The Han Solo Effect

I’m not a very social person. I try to be nice to people, but overall, I have a very small group of friends. It’s hard to maintain a large number of friends and give them all the attention they deserve.

The same applies to your cast of characters in a work of fiction. Keep them under control. It may seem like a lot of fun to sit and make up characters, but in the end, you risk losing the focus of your story and confusing your reader.

There is a story about The Stand that I came across in which Stephen King realized his cast of characters had gotten out of hand. His solution was to immediately kill several off. This resulted in the closet bomb scene that you may remember, if you are a fan of the book.

Unless you are Tolkien, you are going to have a hard time managing an army of characters, keeping their voices unique, keeping their characters unique. Yet, there are definitely some books with large cast. Screenwriters, adapting books to the screen, regularly have to combine characters or eliminate them altogether.

Still, should you decide to go nuts with your characters, I have a couple of suggestions. First, no one should have similar names. A good rule of thumb is to make sure all of your character names start with different letters. A lot of reading is skimming, whether we want to admit it or not. You may think dialogue tags are the bees knees, but most readers are going to read just enough of them to figure out who is speaking. Make it easy. Keep the names individual as possible.

Remember how awesome Star Wars was? Remember how much the prequels sucked? My theory has always been that in the original movies, there were only a couple of people that talked like Jedi. This made the Jedi interesting and cool. I call it the Han Solo Effect. Without the gritty, dark, rebellious Han Solo to compliment them, the Jedi weren’t as interesting. In the prequels, everyone spoke like a Jedi.

All your characters should have their own personalities. They should have their own voices. If two characters have the same personality or voice, ask yourself if there any reason they both exist.

If you need some help in creating new characterizations, there are several books out there, some based on archetypes and psychological profiles that can help you. I have a couple. 45 Master Characters is a helpful in learning different types of personalities. I also own The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, a very good book. If you are dealing with characters suffering from mental disorders, make sure to check out the DSM-IV. You probably won’t want to buy that one unless you are in the psychology field. It can be pricey. However, the information is available in various places online.

With a little bit of work, you can make a large cast of characters interesting and entertaining. Just keep in mind that while all your characters are coming from you, and therefore contain parts of you, they must all be individuals.

No two people are exactly alike. Your characters deserve the same individuality.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at


  • Ashley says:

    Ooh, that’s an interesting point about Han Solo & the prequel movies; we didn’t really have that sort of character, did we?

    (Also, I totally forgot about The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits! Oooh, time to go dust that off.)

  • Really great suggestions for references. I’ll have to check out The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits. I keep thinking one of these days I need to get you DSM-IV for Christmas or your birthday :P

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