Skip to main content

Mistake 41: Creating Too Many Characters

70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer, from The Writer's Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: If the curtain on a play opened and there were thirty people on stage and all of them had speaking roles, would you be able to identify and keep track of everyone? Or if you went to a party and opened the door and the room was filled with people you’d never met before, would you have a good time? Throwing too many characters at the reader creates the same sense of bewilderment and diminishes the reader’s ability to empathize with any of them. Larry McMurtry can do it in Lonesome Dove and win the Pulitzer Prize, but we’re not Larry McMurtry. He’s able to do it because he makes each character distinctive. It’s a question of how much you’re able to change personalities with your characters. Most of us can only take on a handful.

The solution:
Before you start writing, decide how many characters you feel you can handle in the story. You will have your protagonist and your antagonist. Then you will have your named supporting characters. Named characters will be those who appear throughout the story.

Image placeholder title

It’s probably not a good idea to give names to characters who appear only once. Those characters might be described as spear carriers, analogous to those people on stage in the opera who stand in the background, carrying—you got it—spears. They’re window dressing, and you can describe them by their roles, such as “the taxi driver” or “the desk clerk” so as not to confuse the reader.

Make sure the reader can keep track of your named characters, and keep focus on the protagonist and antagonist. 

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 26

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 26 requires a second thought.

12 Books That Make Perfect Gifts This Holiday Season

12 Books That Make Perfect Gifts This Holiday Season

Here are 12 books released in 2022 that make perfect gifts this holiday season for the reader in your life.

Writing a Nonfiction Crime Story in a Literary Style

Writing a Nonfiction Crime Story in a Literary Style

Rigorous research, incorporating  authentic dialogue, and adding details from true-to-life moments, author Deborah Larkin shares how she wrote a nonfiction crime story in a literary style.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 25

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 25 gets serious.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Make a Deal

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Make a Deal

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character make a deal.

5 Rules of Ethical Journalism

5 Rules of Ethical Journalism

Alison Hill shares five rules of ethical journalism and shines a light on why more and more people may be growing weary of journalism and journalists.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 24

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 24 considers what it's all for.

12 Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing Your Cookbook

12 Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing Your Cookbook

Cookbook author Deanna Martinez-Bey shares 12 pros and cons of self-publishing your cookbook to help you make the best choice for you and your manuscript.

Chloe Liese: On Changing Character Dynamics in Romance

Chloe Liese: On Changing Character Dynamics in Romance

Author Chloe Liese discusses the classic Shakespeare play that inspired her new romance novel, Two Wrongs Make a Right.