Skip navigation

Another rant post because this has been bugging me.

Characters. Or rather, character overload. This is a big failing for a lot of authors, especially those with little experience, and I know I’ve been more than guilty of it in my stories.

In short it is when the audience forgets who the characters are. Either they’ve forgotten the name, mixed up their description with another’s, or even failed to remember that the character even exists. It’s fairly typical of stories that have a lot of characters and do not utilize them effectively, or leave some characters on the sidelines, and it annoys the audience no end. Especially when the author assumes that the audience has a perfect memory for every facet of their story.

Anyway, character overload will most often occur when there are way too many people in a sequence. For example, a short story set on a colony ship could have as many as forty characters each with their own name and back-story. The only problem there occurs when you consider it will take some ten thousand words to introduce all those people and by then your audience will be gasping for something to happen. There’s a simple solution here, use fewer characters. While it is true that worlds with too few characters can feel empty and artificial, you don’t always have to introduce the guy driving the train.

Longer stories are more resilient naturally to a character overload[1] but you can still overload your readers with too many characters in a rush. This is particularly annoying because it puts the burden of forgetfulness on the audience, and is so easily avoided by making sure you never introduce too many characters at once[2]. In addition you also can have an issue with time scales for reading a book and characters that aren’t mentioned for twenty thousand words can be lost entirely if they weren’t particularly important.

However there are a lot of ways to make your characters more memorable. Names are a good first step. Chuck, Harry, Richard, are all names we are familiar with and so they are quite easy to put to a character. Yanne, Taandural, and Gaen, are more exotic and I personally find them much harder to pin to faces[3]. This gets even worse when names sound similar. Chuck, Kris and Craig is just about understandable, though introducing them all at once may be unwise. But, Tanne, Trealle, and Tant, will have people scratching their heads for an entire novel before they catch on to which one is which.

Finally, some advice. Make introductions memorable. Walking up to someone in a room and shaking hands is boring. Find them buried waste deep in a half dismantled console. Start with a joke, a funny situation, have them walk in on an awkward moment and be yelled at. Anything that isn’t just “Hi I’m [blank]” because then they will be blank for the rest of the story.

[1] Simply because these intros can be spread out so as not to make the reader gnaw off their legs to escape

[2] Hmm, I think I have a scene I have to check for this.

[3] I’m not wholly sure why this is. It might be because they do not mentally register as names, but nonsense words.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: