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You should know your overall plot by now and I'm sure you have your cast of characters in mind, now it's time to cut your cast in half, yep, seriously, cut it in half as you have too many characters. Yep, that's right, we'll focus today's article on something most people tend to ignore: how big should your cast be?

Here's the thing, the more characters you have, the more pages you will need to develop them in a satisfying manner. So, unless you're writing the next 1000+ novel I suggest you keep your cast with the minimum number of characters as possible your plot requires.

Why have two bad guys when one suffices? What's the point in having 50 mutants in a film where only one takes center stage *wink wink looking at you 20th Century Fox*?

I'm sure that when you cooked up a cool story you had about twenty characters in mind, that's perfectly natural, it's just too much fun creating people to populate your world. But there's an inherent danger in keeping such a bloated cast: the characters tend to become flat and perform always on the same note, it's what we call stereotypes - the damsel in distress, the bad boy with anger issues, the mad scientist, the dumb jock, etc.

It's always better to have fewer characters but develop them like real people. Real human beings have layers, they might act one way and then feel differently about it later on. And there's always a reason or emotional explanation to every thing we do or say. There's nothing wrong in having a mad scientist for a villain as long you bring something fresh to his personality, something that will make him stand out from the gallery of mad scientists out there.

Why is Indiana Jones THE ultimate adventure hero? He has a real personality, he's rough on the edges yet he's caring, he faces impossible odds but is terrified of snakes, he's got quick wits but insecure when it comes to his father.

My point is, good characters have conflicting traits of personality and to develop these within your story requires screen time or pages.

Less is More: Take the Indiana Jones films, their cast is really minimum, the hero, a love interest, a sidekick and a group of villains, usually mainly represented by a central figure. Same goes for Pirates of the Caribbean and other films, I can go on and on. Even Star Wars started with a minimum cast before expanding their universe.

When I first cooked up the plot for The Lost Kids I had about twenty kids, an entire classroom was supposed to get transported to another world. I had two or three different villains, each with their own agenda, I had a gamma of colorful characters. When people read the first couple of drafts they had a really hard time keeping up with that many characters and the plot was convoluted.

And then I started to realize a number of characters served the same function within the plot, each in their own manner, so when combining these characters into a single complex one, I was streamlining not only the plot but my cast and people got to know them a lot better. It's like going to a party where you don't know anyone, I'll bet the next morning you won't remember anybody's names, except for that one person which you spent some actual time talking to.

I'll go into more details about actual character development in a future article but a very helpful thing to get started is a mini-biography, where the character was born, how was he raised, what are his likes and dislikes, etc. It's like a dating profile :)

Recommended Reading: In this column Terry Rossio explains the importance of spending a LOT of time picking just the right name for your characters.

Tomorrow I'll discuss character functions within the plot and how to better construct them to serve your plot without having talking puppets walking around. There will be a few articles on character development but if there's something you'd like me to cover specifically, leave your suggestion below :) Thanks!
This is just the first of a series of articles on character development, I'll try covering several aspects from plot functions, personalities, character arcs, dialogues, etc.

Thanks for reading and as always any suggestions, comments, questions or critiques welcome!


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Kizyoi Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Wow, this really opened my eyes!  I've got to go back now and kill off some of my characters in my book...
Thank you sooooooo so very much for this!  :heart:
STUDIOCGS Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2015
20 characters or bust!
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2015  Professional
Haha, something like that ;)
Steeljren Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2010  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is a great piece of advise. I wish I had read that before I started writing =D
My first story accumulated a cast of more than 20 characters, each with his own storyline. It was absolutely overwhelming and I struggled for two years to finish it.
In my second larger fiction I cut the count down to one protagonist and five supporting characters. It was much easier to handle, but I never realised why until I've read your article.
May it help many aspiring authors out there!
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2010  Professional
Hey I'm glad I could help and thanks so much for reading :D

I appreciate the nice comment!
AlexORio Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010  Professional General Artist
a quick question, do you think it's alright to have 9 main heros in a story. But the story doesn't start off on those nine heros, but actually starts mainly with 5, and slowly builds up to bringing in the next four characters, (There might end up being 11, since some characters leave and other's take their place.) The main focus characters though is only 2, but there is still some development for the other characters, but much more for the main 2.
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010  Professional
When you say you have 9 main heroes, what exactly do you mean? Like, how many other characters do you have in your cast aside from those?

Here's my thought, every story can only handle ONE or TWO protagonists at the very most. If you have more, it's just too confusing. Lord of the Rings has an ensemble cast but even so you can easily spot the main characters, Frodo and Aragorn. They each are the protagonist of their own story. And that's a trilogy of films, which means they had all the time in the world to develop two story lines running parallel to each other. The protagonist in Star Wars is Luke Skywalker, Pirates of the Caribbean focus on Will and Jack Sparrow.

I don't know the size of your story but I can pretty much say you have too many "main heroes". You have to relegate most of them to secondary roles and figure out if they perform the same function within the story. If they do, start combining them or cutting some of them off. I know it is painful, trust me, I've been there, cutting my Lost Kids from 30+ characters to about a dozen was hard and painful, but necessary.

Even a story as epic and big like LOTR can only handle a dozen characters under the spotlight, everyone else is just along for the ride and people barely remember them afterwards. Think about it, off the top of your head how many LOTR characters can you think of?

I hope I answered your question! :)
AlexORio Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2010  Professional General Artist
it would be nice to cut them, i would if i could, but it's no longer a matter of pain, my story has grown to the point it would completely fall apart without alteast the main 10, the 11th is debatable. but yes, the cast is strongly set up like LOTRs where the presence of many of the characters help the readers to learn more about the world the characters are in instead of boggy the readers down with history lessons. the characters help to show defined differneces in the cultures inhabiting the fantasy world, but i would say that Zeiron and Maya can be easily defined as the two main characters over the others.
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2010  Professional
I see. Well, I can't really give a more informed advice since I don't know your story or characters but as I mentioned before, if you have 11 main characters in a cast of say 40, anyone reading your story will be confused, I guarantee that.

Even the Lord of the Rings was set-up before in a shorter version (The Hobbit) before blowing up to the epic we came to know. Harry Potter, Pirates, Star Wars, they all started as contained stories and then blown up.

Just food for thought, but as I mentioned I can't really comment without knowing your story.
Shin-kun-san Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010  Student Digital Artist
thank you so much for doing these! I've needed writing advice for a while now, and these are helping alot! Please continue :)!
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010  Professional
It's comments like yours that gives me the energy to keep doing them, thanks for reading :highfive:
ThePatriotWhisper Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010
Nice article you have there! =D But I still have problems loading the links in recommended reading for the past few articles. =( doesn't connect at all.
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010  Professional
Thanks for the nice words, means a lot you like the articles, and yeah, apparently "WordPlayer" uses a link blocker, but all you have to do is hit the refresh button and you should be good to go! :)
ThePatriotWhisper Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010
Alright, I'll give it a try again. =) Might be because I'm using a different browser. Hmm..
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2010  Professional
Not sure about that, but when I click on the link it says something like "We don't allow links" or whatever but if I were to hit refresh, it works. I think they want to avoid spamming of some sort.

Please let me know if the problem persists :)

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