How to handle lots of characters?

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
User avatar
ddonche
Posts: 29
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2019 8:00 pm
Location: Colorado Springs
Contact:

How to handle lots of characters?

Postby ddonche » Thu Jan 10, 2019 5:11 pm

Here's a question for you lot (and I'm not even English): I have a story wherein the protag finds herself in a sort of hospital/maternity ward with about 65 other women. These women are pretty much sheltered. I would like to try to take advantage of this by "worldbuilding" a few of the dynamics of the dormitory. My idea is to focus on the protag, but have about 5-6 of these characters play a more active role. Ultimately, only about 13 of the characters will be named.

How can I do this without overwhelming the reader too much? I normally prefer to only name characters that are important, but my other thought was that the protagonist is in an overwhelming scenario. She is thrust into this new atmosphere with all these strangers who are excited about her, so my inclination is to also include a little of that in there.

What are some ways you handle this sort of thing so it doesn't get to be too unwieldy? I'm thinking that with the non-essential named characters, I'll stick to one physical feature or something, plus one personality trait or other detail to help a) give something interesting to the setting/plot, and b) help keep them all distinguished easily from one another.
R R HM R R
Everwind.us

kentagions
Posts: 317
Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:45 pm
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Re: How to handle lots of characters?

Postby kentagions » Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:06 am

Hi, ddonche,

Sort out your character types: Protagonist, Antagonist, Sidekick, Love Interest, Information Broker, Mentor, etc. Know the jobs that your characters are charged with so you can define the plot-driving jobs that each one of them will be doing. Pay particular attention to the number of Sidekicks you have and exactly how they advance the plot. If there are overlaps, you have a chance to condense two or more characters into one, four into two. Developing multiple characters is a time-consuming exercise that should be limited in a short story.

In short stories, many characters interacting all of the time slows the plot. To handle tempo more effectively, make sure you read through sections where many characters are present and contributing to the plot. If the story feels slower than the pace you imagine it should be, do some triage: which character/s need the most attention in order for the plot to live? Characters unnecessary to the plot should become part of the background.

If characters are essential, keep them, but define their essential functions well enough to know whether their plot driving contribution can be absorbed into another character. If their function can be easily absorbed, nix them. If their function and presence are essential but not needed in a particular scene (Like a bodyguard), mention them in passing or as part of the setting (The reader must not forget that a bodyguard is always present).

Limit multiple character interactions. The dialog scene isn't a debate in a committee, it is an essential plot-driving device for imparting information to the reader. (For example, the Protag needs to talk to the Information Broker but maybe the Sidekick doesn't need to speak at this point. The reader should know that the Sidekick is there, or that a whole platoon is there, but they don't have to speak.)

Limit individual mentions of multiple characters. Mention the group, gang, etc. but each facial expression might not be necessary to plot driving.

On the other hand: You have a natural advantage with multiple characters in action. Action scenes are written with short, highly detailed sentences. This is where sweat flies, guns roar and each twisted smile can be recounted in emotionally charged prose. Descriptions of multiple characters in an action scene allow the author to dilate time and build tension.

Best of luck,
Kent

User avatar
ddonche
Posts: 29
Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2019 8:00 pm
Location: Colorado Springs
Contact:

Re: How to handle lots of characters?

Postby ddonche » Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:45 am

That's quite a good response, thank you for taking the time to offer that. I have a suspicion that I'm probably okay, and the fact that I'm even asking this question means I'm aware that something might be wrong, so now I have some things I can look for.
R R HM R R
Everwind.us

User avatar
orbivillein
Posts: 198
Joined: Mon Mar 23, 2015 4:37 pm
Location: Anatoll

Re: How to handle lots of characters?

Postby orbivillein » Mon Jan 21, 2019 2:34 am

Consider how many close acquaintances you can manage. What, six, twelve? Magic numbers, by the way, Seven Samurai, thirteen diners at the Last Supper. Seven also happens to be the usual number for an ensemble cast of main characters. Anyway, more than seven or so personal relationships causes shortfalls. Folk in new social situations limit their close circle of acquaintances because they cannot manage more than, say, six active, and a pecking order to go with it, too.

If the maternity dormitory shelters sixty-five, privacy partitions, other group cohorts each of a group personality distinction, relative and absolute location in the dorm, "front room," "back of the bus," "the cool kids," "the bad apples," "the drama queens" the "goth" agoraphobes who can't stand crowds of strangers and cluster near windows or doors, etc., pare down the population explosion to a manageable degree. And, a protagonist meets each of her cohort to be, one at a time, the first the most desperate for a friend and a cohort, and most difficult to like, maybe.

The classic scene of introductions to strangers begins with that desperate friend gives the newcomer the four-one-one on the dorm population situation, poses herself indispensable to the newcomer through a welcome-wagon ritual.

Then a hierarchy relative to the newcomer's center establishes itself, mindful that drama is about contentions internal and external, why the first new "friend" ought be desperate and difficult to like at first. She also sets up the cohort with whom she wants in it that's available. The newcomer at some point soon or late asserts her cohort wants and causes strife problems from it.


Return to “Writing: Craft, Talent, Technique”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests