Populating the World with Characters

Group of PeopleAdding characters to your story can be a challenge to any writer. Most of our main characters will have other people and creatures to interact with throughout the story. The more popular additional story character choices range from the main love interest, parents, best friends, and ex-girl/boyfriends all the way to the antagonist. Of course the story can be populated by many people but readers don’t need a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers for every person and creature inside the world.

I have a pet peeve on creating too many characters in one book. As a reader and a writer I find it frustrating when an author throws out names and places that end up having nothing to do with the actual plot. I hate books with so many characters that the author ends up spending too much time describing each person, by the time the descriptions are done my head is spinning and, if I was lucky, I remembered at least one of the characters names. I find it a waste of time having to go back in the story to find names or places constantly trying to figure out who is who and where they are and usually just end up just giving up on the story. I want each character to be important and a vast amount of characters does not always equal a great story.

Is there a limit to how many characters you should have in a book? No.

If you like having a hundred characters and they all add something to the plot then I say write them into your story. But our readers cannot read our minds, they cannot always see the individual characters as we see them. Also, try to avoid stereotypes in your characters, although it can sometimes be funny, the best characters are usually the most unique.

A great way to write in several characters is to give each character something diverse. Not only should we give them their own voice but also an individual relationship to our main character. Remember, in the stories we write the world truly does revolve around the main character, they are the one our readers relate to the most, this is their story. Each character needs to make an impact on our main character and through her or him an impact on our readers.

One of the most important things I ever learned in a creative writing class was to combine your characters. Instead of having three friends that your main guy goes to for help why not make it just one best friend? Not only does this now give his best friend more depth instead of spreading it out into three people, but also allows the readers a chance to get to know the character. With only one character readers don’t have to memorize all the different names while at the same time trying to tell all them apart.

Make life easier on your readers by adding in characters that are developed, not just two-dimensional characters that keep the plot moving forward.

So add in those characters (or take a few out) and keep writing!


About Infinity

I was born and raised in Colorado. I have a Master's degree in Psychology and several years experience in coaching, writing and graphic design. View all posts by Infinity

2 responses to “Populating the World with Characters

  • rilaly

    Excellent post! I tried to write the novel of many characters once. As you said, it was just a mess. I couldn’t progress, because I branched out into too many side stories. I decided to parcel all of these stories out into short stories, and I ended the attempt at completing the novel. As you said, if you can perform this juggling act and still maintain the thread of a story, all the power to you. I couldn’t do it.

    • Tabatha Hansen

      I can’t do it either and absolutely agree that it is a juggling act. Plus I would rather read and write a story with just one good character then a bunch of two-demensional nobodies. So you are not alone when you say you can’t do it! 🙂

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