Keep the Cast Small, With an Ax if Necessary

Nobody ever told me I was supposed to have a large cast of characters! This is actually something I have a bit of trouble with managing. In short works I tend to limit my characters to a central protagonist and a few sidekicks. I mean… side characters. Depending on the length of the piece, my story might not actually have more than two characters. Sometimes more characters are mentioned in passing, but not always.

Even in my novel, I tried to limit the number of important characters my viewpoint character interacts with. I’ve found that writing in first person really allows me to get inside my protagonist’s head and allow her opinions and views of the other characters to color how they are presented to the audience.  She has very distinctive opinions about different characters, and I hope that those opinions allow them to become more memorable.

Still, it isn’t an easy task to keep them separated, especially when pronouns begin getting thrown about. It becomes awkward to have to continuously refer to them by their name or by a descriptive trait. It hasn’t been easy to work around this, but my ultimate goal is to make it so that each character has so distinctive a voice that there is no doubt about who is speaking in any situation.

In addition to keeping the cast of characters small, another useful trick is to have the main character interacting with only one or two other characters at a time. That way even if there is a large cast of characters, by keeping the numbers of them present in a single room to a minimum, it reduces the confusion of which character is which at any given time.

I imagine that the more I write the more natural this will become. Until then, I will continue to bludgeon my way through and keep my cast of characters contained to a manageable number.

And of course, if the cast gets unmanageable, I’m always a fan of following George R. R. Martin’s lead and killing characters off.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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