ideas to consider when building your character roster. With endless opportunities to throw more into the mix, staying focused on your objectives is key.
It’s far too people-y in here.
Don’t just add characters for the sake of more characters. Instead, why not deepen the dynamics and personalities of the ones you already have? Maybe your main character has a secret identity, or a forbidden past love that emerges out of the blue. Instead of thinking about new characters as new personas, why not elevate existing characters with new facets to their personalities? Then it’s like having more characters to play around with – but not. If that makes sense! This a better course of action because it allows the reader to be more immersed in your story sans the mental gymnastics.
A flat character detracts from the plot.
Extra characters that really serve no purpose can ruin even the most perfectly executed plot twists and intrigue. Why is that? Usually because the reader is still stuck trying to figure out who’s who, that they’re just not aware of that other stuff. Don’t let them get confused and overwhelmed! Remember, it’s a marathon – not a sprint. And you don’t ger extra point for being extra. You’re not a millennial competing for most lattes balanced on a baby blue Bentley. At least, I assume.
Let your character grow in their solitude!
Being alone is actually kind of great – so let your characters enjoy that too. If you’re constantly shoving them into a room with others, the reader never gets to see who they are when no one’s around. Do they have nervous ticks like tapping their foot while eating dinner? Or maybe they do their best work in a messy bun and tutu. Who knows! Whatever happens, write your story in such a way they can let their freak flag fly. For more on that, read this recent article HERE.
Still want to add another character?
Okay, go for it! But take the time to get to know them. Like really know who you’re dealing with. Mabel might seem cute on the outside, but she’s really out for blood. And Brad? Oh he’s chill all right – until she calls him short and he’ll flip out. If you want everyone to be able to coexist, know all their personalities inside and out. One blogger suggested it’s like getting to know someone in real life – only you have full control of everything! Take this power with a grain of salt. Be the master of your own ship, but don’t let the power go to your head. If each character has a well-rounded personality, and you’re not throwing too much background information at your reader at once, it can work. Just make sure whatever story you come up with, it’s something you yourself would also want to read.
Characters are like a box of chocolates – you never really know what you’re going to get. But it’s your job to unwrap every delectable morsel.