Tips for writing a large cast of characters

by Austin

Question: I'm writing a story with a LOT of characters in it, 18 to be exact. It's kind of like the Danganronpa series in the way that it wouldn't work with a small cast (A.K.A. 2 - 8 people or something like that) The solution I think I could do is to only briefly mention characters at first and have the protagonist get to know them later in the story.

I'm also wondering how to make character deaths more interesting, I don't want people to be like "Oh, that person died. Oh well." The whole story is about these people who are basically imprisoned and forced to play a series of games (the games differ but they always end when one or more people are dead) The characters are told straight from the beginning that only 1 of them will leave alive.

I already have a rough plot outline where 5 characters get out alive, but that's still 13 character deaths! I don't want it to seem almost desensitizing when they just die one after the other so how do I make them more impactful without making the story ridiculously long?

Answer: Here are a few thoughts...

I suspect you may end up making some characters more significant than others. You only have so much space in a novel, which means only so much space in which to present each character in a way that the reader can fall in love with them.

Or, to put it another way, the more focus is placed on secondary characters, the less opportunity there is for the reader to connect with your main character.

The reader will most likely be experiencing the story through
the eyes of the main character, which means getting to know the secondary characters at the same time and in the same depth as the main character does.

The main character may become close to some characters but know others only slightly, if at all.

One thing you may consider is how to introduce each character in a different way. Set patterns for introductions are dull. Look for ways to introduce characters that establish their personalities and perhaps give the reader a reason to care about them.

Remember too that the reader does not have to like all the characters. You want to make them all different, and that may mean making some of them seem less deserving of success.

Some characters should be more developed than others. For instance, you should have one character be an impact character -- someone who can challenge the main character to grow by offering the main character an example of a different approach. To be effective, the impact character often needs a well-developed arc that the main character can observe.

You may also develop the relationships between secondary characters or between them and the main character. These can illustrate other aspects of the theme or the story problem. But again, you may need to be selective. Don't feel obliged to develop them all equally. Equal development can feel unnatural and formulaic.

Think of it like a school or workplace. No one gets to know everyone to an equal degree. You have people you know better than others. Some are friends, some you may dislike, some you may never get to know well, some you may mainly hear about from other people, etc.

Best of luck.

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