Orgy

Talking to my writer friend Ashley, we touched on the issue of how many characters you should have in a story.  She expressed some nervousness in the fact that a lot of her stories focus on just one or two people.  I told her that, in the end, if she’s happy with what she’s got, then the number of characters shouldn’t matter.

Personally, I think that fiction is something that should be close and intimate, not an orgy.  Yes, there are writers who do well with a large cast of characters.  Harry Turtledove comes to mind with his Tosev novels.  There are easily a dozen important characters, and behind each of them is at least half a dozen supporting characters.  Other works know for their large casts include George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings, and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.  And of course, there’s the Leo Tolstoy’s leviathan War and Peace, which I’ve hear had hundreds of main characters.  Frankly, I think Tolstoy might have gone too far, jerking off and trying to make each drop of cum into a fully formed character.

I think that each character needs to have some sort of a purpose in the story.  I’m not talking about the background characters like Sergeant This or Mr. That.  I’m focusing just on primary and secondary characters here.  Sometimes, these tangled webs can work to an author’s benefit, especially if the story revolves around intrigue and backstabbing.  In such cases, a complex character web makes the reader just as paranoid as the characters, constantly trying to keep track of everyone, always sorting out friends and foes.  I have no problem with that, and if you can do it – and do it well – then more power to you.

Sometimes, a large group of characters can help if they focus on different aspects you want to talk about.  The stories of King Arthur, for example, continue to appeal to people because there’s something in it for everyone.  Guinevere and Lancelot have a forbidden love affair.  Merlin adds magic to the story, while Uther Pendragon uses the wizard to seduce Igraine and father Arthur.  Gawain tries to stay true to the tenets of chivalry, and Galahad
is looked upon for his bravery.

In the end, every writer – you, me, even that guy at the far end of the library “researching” on the computers (he’s really looking up porn) – needs to decide on which characters are going to be usefulJust as long as you don’t weigh your story with characters just for the sake of bragging that it’s complex.  Complexity is one thing.  Complications are another.

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