A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

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A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

Post by Sunwolf007 on Thu Oct 29, 2009 11:01 pm

I got to thinking over the last few days about what is better for a written work. A few well devolved main characters (like in the TV show Castle or the Harry Potter book series). Or a group of semi-main and decently developed characters (like in the TV show Heroes or the book series for Jurassic Park). I am very torn on the decision. Which works better?

This all came about because I was thinking of seriously writing a novel (who on this site isn't?) and I was wondering if I should introduce all 7 characters in the first story arc or introduce 3 first and then bring in the others slowly. Just wanted some opinions on the question because I am at a loss as to what to think.

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Re: A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

Post by Guest on Thu Oct 29, 2009 11:44 pm

Personally, I think that focusing on one central character is rather hard to do. If done correctly, it can make for a great read. But it is much easier for the writer to use multiple characters of equal importance. It gives you, as the writer, more freedom when writing. If you hit a block with one character, you can always move onto the next. I also think it is essential that you don't introduce them all at once, though I agree that 2 or 3 to start out with is better than just one, as it doesn't place any particular importance on the first character introduced.

I hate to advertise an RP in here, but in Kalon's Sephiris: The Price of Peace role-play, I am using multiple characters. Unfortunately, I do have a main character, Sir Barthon Camlin, but I am slowly assigning just as much importance and centrality to the story to his young page, Simion Altus. The other characters are all side characters, but I would like to say they are all important in some degree to Barthon and Simion and the overall quest. I would love to have them all equally important in the story, but of course that is not really fair in a role-play: I don't want to take the spotlight or the bulk of the story from the rest of the players.

In a novel, however, I perhaps would have done this story differently, with Barthon no more important than the rest of the group he is traveling with. That isn't to say he wouldn't be important, just that they would all have their place, their own quest they need to fulfill, or at least their own part to fulfill in the overall quest.

Sorry if that came out as a ramble.

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Re: A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

Post by Guest on Wed Nov 04, 2009 8:59 am

It has always been easier for me to stick with one main character. I can develop my other characters as the story progresses, but if I idolize one of them as my main character, then I have a "focal point" to work off of.

The last time I successfully role-played two main characters, both of them were nearly identical. They were the same age, similar looks, and were balanced in their abilities (being a supernatural role-play). Eventually though, I grew tired of having to put all of my energy into the balance of the two characters, so I had my first character's life come to a dramatic end (stabbed in the back! booya!). I was then free to further develop my second character throughout the end of the role-play. Both were the "main characters". One was the focal point of the role-play's first act, and the other was the same for the second act.

So you can probably try something like that - switching out your main characters when your story reaches a climax.

(that had no structure what-so-ever, please forgive me)

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Re: A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

Post by Aiswari Cara on Thu Nov 19, 2009 10:42 pm

You could do like I'm planning, and make one main character and a few of semi-main characters, switching it up each book using a different perspective or a different part of the timeline. I'm planning a three book series, revolving around three different characters in a fantasy world. I want each book to be on a different person, but they're lives revolve around each other.
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Re: A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

Post by Aurethius on Sat Nov 21, 2009 5:27 am

If you've got seven characters to bring in, it'd be quite a bit to handle to have them introduced all at once I think. With novels, a reader puts the Name that they see to the Actions and physical descriptions. If you aren't careful, a reader might be flipping back to the first few pages periodically to remember who someone is.

I vote for introducing all the characters you have in your head, but do it gradually so that each gets the time to 'meet the reader' that they deserve.
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Re: A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

Post by Aiswari Cara on Sat Nov 21, 2009 5:55 pm

The thing I'm planning is for each character to be around each other, and their lives are intertwined, but each person has a different goal for life. They all have to travel the country to complete their sepreate journeys, but for the first book, its about the oldest boy, who is 14, and the novel will go from 14 to 23 or 24 for him, but the next will be for the second boy starting at 22 or 23, continuing thill he is about 34 or 35, and the third is from 33 or 34, until his death.

Although they have seperate journeys and goals, their lives tie together; making them all essential to each part of the other's story. I'm just explaining my plan, to enforce the character per novel, but indeed with seven, it is quite a task to write seven books that hold any good content.

I would decide who the main characters are and who the side main characters are (ones that hold a less important roll). If you can distinguish this, you should be able to see who to bring out first, for it will give the reader someone to latch onto, personalize, and eventually fall in love with.
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Re: A few main characters or a group of semi-main characters?

Post by Acid Varrakin on Sun Mar 07, 2010 9:48 am

A huge part of individual authoring style is how you choose to address that problem. Mostly, you can go either way, but as Hermes said, the trick lies in development.

For example, I just read WAKE, by Robert J. Sawyer. It's a nice, thought-provoking read, but it's laden with flaws - the biggest of which is in characterization.

Sawyer's main protagonist, a blind girl called Caitlyn, is wonderfully developed. She's a moody teenager, and Sawyer seems like one of those rare authors who still remembers what it's like to be one. He also casts her disability with a sympathetic, well-researched eye.

But there are hundreds of other characters - as well as intertwining plot arcs - which are about as well-thought-out as petrolium cordial.

Spoiler:
For example, one of these side-plots (and yes, it is ONLY a side-plot) is when the People's Republic of China decides to kill 20,000 of its own citizens. At the beginning, we see a refreshingly down-to-earth President, but whose aides are all terribly one-dimensional. And later, the Chinese massacre is COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN in favour of a new plot; blind Caitlyn can SEE THE INTERNET! OMG!

Alas, I digress.

I prefer having a few main characters; that means you can develop them well, and not have to worry too much about one-dimensionailty. Having a whole heap of characters can work too (Stephen King's The Stand - for instance) but it's a lot harder, and a lot more work. For a first novel, I'd recommend the "few main characters" option.

But, I never finished my novel, so I can't really suggest anything, can I? Just a thought.
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