Writing a story is an art form, and just like any other art form, there are rules to follow to make it the best that it can be. One of the essential rules for writing a story is knowing how many characters to use. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the different types of stories and how many characters each requires. We’ll also give you tips on keeping your story interesting with limited characters. So, read on if you want to learn more about character counts in stories!
How Many Characters Does Your Story Need
When writing a story, one of the most common questions is, “How many characters should I have?” The answer to this question is quite simple: it depends on your story’s needs.
There’s no magic number for the number of characters in a story. It all depends on the story you’re telling and what works best for that story. For example, a story with many characters might benefit from more than one protagonist, while a smaller story might be better served with only one or two main characters.
The most important thing is that each character in your story serves a purpose. This means that each character should have their motivation, goal, and story arc within the story. If you find that you’ve additional characters that serve no real purpose, it may be better to cut them out of the story altogether.
For example, a complex fantasy epic may need many characters to follow the various story arcs, while a more straightforward love story may only need two or three main characters.
One thing to keep in mind is that your main characters should be versatile and complex. Your secondary characters should focus on serving your protagonists and thus should be somewhat flat, as they won’t get as much screen time as your main characters. On the other hand, your main characters should be versatile and have a variety of characteristics so that the audience can get to know them better.
Why It Matters to Consider the Number of Characters
If you’ve too many characters, it can be challenging to fit everything into a single story, while too few characters can make it difficult to tell a complete story with the proper depth. Also, too many characters in your story can hurt pacing, while too few can lead to a lack of character development.
Whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, you should ensure you’ve enough space to tell the story, but not so much space that you can’t fill the room adequately. Generally, the more characters you’ve, the more space you should give them to develop (both as characters and as people). In a novel, you can take the time to fill out a character and make them three-dimensional.
In a screenplay, on the other hand, the page count is limited, and you need to make sure you get as much out of each character as possible. In a screenplay, your characters should be well-rounded, but at the same time, they don’t need to be as complex as they’re in a novel.
For example, in a screenplay, the protagonist’s development might be, “He changes from a meek and shy person who’s afraid to stand up for himself to someone who shows backbone and finds the courage to stand up for his beliefs.
In a novel, on the other hand, the character arc might read, “They’re a meek and shy person who’s afraid to stand up for themselves, but as the story progresses, they slowly gain the courage to stand up for their beliefs, and by the end, they’re no longer afraid to stand up for themselves.”
Remember that a character who’s only one dimension (in terms of personality traits) is probably not good enough to fill the slot in your story. In a screenplay, that would probably show up as a one-sided character who’s no substance. In a novel, it would probably show up in a flat character with no real personality. The important thing to remember is that for characters to be good and interesting, they need to have dimension and be multi-dimensional
You Risk Bogging Down Your Story if You Have Too Many Characters
Every story has limited space, and each character occupies a part of that space. If you’ve too many characters, they’ll push each other into the background, and your story will become long-winded. It becomes difficult for readers to keep track of all the characters and their relationships with each other.
Also, each character needs to be developed enough so that readers can understand their motivations and empathize with them. If you’ve too many characters, giving them the development they need will be challenging.
That’s why it’s essential to think carefully about how many characters are necessary for your story. Too many characters can quickly turn a good story into a mess.
You Risk Stifling Your Main Characters if There Are Too Many Other Characters
In any story, it’s the main characters who drive the plot and give readers a connection to the story. However, if there are too many other characters, it can be difficult for readers to keep track of everyone and understand their motivations. Also, the main characters can get lost in the shuffle and become less critical to the story.
Therefore, it’s crucial to find a balance when creating secondary characters. They should be interesting enough to add depth to the story but not so numerous that they overwhelm the reader.
By carefully considering each character’s role, you can ensure that your story remains focused and exciting.
You May Not Deliver the Right Story if You Don’t Have the Right Characters
To tell a story effectively, you need the correct characters. They’re what drives the story forward and allow the reader to sympathize with them (or against them). Without strong, well-developed characters, your story will fall flat.
Here are three reasons why having the correct characters is vital to tell a good story:
- First, without strong characters, your story lacks conflict. Conflict is the essence of a good story because it keeps readers engaged and involved in what’s happening. Without characters facing challenges and obstacles, your story will probably be dull.
- Second, well-developed characters also help the reader develop empathy. The reader must be able to identify with the characters to share in their journey. If the reader doesn’t like the characters, they won’t care about what happens to them.
- The right characters ultimately help your story be coherent and make sense. A story with poorly developed or inappropriate characters will likely seem disjointed and confusing. For your story to be successful, everything must fit together perfectly, including the characters.
Does This Mean That You Should Shy Away From Creating Characters?
When it comes to creating characters, there’s no magic number. Whether you’re writing a short story or a novel, the number of characters should be based on the needs of your story.
However, it’s essential to remember that each character you create will bring challenges. For example, at least to a degree, you’ll need to give each character their voice, their backstory, and their own goals and motivations.
You also have to make sure that each character plays a vital role in your story. Given all these factors, it’s understandable that some writers avoid creating a large group of characters.
However, it’s important to remember that each character serves a purpose. You can write a richer and more exciting story if you take the time to develop a well-rounded cast. So don’t be afraid to go all out when developing characters – if that’s what your story calls for.
Plenty of Successful Books Have Loads of Characters
When writing a successful book, many elements come into play. From plot to pacing, every aspect of the story is essential.
A good book should have many interesting characters that readers can identify with. While a smaller group of characters can work well in some stories, many successful books have many characters.
There are several reasons for this.
- First, a larger number of characters allows for more complex relationships and storylines. The Lord of the Rings is an excellent example of multiple main characters.
- Also, a diverse group of characters can make a story more believable and exciting for readers.
- Finally, many characters can ensure that there’s something for everyone in the story. The Harry Potter series is an excellent example of the application of this principle.
Sometimes You Create a Character Who Serves a Purpose in Your First Draft, and Later That Purpose Is Fulfilled by Another Character – or the Scene Is Deleted Anyway!
In any work of fiction, there will always be characters who serve a purpose. Maybe they’re there to provide comedy or to provide a love interest. Or maybe they’re just there to move the plot forward.
Whatever the reason, these characters often end up being pretty one-dimensional. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, they’re not the main character – they just play a supporting role.
Sometimes, you find that a character you created for a specific purpose is superfluous. Maybe you wrote a scene that didn’t work, or the plot took a different direction than you originally intended. Whatever the reason, there are times when it’s best to cut a character.
Of course, it can be challenging to let go of a character you’ve invested time and energy in creating. But sometimes, that’s necessary to make the story better. So if you find yourself in this situation, don’t be afraid to make an edit – even if it means saying goodbye to a beloved character.
The Reality Is That Stories in Certain Genres Have Certain Expectations About the Number of Characters
When it comes to stories, there are certain expectations about the number of characters they contain. Certain genres tend to have more protagonists than others.
For example, epic fantasy stories often have a large cast, while romance novels usually focus on two main characters.
There are a few reasons for this.
- First, epic fantasy stories are usually very extensive, both in terms of plot and setting. Therefore, they require a large number of characters to cover the various plotlines and subplots adequately. In contrast, romance novels are more intimate and usually focus on the relationship between two people. Therefore, many characters would only make the story confusing and harder to follow.
- Second, epic fantasy stories often span multiple generations, with each new generation bringing its unique perspective. This means that there must be a large number of characters to represent the different periods. On the other hand, romance novels are usually set in a shorter period and therefore don’t need as many characters.
- Finally, epic fantasy stories have various character types, from brave heroes to scheming villains. On the other hand, romance novels are more about the relationship between two people. Therefore, there are fewer opportunities for different character types to play an important role.
It’s Also True That the Number of Characters in a Story Can Depend on the Length of the Book
The number of characters in a story can depend on the book’s length for various reasons. In a shorter book, there may be only one or two main characters, while a smaller group of people plays the supporting roles. This can help the story feel more focused and intimate.
In contrast, a longer book may have a more significant number of characters, each with its story arc. This can create a richer, more complex world for the reader to explore.
Also, the number of characters can be affected by the time that passes in the story. A book that takes place over many years may contain several generations of characters, while a book that takes place over a shorter time may focus on a smaller group.
Ultimately, the number of characters in a story is only one element that can contribute to the book’s overall length.
The Core of the Story Is Conflict and Tension – So You Need Characters That Serve That Purpose
Conflict is the heart of any good story. Without conflict, there’s no tension, and without tension, there’s no drama. That’s why it’s so important to create characters who are the source of your story’s conflict and tension.
By pitting these characters against each other, you can create an atmosphere of tension that will keep your readers turning the pages.
Of course, not all conflict has to be negative. Some of the most compelling stories are about characters struggling to overcome their differences and find common ground.
But whether positive or negative, conflict is essential to any good story. So if you want to write a story that engages your readers from beginning to end, you should fill it with lots of colorful characters just waiting to argue.
Establish the Conflict in Your Story FIRST Before You Start Creating Multiple Characters
Conflict is the engine that drives a story. Without it, there’s no momentum, no sense of urgency, and no stakes. That’s why it’s vital to establish the conflict when you outline a story FIRST. Otherwise, you risk creating a bunch of characters with no clear purpose or goal.
If you start with the conflict, you can make sure that each character has a role to play in moving the story forward. By focusing on the conflict, you can develop a tighter plot that readers will find easier to follow.
The characters and their story arcs drive the story, but you must always keep the central conflict – related to the main character’s weakness or inner conflict – in mind.
Determine POV Characters Early When Outlining
The Point of View (POV) is the one from whose perspective we see the story. Establishing the POV characters early in your outline is important because it affects everything from the dialog to the description.
There are three perspectives: first person, second person, and third person. First-person is how I tell the story. The second person point of view is less common and means that “you” are the one experiencing the story. In the third person, an omniscient narrator tells the story through “them.”
You can also have multiple POV characters in a story; you just have to decide who they’re and stick to their limited perspective.
Why is it essential to decide your POV character(s) early on? As mentioned earlier, this decision affects how your story is told. For example, if you choose a first-person perspective, you can only tell what that person sees, hears, smells, feels, etc. Also, make sure your POV character is someone readers can identify with and understand.
So if you’re still unsure about who your POV character should be, ask yourself these questions: Who’s the most interesting/divisive character arc? Who’s the best connection to the central conflict? Who’s the most relatable?
The Necessary Main Characters to Make Your Story Work
Every story needs certain vital ingredients to make it work. This is especially true for the main characters.
Only one character is necessary for a story to work – the protagonist (hero). Without well-developed, believable protagonists, readers quickly lose interest. The best stories usually have complex, fallible protagonists but are ultimately admirable. They should be active participants in the story rather than passive observers.
They should also be goal-oriented, and their actions should drive the plot.
Finally, readers should be able to empathize with the protagonist, even if they don’t always agree with their decisions.
Protagonist – One or Multiple
In many traditional stories, there’s only one protagonist – the character who drives the story and with whom the reader is supposed to empathize.
However, writing a story with several main characters is also possible. This can effectively add complexity to the story and give the reader multiple points of view.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, there are several examples of protagonists. The three main protagonists are Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee (who I see as a protagonist-sidekick), and Aragorn. Each of these characters is the hero in his own story, and each plays an essential role in the plot.
Frodo is tasked with destroying the One Ring, while Sam helps him on his journey. Aragorn is the heir to the throne of Gondor, who must help defeat Sauron and reclaim his rightful place as king. Although each character has their own goals and motivations, they’re all united in their quest to defeat evil and restore peace to Middle Earth.
Although Lord of the Rings focuses primarily on the journey of Frodo and Sam, numerous other protagonists play a vital role in the story. One example is Gandalf the Gray, a mentor and guide to the hobbits. Another is Legolas, an elven prince who teams up with Aragorn to help him reclaim his throne. These characters each have their own story, but they come together to defeat Sauron and protect Middle Earth.
When writing a story with multiple protagonists, there are a few things to remember.
- First, each character should have a clear motivation and goal.
- Second, the characters should interact with each other in interesting ways.
- And finally, the reader should be able to understand and sympathize with each character. When done well, writing a story with multiple protagonists can be a rewarding experience for both the author and the reader.
An Antagonist Is Necessary for Most Stories
An antagonist is a character in a story who opposes the main character or protagonist. The antagonist can be a person, an animal, or an inanimate object.
In most stories, the antagonist is necessary to create conflict important to the plot. Without conflict, there would be no story.
The antagonist doesn’t have to be a villain, but he does have to be someone or something that puts obstacles in the way of the protagonist. Without an antagonist, the story would be boring and uneventful.
The antagonist challenges the protagonist, drives the story forward, and keeps readers engaged. In some cases, the antagonist may be more sympathetic than the protagonist. This can create an interesting dynamic and increase the tension of the story.
Ultimately, an antagonist is necessary for most stories to work. Without an antagonist for the protagonist to fight, the story wouldn’t be worth telling.
In Most Stories, There Are Several Important Characters in Addition to the Protagonist
In most stories, there’s usually more than one important character. While the protagonist or protagonist is often the focus, several minor characters usually play an essential role in the story.
These characters may advance the plot, provide comedy, or serve as interlocutors for the protagonist. In some cases, they’re even more critical to the story than the main character. Regardless of their role, they help make the story well-rounded.
An ally is someone who often supports the hero and helps him on his journey. In some cases, the ally is also a love interest, which adds depth to the story.
In many ways, an ally is just as important as the hero/heroine and can be even more sympathetic to readers. After all, everyone needs someone to rely on, and everyone wants to feel needed. That’s why allies are so crucial to a good story. They often offer support, friendship, and, most importantly, hope. Hope that even in the darkest of times, there’s someone who cares.
As Libbie Hawkes points out in “Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing,” the ally is the one character who can force the protagonist to face his or her weaknesses. The ally may even pose as an antagonist but ultimately serves a purpose that significantly helps the protagonist or protagonist.
In every good story, there’s a mentor. This person believes in the main character, even if he or she doesn’t believe in themselves. The mentor is usually older and wiser and has experienced much in life. They’ve seen the world and know how to navigate it.
The mentor knows all the secrets and isn’t afraid to share them with the protagonist. They want the main character to succeed, even if they’ve to sacrifice their own safety to do so. The mentor is a teacher, a guide, and a friend. He’s someone the protagonist can look up to and learn from.
Without a mentor, the protagonist would be lost. They wouldn’t know how to achieve their goals or overcome challenges. The mentor is an essential part of any good story because he or she provides guidance, wisdom, and support.
The sidekick is often an essential part of a story because they provide support, humor, and sometimes even a bit of wisdom. Even if they aren’t the story’s star, they’re often loved by readers and play an essential role in the story.
One of the most famous sidekicks is Dr. Watson, who assists Sherlock Holmes in his investigations. Watson is the perfect foil to Holmes and adds a touch of humanity to the otherwise cold and logical detective. Without Watson, Holmes would be far less believable and sympathetic.
Another excellent example of a sidekick is Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings. Sam is devoted to Frodo Baggins and accompanies him on his dangerous journey to destroy the One Ring. Sam offers Frodo both practical help and moral support, helping him remain strong in the face of evil.
Although they aren’t always in the spotlight, sidekicks are an essential part of many stories. They provide hilarity, friendship, and sometimes even a bit of wisdom.
Skeptics are often among the most frustrating characters in stories. They never seem to believe anything, no matter how much evidence they present. They’re always looking for ways to poke holes in others’ stories and are often quick to judge without knowing all the facts.
But there’s often a reason for their skepticism. In many cases, skeptics are among stories’ wisest and most intelligent characters. They know there’s often more to a story than meets the eye, and they aren’t afraid to ask difficult questions.
As a result, they often help uncover essential plot points and move the story forward. Although they can sometimes be frustrating, skeptics play an essential role in stories. Without them, many stories would be much less interesting.
Secondary and Tertiary Characters
In any story, secondary and tertiary characters can be essential in bringing the world to life and helping the reader understand the conflict and stakes. They often amuse or serve as a sounding board for the main character’s thoughts and feelings. But they can also create suspense or hint at future events.
Secondary characters are usually not as well developed as the main characters, but they should still be believable and three-dimensional. They should have their own goals and motivations, even if they’re secondary to the plot.
Tertiary characters are even less developed, but they can still play an important role in the story. They may appear only briefly, but their brief scene may be crucial to advancing the plot or providing information about the world the reader needs to know.
How Many POV Characters Should a Story Have?
There’s no “right” answer to how many point-of-view (POV) characters should be in a story. It depends on the needs of the story.
However, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind. For example, if the story focuses on a single person and their journey, limiting POVs to that person makes sense. This will draw the reader deeply into that character’s story and create a strong connection between the two.
If, on the other hand, the story is one in which multiple characters are working toward a common goal, it may make sense to have multiple POV characters. This gives the reader insight into the motivations and experiences of each character and makes them feel more involved in the story.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer regarding how many POV characters should be in a story. It simply depends on what works best for the story at hand.
The Acid Test: Does the Character in Your Story Serve an Important Enough Purpose to Survive?
One of the best ways to determine if a character in your story serves a sufficiently necessary purpose is to use the acid test: look closely at the character’s role in the story and how important they’re to the plot.
If the character can be easily removed from the story without harming the plot, then it’s probably not necessary and can be deleted.
However, if the character is an essential part of the story and its removal would cause significant problems, it probably serves a sufficiently necessary purpose and can remain.
The Second Acid Test
The second major character test is whether a reader can describe a particular character with at least one adjective. If the answer is no, the character in your text is either not vivid enough or not important enough to the story to be retained.