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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Too many characters?

After I was contracted on my Asian chick lit novel, I had what’s called macro edits or developmental edits. And one of the biggest problems I had to address in my macro edits was TOO MANY CHARACTERS.

Trying to be cute—well, as cute as I thought I was being, anyway—I had named practically every person my heroine interacted with, from the receptionist to the talent scout she had to call.

I had a quandary, because while I could get away with writing, “Lex talked to the talent scout on the telephone” in a synopsis, it was hard to make her dialogue with Mr. Nameless Talent Scout in the actual manuscript.

Lex dialed Talent Scout, who picked up on the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Talent Scout. My name is Lex Sakai, and I work for SPZ Sports Zone.”


The problem with too many characters, however, is that if you drop names of people who are never heard from again, it can confuse the reader and make the story seem “crowded.” They’ll have a hard time remembering the names of the minor characters who are important to the story because there are so many peripheral characters mentioned.

Most writing teachers recommend to only have as many characters in your story as you need to directly impact the plot. If they don’t play a highly significant role in the storyline, they should be cut.

I had to drastically cut names where I could, and combine characters where I couldn’t.

The two different coworkers Lex interacts with became one. Lex’s three brothers became just one older brother, Richard. One of her brother’s friends makes several appearances rather than having three different friends show up with Richard.

The young girls on the volleyball team she coaches became nameless girls. For example:
One of her outside hitters limped toward her with her face scrunched up in pain. “Miss Sakai, I think I busted my knee.”


Where can you cut characters? Where can you cut mentioning names? It’s a bit difficult, but it will make your story tighter and less crowded.

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