THE JAMES MASON COMMUNITY BOOK CLUB discussion

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Archives - Questions and Answers > Can a book ever have too many characters?

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message 1: by Gary F (new)

Gary F | 170 comments Have people read books that just have too many characters? I am wondering if so, what books? Also do you think an author ever realizes this and its just too late to cut out a character when the book has already taken shape? Unlike a film scene being left on the cutting room floor, maybe removing a character is a bit too complex?


message 2: by Ottilie (new)

Ottilie (ottilie_weber) Yes! i forget what book it was,but a bunch of minor characters I got lost


message 3: by Barbara (last edited Feb 08, 2011 12:00PM) (new)

Barbara (lv2scpbk) | 48 comments Yes, Stephen King's book, Under the Dome. But, in his favor he did have the list in the front of the book.


message 4: by Bill (new)

Bill | 186 comments One I remember is Leon Uris, Exodus. It was a great book, but every time a new character was introduced, the story went back into that person's history until the plot tended to get lost. It was a book that had to be read from beginning to end without interruption or the plot and characters could be lost very easily. (Still a great book though)


message 5: by Helena (new)

Helena Crime and Punishment!! It’s not only that there are loads of characters, the characters all have different versions of their names. I’m loving the book, I’m even loving the names- but it’s taken getting some used to :D


message 6: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) War and Peace....not only a lot of characters but the names, being unfamiliar with the Russian language, were hard to remember. Similar what Helena stated in her post re; Crime and Punishment.


Tracy (A Good Novel) When I was first reading through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was having a really tough time with all the Swedish names. There was a family tree at the beginning, but when you've got one character named Birger and another, frequently referred to by her last name, called Erika Berger, I start to have issues keeping them straight!


message 8: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) One Hundred Years of Solitude has two many characters, and some names carry into other generations, so you need a crib sheet to keep everyone's name straight.


message 9: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) Charles Dickens sometimes has TOO many characters, but they do all inter-relate somewhere in the book.


Tracy (A Good Novel) David wrote: "Tracy wrote: "When I was first reading through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was having a really tough time with all the Swedish names. There was a family tree at the beginning,..."

Yes, especially in the final two, I was having trouble keeping track of the subplots and the associated names. The Girl Who Played with Fire was tough, because for the life of me, I couldn't remember who was who sometimes. I loved the books, don't get me wrong, but eesh, I had difficulty fighting through the names.


message 11: by MissSusie (new)

MissSusie | 153 comments Wolf Hall

I don't know if this had too many characters or just too many characters with the same name.


message 12: by Littlebearries (new)

Littlebearries | 1 comments The Silmarillion is sure pushing it on too many characters!!!


message 13: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (fiona64) | 163 comments One of the problems I had with Shogun was that there were so many characters with similar names. Now, in my own defense, I was in high school when I tried to read it and did not know much about Japanese culture. I just could not keep straight who was doing what.

It's the first book I ever discarded mid-read.

I think I might try it again some day, now that I know a little more (although I'm no expert) about Japanese culture and mores.


message 14: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Sharon wrote: "One of the problems I had with Shogun was that there were so many characters with similar names. Now, in my own defense, I was in high school when I tried to read it and did not know..."

I think you might find that it is a little easier to keep the characters straight and some knowledge of the culture is helpful. I loved the book but have to agree that it wasn't one to take to the beach for a casual read.


message 15: by Marian (last edited Feb 09, 2011 12:19PM) (new)

Marian (gramma) | 13 comments It might not be too many characters, but too many characters who are similar in names, characteristics,ect. I once read in a book on writing that the writer should not have more than one character with the same initials. Or names that sounded alike. I didn't have any trouble with War and Peace, but there are a lot of Russian immigrants in our town & an Orthodox Church. It's also a good idea to keep the characters' relationships with each other clear from the beginning.


message 16: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Good point, Marian. I read Five Empresses: Court Life in Eighteenth-Century Russiathat was a translation to English and it was almost impossible to keep the characters straight as they all had similar names and nick-names. It was a good book but a difficult read.


message 17: by Jerry (new)

Jerry H | 54 comments I rarely feel that way when reading but when I travel with an audio book I try to pick one with fewer characters as it is difficult to follow otherwise.


message 18: by Helena (new)

Helena Jerry wrote: "I rarely feel that way when reading but when I travel with an audio book I try to pick one with fewer characters as it is difficult to follow otherwise."

I tried Crime and Punishment in audio first... I couldn't keep the characters straight at all. I gave up after about an hour and picked the book up instead. I have to keep it simple with audio books.


Rick-Founder JM CM BOOK CLUB  | 7276 comments Mod
I tried reading THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER by Alison Weir- a great writer- but had to stop because so many of the characters had names so similiar- I was completely lost after 100 pages. The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Although I've read and enjoyed War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy it has by far the most characters of any book I've ever read. I'm not sure of the exact count but I know that its over 500.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I think that a novel can have too many characters. I do have a lot of characters in my novels, but not so many that can't be kept up with. I also made most of the characters as secondary characters just to support the three main characters in Where She Belongs and the two main characters in Josie's Thorn.


message 22: by Gini (new)

Gini | 106 comments J. Elizabeth wrote: "Although I've read and enjoyed War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy it has by far the most characters of any book I've ever read. I'm not sure of the exact count but I know that its ..."

My reading of War and Peace was further complicated by the fact that I didn't understand Russian diminutives, so I kept thinking there were far more people in a room than there really were - each character having four or five names is incredibly confusing!


message 23: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) Try reading 100 Years of Solitude, where families take some names of others, there you will become easily confused. You need a sheet with all their names, and there is a genealogy chart in the front, so that helps, but my god that was a huge undertaking. Well worth it, but what a cast of characters.


message 24: by Gini (new)

Gini | 106 comments Robin wrote: "Try reading 100 Years of Solitude, where families take some names of others, there you will become easily confused. You need a sheet with all their names, and there is a genealogy chart in the fron..."

I slogged through that book, all the time wondering why it was considered such a masterpiece. I'm glad to have it checked off my list of books that should be read.


Rick-Founder JM CM BOOK CLUB  | 7276 comments Mod
The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

I tried to read this book- facinating subject!! yet I could not get all the varied characters down! so many similar names, titles, ect!!!


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* (erinpaperbackstash) Having too many characters can be a pet peeve, especially if there is too much head hopping (changing POVs). This is especially bad in real long, apocalyptic type books such as The Stand. Dean Koontz does this sometimes, as does Douglas Clegg. If it's switched too often the writing feels distant and I feel less for the characters.


message 27: by Anne (new)

Anne (spartandax) | 104 comments I prefer not to have a lot of minor characters. I especially hate it when someone is mentioned in the first few chapters and never again until CH. 20 0r so, and you are sitting there wondering who he/she is.


message 28: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Jarvis (screalwriter) | 40 comments Books can definitely have too many characters. I once read a book that had about twenty members of a search party in it near the start of the mystery. A full description and background information was given for each character. I read carefully, thinking one of the cast of characters would prove to be the murderer. None were. I felt that my time had been wasted.

Please, though, Robin and Gini, don't defame 100 Years of Solitude; I loved that book. LOL.


message 29: by Roger (new)

Roger Penney | 15 comments I agree with the comments above about how charcters are intoroduced and how that too many only confuses the reader. It shouls be easy to introduce new characters as one goes along. Take Dickens for instance, he does have a lot of characters but each one is so skilfully and clearly depicted that they stay in your head as soon as you are past the page where they enter the story. Often Dickens's characters are larger than life though still believable.Fagin is sly, cunning and totally unreliable. And Bill Sykes is the ignornat ruthless yet not completely stupid low thug.
Dickens's characters are almost stereotypes and often one dimensional whereas Shakespeare's characters are fully rounded. Richard II is a spendthrift and a bad governor yet we sympathise with him as also a likeable person unhappy in his role as king and unable to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. At the last he shown to die bravely and nobly. Macbeth is another who starts off as a good man and loyal to the king but the ideas put into his mind and hence into Lady Macbeth's mind by the witches inevitably corrupt the pair of them, so they become monsters. Again there may be a plethora of characters but Shakespeare manages to keep his complexity simple, if you see what I mean, by clearly distinguishing between his major and his minor characters. The latter are foils for the major ones as the witches for Macbeth. These may not ecen appear again in the play but what they do is still there, as again in the case of Macbeth.


message 30: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 25 comments As an author, I think the critical question is, what does the character do in the story? If the character has no function, there is no need for him/her, and hence should not appear. If they have a very minor function, then the description should be sufficient to perform that function. Like Shakespeare's witches, you should draw them so their function is realistic, but no more. We have no idea about the witch's childhood, and who cares?


message 31: by William (new)

William Pipes (goodreadscomwilliam_pipes) | 12 comments I just finished reading a novel with too many characters. I was back reading several times, and I never did get all the names worked out. One of the principal characters had five aliases.


message 32: by Yvonne (new)

Yvonne Crowe | 31 comments I believe so, which is why Tolstoy's War and Peaceis the only book that has defeated me.


message 33: by Jim (new)

Jim | 1 comments yes. jordan's wheel of time.


message 34: by Anne (new)

Anne (spartandax) | 104 comments Jim wrote: "yes. jordan's wheel of time."
I tried to read that book but after 50 pages I still couldn't like it.


message 35: by Jim (new)

Jim | 1 comments i read the first half dozen books, he made the mistake of falling in love w/his characters and was unable to kill them off even, especially, when the story demanded it.


message 36: by Chris (new)

Chris Dietzel (chrisdietzel) Barbara wrote: "Yes, Stephen King's book, Under the Dome. But, in his favor he did have the list in the front of the book."

I was going to mention this book as well. It seems particularly noticeable in 'Under the Dome' because while the general movement in books seems to be 'shorter=better', this is such a long book. Also, so many of the auxiliary characters could have been cut from the story all together without impacting it. From my own personal experiences: when you are a new author, publishers and agents are looking for shorter novels (est 75k words) so you get used to aiming toward shorter books, and in shorter books, it's not possible to have as many characters as King has in his epic.


Rick-Founder JM CM BOOK CLUB  | 7276 comments Mod
Roger wrote: "I agree with the comments above about how charcters are intoroduced and how that too many only confuses the reader. It shouls be easy to introduce new characters as one goes along. Take Dickens for..."

I agree 100% Roger. Dickens is a perfect example of an author expertly handling a large cast of characters. Each one adds to the overall narrative. Never confuses it


message 38: by Russell (new)

Russell Brooks (russellbrooks) Most definitely. Too many characters makes it difficult to remember who's who in a story. And if the story's long, you may even get lost in what's going on.


message 39: by Jayme (new)

Jayme Beddingfield | 8 comments I think a story can have too many characters but I don't think it's a set number either. It depends on the story for sure. Too many characters can be hard to manage. If there are too many characters the personality of those characters in my opinion can suffer. As a writer if I'm wondering if a certain character needs to be in the story it's time to cut them.


message 40: by Malina (new)

Malina The Game of Thrones Series definitely has too many characters, with so many different kingdoms and families it's hard to keep track of who is who, it does get confusing.


message 41: by Russell (new)

Russell Brooks (russellbrooks) Malina wrote: "The Game of Thrones Series definitely has too many characters, with so many different kingdoms and families it's hard to keep track of who is who, it does get confusing." lol. I watched the series and I joked to my friends about it being helpful if they all wore name tags. The only one I recalled was Tony Stark.


message 42: by Yvonne (new)

Yvonne Crowe | 31 comments Well let's put it this way. War and Peace was the only novel that ever defeated me. Maybe it was the Russian patronymics mixed in with the ten million characters, but I gave up in the end and enjoyed the movie instead.


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