How many characters do you really need?

So you’ve got your protagonist. And your antagonist. And your protagonist’s best friend. And your protagonist’s girlfriend. And your protagonist’s best friend’s girlfriend. And your protagonist’s best friend’s girlfriend’s cat. And your antagonist’s brother. And your antagonist’ brother’s girlfriend… You get the idea.

Do you really need 99 different characters, most who only play a tiny part in one scene, all who must be tracked throughout revisions with “Did I change that eye color/hair color/name/spelling/age/gender etc.?!!?”

No. Your story needs maybe a handful of characters who the reader will care about, characters who will earn the reader’s love or hatred, who will enrich the story from start to finish and enthrall readers.

An example of this unfortunate occurrence is the bestselling Warriors series, which is about wild cats. Don’t get me wrong, I love these books. But there are way too many characters–around sixty is my estimate. There’s an important character whose eye color changes three times throughout the books. There’s a minor character who changes from male to female. Um, okay, but I’m pretty sure sex reassignment surgery hasn’t been developed for cats yet.

You will think of new characters all the time. That doesn’t mean they’re automatically the next big thing that will spice up your story. Before letting them join in, make sure they belong there.

 

Crafting a Great Beginning

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . “

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

All of the above are fantastic beginnings from classic novels. They create a tone that sets the rest of the story and grab readers’ attention.

The most important part of a piece is the beginning. If you don’t hook a reader in the beginning, he won’t read the rest of your writing.

You must be compelling.

What is compelling?

  •  Jealousy
  • Betrayal
  • Conflict
  • Fear
  • Surprise
  • Guilt

What isn’t compelling?

  • Backstory/Flashbacks
  • Pointless chatter
  • Routine

Give your readers a reason to enter your world, and more importantly, to stay.

Also–begin by showing, not telling.  Open with dialogue and action.

Don’t tell the reader what’s behind the door. Open the door and draw him in.