In the last post we set some boundaries to help figure out how many characters are needed to tell a story. If you decide that your story needs to have a large cast, then this is the post for you.
The two major difficulties with a large cast are: that your reader won’t be able to remember them all and that each character has to stand out from the rest so that your reader doesn’t muddle them up.
It’s also worth noting that not everyone likes a large cast, but that doesn’t mean you are wrong to have one. Large casts can be great, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind as you write so you don’t overwhelm or confuse your reader.
Make the Reader Care about Your Characters
We’re more likely to remember how someone made us feel than we are to remember their name; this is true of our characters as well. If the reader cares about or is intrigued by the characters they will be better able to remember them and distinguish them from other characters. Creating strong character arcs will help ensure your readers are intrigued by your characters.
Give Your Characters Distinct Names
Often when we read we aren’t looking at each individual letter and piecing the words together, instead we are taking in the shape of the word. This is why it’s important to give your characters names that are distinct from the rest. If your characters are named Rachael, Rebecca, and Rosaline, your reader may have a difficult time telling them apart especially if they’re reading quickly because your plot is so darn good and they need to know what happens next. It is best to vary the name length and the initial letter (unless there is a good plot related reason not to).
This rule also applies not only to the way a name looks but also to the way it sounds.
Now that You’ve Named Them, Be Sure to Use Those Names
All your main characters now have distinctive name, that’s great! But it doesn’t help if you don’t use them. When you have a large cast, don’t make your reader guess which character you are talking about by constantly using pronouns instead of names. If a scene has more than one female character in it then constantly using the pronoun “she” can quickly become confusing so make sure you use the character’s names as well.
Also make it clear at the beginning of each new scene which character’s point of view is being used and stick with it.
Give Your Characters Distinct Traits
Names definitely aren’t the only way (or even the best way) to make your characters stand apart from each other. Every person you know moves differently, speaks differently, and has different habits and nervous ticks than every other person you know. Your characters should have their own distinct traits too. How they speak and carry themselves is more important to showing who they are than their name ever will be.
Introduce Your Characters Slowly
Finally, if possible, introduce your characters one at a time. This gives your reader a chance to get to know them and solidify their idea of the character before bringing others into the mix. Of course if your novel has a lot of characters it won’t always be possible to introduce them on their own. That’s okay but do try to avoid introducing more than three characters at a time otherwise you risk overwhelming and confusing your reader.
Those are my top five tips for handing a large character cast. Are there any tricks you use when writing a large cast of characters that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.