Tag Archives: number of characters

Fantasy Literature: Number of Characters and Perspectives

I’ve been reading Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series. I finished Book II, King of Thorns, a ways back. You can read the review for Prince of Thorns here. And King of Thorns here. They are good books. I’ve enjoyed them, even though the main character is largely evil. However, while reading them I noticed a flaw or weakness about which I will write today. Basically, he’s got too many characters and only one perspective. The main character is Jorg Ancrath who is on the path to become Emperor of the Broken kingdom. The only perspective (other than diary entries) in the book is his. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But the point I’m making, is that when you have only one point-of-view character, you should limit the number of supporting characters as well. I think he’s had over a dozen, and I, personally, can’t keep them all straight.


There are a few exceptionally distinctive ones, like the two leucrotta, his love interest, and his major antagonists in the book who I could follow with ease, but the rest of his Road Brothers pretty much blended together. After two books, only one or two really stuck out in my mind. The problem is, of course, that he had too many of them. One or two of them are killed off every couple chapters or so, but since there are so many of them it doesn’t have a great impact. The books are still great, but I just feel this weakness is worth expounding upon.


Clearly, the number of characters an author can successfully juggle is a function of the number of pages in the book. If you are writing a two hundred page novel, you’re going to have far less leeway than in a seven hundred page behemoth. That should be obvious. But I want to further point out, that the number of characters is also limited by the number of point-of-view characters you have. First of all, jumping into the head of a second character makes that character all the more real; it fleshes them out more fully by describing their thoughts and actions from their point-of-view. Jumping into a third, does likewise. Additionally, the characters each of these relates to will also be fleshed out more fully, through the actions they take with respect to the new point-of-view character and their respective relationships. For example, a secondary character might have a parent or sibling, and that relationship will help fix those characters in mind. Remaining in a single point-of-view character limits such considerations to that character alone. I would say that for one character, you’ll probably be able to swing maybe five to seven supporting characters successfully. Beyond that, the attachment the reader feels to additional characters will become more tenuous.


Oh, and obviously, the number of point-of-view characters is limited by the length of the book.

Fantasy Literature: Multiplying Characters

This is something of a problem that cropped up while working on my latest book. The book, entitled “The Children of Lubrochius,” is the first book in my series, “From the Ashes of Ruin.” If you’ve read “Drasmyr,” “Drasmyr” is essentially the prequel to the series (Yes, I wrote the prequel first.) Anyway, the problem is, or was, that I kept running into problems because I had too many characters. I had most of the characters from the first book, and several new ones. Obviously, I had to make some decisions. I had to separate the major characters from the minor characters and determine who would be shadowed in each section of each chapter. (By “shadowed,” I mean, which character’s point of view I tell that section by).


It has been called a weakness of my first book that I jumped around too much. I had sections where I shadowed Lucian, others where I shadowed Coragan, others Galladrin, Korina, Regecon, Clarissa, and still more. Although, many of those were just one or two scenes. The major characters were, of course, Coragan, Galladrin, and Regecon. The main antagonists were Lucian and Korina. It all made perfect sense to me while writing, but I can see how someone could be confused, at least, at first. Eventually, though, it all clicks into place and creates a remarkable story. And, I think, if I were to write it again, I would change very little. However, going forward, as I said, the next book adds a few more characters; so many, that if I were to continue in the same pattern, I’m sure I would lose many readers.


So, what did I do? I got out my writer’s chainsaw and did some hacking. J From the four major characters I added, I permitted only one to… uh… not sure how to say it: of the four, one is a major major character, and the other three are too important to be minor characters, but not important enough to get very many chapters told from their point of view. I dethroned two of my previous major major characters, putting them in roughly the same position as those previous three… this is getting confusing. Let’s just say, I juggled the characters around a bit so that I was more focused on which character would be shadowed the most, and which would not. As it stands now, I have again, three main protagonists (Coragan, Ambrisia, and Gaelan (he’s a new guy)) and the same two antagonists (Lucian and Korina). And again, there are a number of minor characters of varying level of importance.


What is the point of all this? Limit the number of your characters. Quite simple, really. But not. I have so much to say, and one character is insufficient. Plus, I like weaving multiple viewpoints together. It’s fun. But there is a limit as to how many you can effectively do that with. Again, this is another lesson learned the hard way: plan it out beforehand, you’ll be happier for it. Otherwise, you’ll have to rewrite scenes from one character’s point of view to another. And that is a royal pain.


Anyway, I think the traditional novel has but one main character. Many modern series’ though (Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” comes to mind) have many more… although perhaps in the case of WoT, Rand is the main character, but I digress. When you have multiple books through which to develop your characters, you can afford to have more than one major character. But again, keep in mind, that what is clear to you the writer, might not be so clear to the reader. Fifty main characters is definitely out of the question. Seven or so, like in WoT… it can be done, but there is a cost. There’s a reason that series is fourteen books long. And though I loved the series, I will probably never reread it.