Eliminating redundant/insignificant characters

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Eliminating redundant/insignificant characters

#1 Post by Fisseha » Fri Apr 19, 2019 8:27 am

Hello again!

I've talked to my sister about my story because she's my idea bouncer, and right now she thinks that I have too many characters.

I do not want to eliminate them, if I can merge them into a single character, I'd do it. But if I really need to remove them from the story, then so be it. but then there's the fear of changing the story again, even if it's a small part

But right now, I want to avoid creating too many characters in the near future.

Are there any 'guidelines' to follow when creating characters and minimizing their population?
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Re: Eliminating redundant/insignificant characters

#2 Post by Bill_Ames » Fri Apr 19, 2019 9:17 am

Some years ago I had a character and decided to write a story about the character. What I discovered was that as the story progressed I had a situation where I needed a character in a scene. So a new character was created. I did not add any characters randomly, I avoided that because it is not needed to tell the story. As time passed I developed, through commissions, a number of scenes, really like a storyboard. Because I was developing my characters as I went it was easier for me to know how they would react in a given circumstance. Adding a new character with no real personality was not fun, my story had to be fun (for me.)

One of the things you can do is go back to where you introduced a new character and whatever that character was needed to do try giving that task to an existing character. This allows you to expand the existing character's personality. The character you added is not needed but the personality can be added to the existing character. By the time I had most of my story complete I had about 15 characters. Your thoughts?
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Re: Eliminating redundant/insignificant characters

#3 Post by Mutive » Fri Apr 19, 2019 3:04 pm

I try to minimize characters in anything I write as a huge pet peeve of mine is having to work to figure out who everyone is. (This is doubly true if there isn't even a particular reason to have, say, two romantic musicians who work at day jobs they hate, both of whom wants to be in a relationship with the protagonist or whatever.)

Most of this I try to resolve super early on (e.g. in outline form), where I have an idea as to who the main characters are + the main plot and can add or subtract without it being a Big Deal. If there's a character (or more) who doesn't advance (or add to) the plot, I remove the character ASAP.

I also count the characters. I figure that it's reasonable to start page one (or whatnot) with 3 characters. More than that is confusing (because who knows who Abigail, Bob, Claire, Dog, and Emily are or what they're yammering on about?). For every 10 pages or so, I can probably add another, topping out at around 10-15 that the reader has to keep track of. (For which I include pretty much any named character who I expect the reader to remember without me having to remind the reader who they are any time they reappear. So like, Claire's Mom, who's always referred to as Claire's Mom when she appears even if she gets a name isn't included. But if I expect people to remember that Doug is the One Who Got Away who Claire still pines over, he's in the list.)

Note that there's no hard fast rule (this is just what I do). People *love* A Song of Ice and Fire which has like, a million characters. (estimate.) Some do not appear to have a unique role or purpose. (FWIW, I think this is more because of the great world building and plotting than because of the enormous number of characters, but clearly the million named characters don't stop the books from being loved.) People love Tolstoy, too, who not only has a million named characters, he also gives them the same freaking names. (Which is fun if you ever happen to read War and Peace, just saying...)

Also, the longer something is, the more leeway there tends to be as you can develop more characters in a million words than in 1000...

But my personal preferences tends to be to cut as much as you reasonably can. (As it makes it a lot easier on the reader, more likely the reader will *care* about the characters, and more likely that you, as a writer, can sufficiently develop them.)
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Re: Eliminating redundant/insignificant characters

#4 Post by Ezmar » Mon Apr 22, 2019 8:15 am

All the above advice is solid; less is more. My story has only 5 major characters, less than 5 minor characters that only appear for a single scene or two, and I'm over 150k words and counting. The more characters you have, the less focused the narrative feels, and often the shallower the characters seem.

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Re: Eliminating redundant/insignificant characters

#5 Post by mcoorlim » Mon Apr 22, 2019 10:49 pm

Figure out what each character's function is in the story. Break it down, see what they add, what flavor they add to the mix. Combine where you can.
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