Dramatis Personae

marcmizz

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What is your take on a Dramatis Personae in a fantasy novel? Personally, as a reader, I like it, especially when there is an exhausting list of characters. I tend to forget who is who, especially when a name pops up again a hundred pages later.

However, I'm torn about my soon-to-be-published first novel. How many characters would justify its inclusion? Should I put it at the beginning of the book or at the end? How important to the story must a character be to be included in the list?

Would love to hear your thoughts about this.

Cheers!
 

Jo Zebedee

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I like them when they’re funny, they put me off if they’re serious and needed to follow the action - but I am then also unlikely to enjoy the novel that requires them, either.
 

HareBrain

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I find having several pages of character listings at the start can be offputting, but like a map, it can also whet the appetite if the names and roles are intriguing. I think probably 2-3 pages is the sweet spot. A single page, and you wonder why the author bothered; more than that, and it could look overwhelming.

I included a glossary of characters, places etc in the second of my series, and people said they found it helpful. What I and the publisher came up with was to put it at the end, but indicate its existence at the front (but this was done with a note at the end of the first book's precis,a nd in the first of the series, you're not going to have that).
 

G.T.

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The Warhammer books do this at the start in order to show affiliation and rank. 30+ characters spread among five armies with various ranks. No reader is going to remember that from the start of a book on the first read. To be honest, I think they do it to add a martial vibe to the story before you've even started. Even if you don't read it, you will see the ranks as you flick through the pages.

A list of characters just for the sake of it is pointless. You should think about what your list is supposed to portray to the reader. It's really just another form of info-dumping.

The only time I might accept it is if there are a lot of foreign language names and the book is in English, then I might appreciate a pronunciation guide, otherwise the above.
 

farntfar

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It really depends on the number of characters in the book, and how confusing their names are.

Both the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion have long lists at the end (in the appendices). These also have page references for the characters, which is useful.

The Mote in God's Eye, and the follow-up The Gripping Hand have dramates personae, at the beginning (I think) which were also useful, given the number of important characters in the book.
I haven't seen any other examples.
Maybe some of Alan Garner's books had them (Elidor, The Weirdstone of Brisangamen, The Owl Service etc.) I can't remember.

If you put them at the back, as appendices, I would think it's less likely to put people off. At the front they can give the impression that the book is going to be heavy and difficult to keep up with.
 

AnyaKimlin

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I just skip over them but I am not a typical reader. I generally read a book in a few hours and have a reasonable memory. If I am struggling to remember your characters or at least enjoy them when they show up, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the story and I put it down.
 

Toby Frost

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I agree that putting it in at the back would be better. I've only seen them in epic fantasy, but I could imagine that they'd be useful in any sufficiently large and complicated novel. I've had to use them to remember all my own characters' names!
 

ckatt

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Last book I read with such a list was Goblin Emperor By Katherine Addison.
It came at the start and it would have been pointless to read at the beginning but I referred back to it a few times while in the thick of it.
While I don't think such a thing should be necessary, it suited the book where the main character we as just as confused as me at times. But he had advisors help him out.
 

Wayne Mack

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I'm torn about my soon-to-be-published first novel.
If your novel is at the about to be published stage, I would say leave everything the way it is. Don't worry that there is some last tweak that will make or break the book. I look forward to hearing that your novel has moved into the published state. Good luck!
 

therapist

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I don't like them. At the start of the book I don't want to read it. And I have a bad memory so I will quickly forget reading 40 random names.

Also I always read on an ereader which makes flicking back to a glossary of names very cumbersome. And if I don't know a name I just click it and scroll through previous paragraphs with that name.
 

HareBrain

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I don't like them. At the start of the book I don't want to read it. And I have a bad memory so I will quickly forget reading 40 random names.

Also I always read on an ereader which makes flicking back to a glossary of names very cumbersome. And if I don't know a name I just click it and scroll through previous paragraphs with that name.

This is probably a good argument for treating the ebook and print versions differently when publishing.
 

sknox

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My experience with such lists is that they don't help much.

First, as others have said, it's easier to refer to such a list in a physical book than in an ebook. Something to keep in mind.

Second, are probably more peculiar to myself, if the character plays a major role, I'm going to remember them. If not, a list isn't going to help much.

The first time I noticed this was when I read War and Peace. Lots of difficult (for me, at age 19) names and variations on them. There was a list, but whenever I looked at it, it was rather like reading the phone book (for those who remember such things). As an invented example, if I encounter Duke Bob in Chapter 4 and again in Chapter 48, then I look in the list and find:

Bob, Duke of Thatplace.

Which really doesn't tell me much. Bob-who-killed-Count-Eddie is a more useful reminder. IOW, most lists give little more than a name and a title, which isn't going to mean much. And will mean even less if Bob only appears in those two chapters and turns out not to have killed Eddie after all but was just a red herring. Or maybe he ate a herring. At the same time, if the novel is *about* Bob (what about Bob?), then I'm going to remember without the existence of the list.

YMMV
 

marcmizz

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Some very interesting thoughts here, thanks. Especially about the hard vs soft copy factor, I hadn't thought about that.

I'll definitely do some more brainstorming before reaching a decision. Another thing I'm keeping in mind is the fact that in my second book (I'm envisioning a trilogy), there is a considerably broader cast of characters, so a Dramatis Personae would be more justified from that perspective. So, I have my reservations about including it in the second book but not in the first. (I'm a bit of a consistency freak :LOL:)

If your novel is at the about to be published stage, I would say leave everything the way it is. Don't worry that there is some last tweak that will make or break the book. I look forward to hearing that your novel has moved into the published state. Good luck!
Currently, I'm going through the final design/editing touches (the novel has already been proof-read so the text itself is final). Thanks for the heads-up, I'll let you know once I have a release date :)
 

Phyrebrat

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I can only think of one: Stephen King's Under the Dome. Although as a reader I don't have a particular problem with cast listings, I have to admit I did feel a little like it was a bad sign for an author - especially one like SK. His characters are what everyone remembers and talks about as per his success as an author so for him to 'need' a cast list seemed a bit of an own goal.

Regarding yours: I think you need to really investigate deeper on this simply because if your slush reader or whoever replies with the negatives we see above in the comment threads, it'd risk jeopardising them even getting past the contents.
 

AnyaKimlin

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Some very interesting thoughts here, thanks. Especially about the hard vs soft copy factor, I hadn't thought about that.

I'll definitely do some more brainstorming before reaching a decision. Another thing I'm keeping in mind is the fact that in my second book (I'm envisioning a trilogy), there is a considerably broader cast of characters, so a Dramatis Personae would be more justified from that perspective. So, I have my reservations about including it in the second book but not in the first. (I'm a bit of a consistency freak :LOL:)


Currently, I'm going through the final design/editing touches (the novel has already been proof-read so the text itself is final). Thanks for the heads-up, I'll let you know once I have a release date :)

One thought it to leave it whilst you are querying it. An agent or publisher is unlikely to get confused reading it during the first three chapters. If they ask for the rest of the manuscript and like it - they may suggest using one if they think they need it.
 

marcmizz

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One thought it to leave it whilst you are querying it. An agent or publisher is unlikely to get confused reading it during the first three chapters. If they ask for the rest of the manuscript and like it - they may suggest using one if they think they need it.
Hi Anya, you make very valid points, but I'm going down the self-publishing route. Still some way to go before the manuscript reaches its final version. Hopefully I will have reached a decision by then!
 

Don

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Both the German and English versions of Perry Rhodan use character lists, as shown in my Im Banne des Hypno review, for instance. After Perry Rhodan more or less indoctrinated me, it seemed only natural to include a character list in my other reviews, Contagion, for example. As an aside, my reviews are partially intended to jog my own memory of story elements as years go by.

Long story short, I'm a fan of Dramatis Personae. My only open questions are: 1. how many character names are too many? and 2. what to call it? Dramatis Personae may answer my latter question. I'll see how it feels tomorrow morning.
 
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The Big Peat

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I used one in one of my drafts of Gumshoe Paladin, mainly because Lindsey Davis did in Falco and they were always fun to read. Useful? No, but it's a part of the book that people who don't need them can skip over and those who do can use. And that's as someone with a very good memory for books who generally takes the point of view that if I'm having to look up your characters, it's because your characters aren't worth knowing about to begin with... but I know my experience is not typical.
 

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