How many new characters should I introduce at a time?

Discussion in 'General Writing Discussion' started by ingegneriae, Aug 11, 2011.

  1.  
    ingegneriae

    ingegneriae New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2011
    Messages:
    40
    Hello,

    I'm trying to figure out how to introduce a group of characters into my story. I was wondering if I should introduce them all at once in a single story event or should I introduce them one at a time, each in their own, separate story event?

    Thank you for your time.
  2.  
    atkogirl85

    atkogirl85 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2011
    Messages:
    4
    For me I think it depends on how many people your talking about... Two or three you can probably get away with if they are coming in with one or two of your existing characters (if that makes sense).
    A large group I would focus on a couple or so and make passing mention of the others within the scene then introduce them more in depth in separate scenes which they are more directly connected to...
    Dont know if that made any sense, It really depends on the situation. Hope thy helps a little :)
    E.
  3.  
    limubai2000

    limubai2000 New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2009
    Messages:
    33
    You can also try introducing them through a single event with different POVs of that event. That allows for some different views, impressions, and feelings about the event as most characters will have a different internal reaction. You can also put in some unreliable narrator if you wanted. If this is your intention I'd say go for it.
  4.  
    Oskari

    Oskari Registered Lunatic

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    52
    Most successful stories have a main protagonist. Other key characters can exist, but it's risky ground trying to give equal time to more than one character. Even a story like DUNE is focused on Paul, even though the story contains a number of other strong characters. The only other 'main' character should be the antagonist, if there's one, but even they should not take the limelight away from the protagonist, unless they are, in fact, the main character. But, then, they become the protagonist - a kind of anti-hero.

    Writing a good story is not about playing favourites, like saying your eldest son is your favourite. It's about deciding whose story it is. I can understand that you want to love all your children the same, but you have to sometimes allow one of your kids their moment of glory. If you have a real dilemma separating your characters, maybe they need to be saved for other stories where they can shine!

    Remember that all stories are fashioned on the concept of the Hero's Journey. It has worked for thousands of years in every culture. If you're going to break this pattern, please understand the rules first.

    As one of my key interests is comparative mythology, I would be happy to discuss this further, if it seems strange or restrictive or just stupid.
  5.  
    Oskari

    Oskari Registered Lunatic

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    52
    Ooops, I kind of messed up with the specifics of your question. Well, not entirely. Introducing a bunch of characters should, generally, begin by establishing the protagonist. After that, all others should assist the story of the main character.

    Don't know if I'm making myself very clear.
  6.  
    Oskari

    Oskari Registered Lunatic

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    52
    Sorry to keeping posting one after another, but I just had another thought that may help illustrate my point.

    Think about Star Wars: The Last Hope. We all know that story was about the hero, Luke Skywalker. The movie didn't start with him, but the first characters introduced (C3PO, R2D2, Vader, Leia) helped move the story towards the protagonist, Luke.
  7.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2008
    Messages:
    5,788
    ingegneriae, how you introduce the characters will depend on how the story is progressing. You are the only one at this stage who knows whether to, for instance, show them individually getting ready for the big party, or to show them at the big party when they are all together. A lot will depend on how many people you plan to introduce, what relationships they have with each other, how important each one is to the plot, and what would actually happen in the individual scenes. Only you know any of this, so our advice can only ever be tentative and possibly downright wrong.

    With all due respect, I do worry that you are tending to put the cart before the horse with some of your questions. At this stage you should simply be writing the scenes which interest you, and getting to know your characters. Yes, it's possible that when you come to re-read it you realise you've introduced too many characters too quickly, and that's when you start editing, and giving them different scenes; alernatively, you may realise that you have scenes which do nothing except act as a dead weight on the plot, so you amalgamate them to increase the pace. That's what editing is for. When you've been writing for donkey's years this kind of thing will come naturally, but for the moment don't sweat it.

    To me it does seem that you are allowing yourself to get bogged down in technical issues and minutiae. For new writers, those issues are for the re-writes. Just get the story down at this stage and worry about things like this afterwards. When a person learns to draw, he starts by making marks on a piece of paper; he doesn't worry about shading and perspective and how to use a knife with oil paints. So it is with writers.


    Oskari -- we try to discourage multiple consecutive posts in short order. If you do have another thought after posting -- and we all do -- use the edit button and add later paragraphs to the first post. I forget exactly how long you have for editing, but it certainly covers the 10 minutes here.
  8.  
    mosaix

    mosaix Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 13, 2006
    Messages:
    4,721
    If you are going to introduce multiple characters at the same time, then make them distinct - names, descriptions (height, colour of skin and hair etc.), idiosyncrasies. Give the reader a tag of some kind to hang on to each character so that they don't become confused.
  9.  
    Jake Reynolds

    Jake Reynolds Wordslinger

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2010
    Messages:
    638
    The number of characters is always prickly, and very hard to manage. For every George R Martin there are hundreds who do it badly. However, when you really get down to it, usually there are only one or two 'protagonists', whether they are point of view characters or not.

    For example, my wip initially had four main characters (as well as other pov characters for plot supporting scenes). I have since had to split what became a massive trilogy into two separate trilogies, two characters each. Realistically, those that might be considered 'main' characters in fact are not.

    Dragonlance is a good example. I have mentioned this on here before, but to me, Raistlin and Tanis are the main characters, despite Raistlin having little to no pov scenes (in the Chronicles trilogy, at least). Though Sturm, Tasslehoff and so on might be seen as main characters, they're actually not.

    An example of how to bring characters in, if you decide to take it on, is Stephen King's 'The Stand' technique, which was deliberate alternating of chapters on a cycle where he added one each time. I can;t remember the exact order, but it went something like this:

    Stu chapter, then introduce Fran
    Stu chapter, Fran chapter, then introduce Larry
    Stu chapter, Fran chapter, Larry chapter, then introduce Nick

    And so on, until he had them all meet in Boulder.

    It can be a good way to bring in new characters systematically, whilst ensuring that there is a regular revisit to the known ones.

    Hope this helps.
  10.  
    Boneman

    Boneman Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2008
    Messages:
    4,481
    It can be daunting - you might end up with a page or two of descriptive exposition as you describe them all, and the reader gets bored wading through it. If you can get a copy of The Black Company chronicles, Glen Cook handles it really well.

    Either describe them as they speak, or from the pov you've chosen to tell the story.

    Eight soldiers approached. They were all dressed in varying degrees of army uniform, and most of it was tattered. The leader, a bull-necked giant of a man spat blood on the ground.
    "We're ready for action," he said.
    "We're always ready for action," added another, a thin weasel, who sharpened a blade on a whetstone that was sewn into his sleeve.
    "And booty," grinned the one woman in the group. She'd have been pretty if it wasn't for the scar than ran across her face. The grin caused her face to ripple into a grimace.

    And then have some action and describe the others slowly. You could always have them introduce themselves when they appear, and the trick is to give the reader little enough to remember them by, and not so much that we get confused as to who's who...
  11.  
    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2011
    Messages:
    1,780
    Have you ever gone into a room and been introduced to several people you haven't met before? If you're like me you will have forgotten their names within a few seconds.

    You need to have a conversation with someone first, then you'll remember their name?

    Introducing characters in a story is just the same, but more so. I strongly advise against introducing characters in a bunch. Introduce them one by one, let the reader get to know each one a bit first, before going on to the next.

    It's like an Agatha Christie story, in fact she does it very well. The various characters will arrive say, at a hotel, one by one, or in pairs ...

    EDIT: Boneman, you rock :)

    EDIT: Dubrech, yes Stephen King also puts a lot of ordinary but different characters together in a room: a doctor, a farmer, a woman from the church, etc. He also does it very well, in The Mist, for example? His protagonist is an ordinary person who rises out of the bunch. In fact The Mist may be a good textbook for a writer trying to do this.

    EDIT: Judge/Oskari: you have a full hour to edit. Ask me, I know ...
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2011
  12.  
    Oskari

    Oskari Registered Lunatic

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    52
    It won't happen again. Sorry.
  13.  
    RJM Corbet

    RJM Corbet Never Sure

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2011
    Messages:
    1,780
    It's not a hanging matter. You can also check your entry before posting by using the 'preview post' button :)
  14.  
    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2008
    Messages:
    5,788
    That rather depends on how tetchy I'm feeling at the time... :p

    No problems, Oskari. It always takes a while to get into things -- when I joined I didn't realise there was an edit button... :eek:
  15.  
    ingegneriae

    ingegneriae New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2011
    Messages:
    40
    Hello,

    Thank you for all your advice. I especially appreciate Boneman's and RJM Corbet's advice. I understand I should probably write first then ask questions later =). But I kind of like to understand what I'm doing when I'm writing. It helps me have confidence and allows me to continue writing.

    The best way I can describe what scene I'm trying to write is this:
    It's a transition from the first chapter, where the story of the grandparents and the parents of the main character are focused on.

    In the transition, I'm trying to introduce the main character's childhood friends, who will end up being the big supporting characters of the story. It's like a scene where they're together at school, playing together or something like that.

    I think I'll give Boneman's and RJM Corbet's techniques a try.

    Edit: I think the advice to not allow the supporting characters take the spotlight from the main character is also good advice. I was pretty much going to do that in subsequent chapters with the big supporting characters.

    Does giving away the main character's spotlight ever work out well?

    Second edit: Perhaps I could give the big supporting characters a strong connection to the main character to explain why the big supporting characters need to be highlighted so much?
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2011
  16.  
    slack

    slack within the depths

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2011
    Messages:
    239
    First thing you should probably do is examine your characters for duplicates. If there are some characters who have no individual purpose in the story or unique set of characteristics, you should question whether they belong in the story at all.

    All of the characters have to have marker, some concise, distinct attribute that separates them from everyone else.

    It helps to keep the reader in mind when you are deciding the number of characters to introduce. New information can quickly become overwhelming. Imagine that you are being introduced to a group of people, and your friend, the one introducing you, is telling you each of these people's names and a little of their history. By the end, do you think you'll remember the first person clearly? This is the position you are putting your reader in.
  17.  
    monsterchic

    monsterchic Slowly Freaking Out

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2011
    Messages:
    342
    This is true. I know that if I am reading and a lot of characters are introduced at once without defining characteristics, I have problems keeping track of who is who.
  18.  
    Hilarious Joke

    Hilarious Joke Fool

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2007
    Messages:
    2,011
    I am being such a fanboy, but really if you want to know how to introduce many characters at once, read George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.
  19.  
    FionaW

    FionaW ...who should be writing

    Joined:
    May 15, 2007
    Messages:
    115
    This is a topic close to my heart. My WIP/magnum opus has multiple POV characters. I settled on two protagonists, but there are several others who have significant plotlines.

    I gave six chapters for protagonist 1/plotline 1. Then the same for protagonist 2/plotline 2.

    Then I moved back to P1 for a further few chapters, then P2. Only after these two were firmly set in the reader's head did I introduce protagonist 3/plotline 3.

    By this time the reader is fairly familiar with the world, the likely bad stuff that will happen and how the three plotlines fit together. They all come together, more or less, by the end of book one.

    For me introducing multiple characters depends on how many plotlines you have (among other things). If they're all in the same central story, then I'd introduce them more or less one at a time.

    Watch the opening of LOTR (film) and see how we meet Bilbo, then Frodo, then Gandalf, and finally Sam. Merry and Pippin come in once the first characters are firmly established. Some time to set up their characters, then Aravir arrives. It's a really beautiful demonstration as to how to introduce your characters - watch particularly how Merry and Pippin's characters are set up; each line of dialogue is crafted to tell you what sort of person they are.

    [remembered my password after nearly a year! Woot!]
  20.  
    darkfox

    darkfox New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2011
    Messages:
    37
    I had much the same problem, so I started off my first manuscript by writting 'diary entries' by each of my supporting characters. It's easy to introduce the protagonist as they become the center of your new world, but the supporting characters become lesser versions of the main character rather than individuals.

    The diary entries allowed me to iron out the character traits and speech patterns as well as their driving force for helping (or hindering) the protagonist.

    By the time I started working on my third story, it became easier to keep all the characters seperate in my mind...well, that and there's really only 3 characters who need to have deeper motives than an extra on a movie set. lol.

    It's never too late to do diaries, and I found them to be incredibly helpful on re-reads as well.

Share This Page