With Season 7 of Game of Thrones about to start, Xlibris Publishing thought it appropriate to discuss characters — specifically, how to handle having a large cast of characters.
It is not uncommon for stories, particularly those with large scope and scale, to feature large casts of characters. Classical examples include the celebrated Russian books Anna Karenina and War & Peace. These books, and recent works like A Song of Ice and Fire, have enjoyed great popularity over the decades, so having a large cast of characters does not prevent incredible success. But this does not mean a large cast can’t also weigh a book down, even despite its popularity. Modern readers have been known to critique a book on needing a list of dramatis personae, in order to keep up with the characters. Today Xlibris wants to help authors avoid mistakes when it comes to having a large cast of characters.
- Avoid Redundant Characters: Sometimes you will come up with a character, only to find there is already another character that fulfills a similar if not the same role. Make sure your characters are distinct from one another. Even for minor characters, make sure there is something unique about them so that they are not confused with some other character. This suggestion does not simply refer to a similarly named or looking character, but rather to a character whose role, development, and behaviors are obviously shared by another. Having more than one character fulfilling the same purpose, being funny the same way, or experiencing the same growth in a story can be confusing to a reader, and eventually… boring. Which brings us to our next suggestion . . .
- Don’t Be Boring: While this is an ambiguous and somewhat intangible piece of advice, it is one many authors will stand by. And it is especially true when you have a large cast of characters. There are a lot of things readers will tolerate in a large of cast of characters: depraved sociopaths, schemers, and smug bullies, to name a few examples. But what readers will not tolerate, and thus will cause them to put a book down, is a boring character. Even if a character is supposed to be mundane, like “Bob from accounting,” make them gloriously, spectacularly mundane. An example of a “spectacularly mundane” character would be Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series. Despite supposedly being “normal,” his dialogue, and general bewilderment at his increasingly strange circumstances, is anything but boring.
Xlibris will continue Rounding Up Your Characters in part 2.
By Ian Smith