Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Many Characters in a Fantasy?

You might also ask "how long is a piece of string." It doesn't really matter if the story is well crafted. Harry Potter, for example, has many layers of characters in order of importance to the story. Some epic fantasies have many more than that.

The thing is, for fantasy stories that wind up over three or more volumes, readers have plenty of time to come to grips with a diverse cast of characters, especially minor ones that keep popping up from time to time. The objection to "too many characters" is often that it makes the story too confusing and detracts from main character development. This may be so in shorter novels where time and pacing are limited. In longer fantasies, you have more time (and words) to embed a multitude of characters.

In addition, you can get away with a big cast if you don't give a minor character a crucial scene without first introducing him or her in a previous chapter, preferably more than once. Surprises and plot twists are fine, but doing it with new characters is not the best way.

ANIMAIA has a cast of, well . . . not exactly thousands but certainly a few dozen. Even so, the superstars are two boys and two girls as the prime protagonists. Another six or so are very important secondary characters, with another ten or more in a third layer of prominence. I think it works well (as do other readers), and by the end of the book the main cast is well entrenched, as they will be for the following volumes.

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