How many characters is too many?

So, I'm doing stuff for a series I want to pitch to a network when I'm older...I work on it a lot, coming up with ideas and scripts for it, but I'm afraid I've over planned. Within my series, you see, the main cast (a team of do-gooders-not superheroes, but close enough) starts out with five characters, then goes to seven by the end of the first season and nine eventually. Is that...too many? I know viewers aren't morons, but I'm terrified of taking on more then I can handle and just making a clutter. What do you say, Escapist?

I think it'd be very difficult to have nine characters and still have each of them a central character with clearly-defined character traits that set them apart from the others. Superheroes usually fit a certain archetype that clearly identifies them and their role. Think of the difference between Superman and Batman - the comics may have "fleshed out" both of their backstories, but the essence of their characters could be written on the back of a postage stamp ("The heroic guardian of a golden metropolis", "Fights crime by night as a way of battling his own inner demons", etc). You don't want your characters to start encroaching into eachother's roles and mannerisms.

Tl;dr: if you can pull it off, awesome. But sometimes less is more; keep it streamlined and elegant and avoid any kind of "sprawl" like the plague.

With 9 characters you run the risk (depends on whether you think it is negative) of getting a little 'blind bag' in your episodes, where the viewers won't know who will actually be in the episode until it airs and the rest of the 'main' characters do cameos/in the background/don't appear at all.

Constantly having 9 characters be together at all times would be hell on your dialogue, as realistically you won't have a 9-person conversation going on, you'll have multiple smaller conversations with occasional interjection. Same with more active scenes, 9 people all doing something together will have to be divided up to maintain focus on individual characters.

Incorporating Batou's answer here, in the Justice League cartoon you rarely got more than 3-5 heroes being focused on in episodes and everyone else is just background or was off doing something else.

Amethyst Wind:
With 9 characters you run the risk (depends on whether you think it is negative) of getting a little 'blind bag' in your episodes, where the viewers won't know who will actually be in the episode until it airs and the rest of the 'main' characters do cameos/in the background/don't appear at all.

That is a good point. What about six?

Six can happen, though again it's pushing it. Try to think in terms of reality. With 6 people, are they all having the same conversation or are a few of them having a side convo at the same time and occasionally chirping into the main talk?

Try a few rough drafts and see how it reads to find out whether or not it sounds natural, then make the decision after that.

TheDarkEricDraven:
I work on it a lot, coming up with ideas and scripts for it, but I'm afraid I've over planned.

Not possible. What you're doing can roughly be termed "practice" and there's no way to get too much of that in. If you think you're doing "too much" you might be close to the correct amount :)

Within my series, you see, the main cast (a team of do-gooders-not superheroes, but close enough) starts out with five characters, then goes to seven by the end of the first season and nine eventually. Is that...too many?

How many characters you need is entirely dependent on the story you are telling. Now, generally speaking fewer is better when it comes to characters. If this is live-action each character is an actor who has to be paid. If it's animated, each character is additional work for the animators, plus additional voice-actors. Therefor you want to use the smallest necessary number of characters to tell your story.

You need to figure out why you need those characters. Why is it necessary for the cast to jump up to seven and then nine characters? Why is it necessary to have five at the start? If you use fewer characters can you still make the story work?

BrassButtons:

You need to figure out why you need those characters. Why is it necessary for the cast to jump up to seven and then nine characters? Why is it necessary to have five at the start? If you use fewer characters can you still make the story work?

Well, I've been thinking. I can combine two, make one a bad guy shortly after his introduction(gee, I hope no one goes back years from now and reads this), and demote yet another to (frequent) recurring main character. And it all makes so much sense within the context of the story, even without a need to diminish the main cast! =D Oh, and my need for there to be the five initially comes from this http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FiveManBand

Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn you TV Tropes! More or less, I have six characters within the core main cast, but I want to fit that trope. So, I have the first five introduced in the first episode, then the sixth gets her own introduction in the sixth episode(another trope entirely).

TheDarkEricDraven:
Oh, and my need for there to be the five initially comes from this http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FiveManBand

Does your story actually need the Five Man Band? Using a trope simply because it exists is silly--tropes are tools (they even say so, though I'm too lazy to link) and as such should be used when needed. You don't try and find ways to saw things with a hammer just so you can use a hammer--you wait until you actually need the hammer, then you use it.

If a Five Man Band setup will make your story better, than use it. And by all means, use TV Tropes to get an idea of how that's usually done--if something is a trope, there's a reason for it. But don't try to make your story fit a trope just to say you did.

That said, if you want to practice writing, saying "ok, now I want to work on writing the Five Man Band trope" is perfectly acceptable, and probably a good idea. But you should also practice writing duos, trios, etc.

BrassButtons:

If a Five Man Band setup will make your story better, than use it. And by all means, use TV Tropes to get an idea of how that's usually done--if something is a trope, there's a reason for it. But don't try to make your story fit a trope just to say you did.

That said, if you want to practice writing, saying "ok, now I want to work on writing the Five Man Band trope" is perfectly acceptable, and probably a good idea. But you should also practice writing duos, trios, etc.

I think it helps the group, yes. And the main rival group is a trio, so I'm not focusing solely on the five.

TheDarkEricDraven:

I think it helps the group, yes.

And that's the important thing. If the story works best with X characters, then use X characters. It's a good idea to try out differing numbers of characters (after all, you're very much still in the learning stage here--otherwise you wouldn't be asking random people on the internet for help--you can't possibly do too much experimenting and playing with different ways of doing things).

Depends on how good a writer you are, and the type of programme. Lost for example had a good 10 or more main characters, so your idea of 9 is do-able. The genius of it was that the plot could focus on 2 or three characters at a time in any one episode without loosing momentum.

Taking the Simsons and Futurama as examples, there are a core of 5 or so characters supported by a host of characters with whom the audience is very familiar and love.

the problem comes with actors right etc. It would be hard for example to tell even a supporting actor he/she may only be needed once or twice in any one series so your ideas and writing may have to be compromised by giving everyone an equal share of screentime...

TheDarkEricDraven:

BrassButtons:

You need to figure out why you need those characters. Why is it necessary for the cast to jump up to seven and then nine characters? Why is it necessary to have five at the start? If you use fewer characters can you still make the story work?

Well, I've been thinking. I can combine two, make one a bad guy shortly after his introduction(gee, I hope no one goes back years from now and reads this), and demote yet another to (frequent) recurring main character. And it all makes so much sense within the context of the story, even without a need to diminish the main cast! =D Oh, and my need for there to be the five initially comes from this http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FiveManBand

Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn you TV Tropes! More or less, I have six characters within the core main cast, but I want to fit that trope. So, I have the first five introduced in the first episode, then the sixth gets her own introduction in the sixth episode(another trope entirely).

I have an idea. Did you ever watch Avatar: The Last Airbender when it was on(or still is)? Anyway, the whole thing with Zuko joining Aang's troupe sounds pretty similar to what you're trying to do. Maybe at episode 6 when she get's introduced, each member of the teams goes off on their own little independent excursion with Ms.6(if you wouldn't mind me calling). I personally loved that arc of the Book of Fire in Avatar, it seemed kinda rushed but it managed to get a whole lot of character development out in a handful of episodes. My advice is coming strictly from a writing and watching point not the whole build out. And if you have any advice on characters or building a series, I would appreciate it. I'm trying to start up an art profile for college and I thought that having a published comic book series or a well-received web comic might impress some people. I've got three ideas in my head and I was wondering if I could bounce them off you, so-to-say.

Hectix777:
And if you have any advice on characters or building a series, I would appreciate it. I'm trying to start up an art profile for college and I thought that having a published comic book series or a well-received web comic might impress some people. I've got three ideas in my head and I was wondering if I could bounce them off you, so-to-say.

Yeah, I'd be happy to. Why create an entire web comic or published comic book series just for college, though? That'd be like starting an award winning television drama just for a school writing assignment. Once you have one of those, you have already succeed.

TheDarkEricDraven:

Hectix777:
And if you have any advice on characters or building a series, I would appreciate it. I'm trying to start up an art profile for college and I thought that having a published comic book series or a well-received web comic might impress some people. I've got three ideas in my head and I was wondering if I could bounce them off you, so-to-say.

Yeah, I'd be happy to. Why create an entire web comic or published comic book series just for college, though? That'd be like starting an award winning television drama just for a school writing assignment. Once you have one of those, you have already succeed.

Yeah but I want to go into game design when I grow up and I thought that a background in another visual medium would demonstrate good writing and artistic ability. Sort of like a double-whammy. I don't know, I guess it's because I don't want to settle for just "standing out,", I want the guy that interviews me and studies my portfolio to do double-take when sees my work. How can I put this... it's like a kid who tries to prove perpetual motion in order to go to Oxford or some place. My parents want me to go to college, and so do I, and if I do something worthwhile in my time before college, I want to be able to ride on something more than,"I made that." If I do make something good that gets me noticed, I want to take advantage of my 15 minutes and apply to Carnegie-Mellon. That way once my finished project is in the past, I'll have a piece of proof that backs up my ability. I don't want to depend on one work for success, I want to get as many of my ideas out there before I croak.

Hectix777:
Snip

'Spose that is a good idea. Go ahead and PM me your ideas.

Amethyst Wind:
With 9 characters you run the risk (depends on whether you think it is negative) of getting a little 'blind bag' in your episodes, where the viewers won't know who will actually be in the episode until it airs and the rest of the 'main' characters do cameos/in the background/don't appear at all.

Constantly having 9 characters be together at all times would be hell on your dialogue, as realistically you won't have a 9-person conversation going on, you'll have multiple smaller conversations with occasional interjection. Same with more active scenes, 9 people all doing something together will have to be divided up to maintain focus on individual characters.

Incorporating Batou's answer here, in the Justice League cartoon you rarely got more than 3-5 heroes being focused on in episodes and everyone else is just background or was off doing something else.

Well if Game of Thrones could do it...

Meh, to be honest I am not really into superheroes or anything of that sort, all I know is if you have a great over-arching storyline to fit in all the characters it wouldn't matter if they are bland. Look at Cersei for example, no one likes the fuckin' bitch and she is your generic villian by Feast of Crows. Yet look at Tyrion, first he was an imp with little to nothing, is father looked down upon him and... you know what just go look him up on the wiki. It would take too long to type his character out.

You have to find the sweet spot. On the one hand, if you can define your characters well enough you can have as many as you want. On the other, it's hard to give the attention required by each character to keep up the definition required. I'd say at the end of the day do what feels comfortable, but plan so that maybe you demote some of them to more the backing character role if need be. Then if it takes off well your fans can probably keep track of enough people to bring more into the spotlight. A good example of this is in The Big Bang Theory. It started off centring around Leonard, but over time more characters have been added and other characters became more prominent and developed their own personal stories.

Zantos:
You have to find the sweet spot. On the one hand, if you can define your characters well enough you can have as many as you want. On the other, it's hard to give the attention required by each character to keep up the definition required. I'd say at the end of the day do what feels comfortable, but plan so that maybe you demote some of them to more the backing character role if need be. Then if it takes off well your fans can probably keep track of enough people to bring more into the spotlight. A good example of this is in The Big Bang Theory. It started off centring around Leonard, but over time more characters have been added and other characters became more prominent and developed their own personal stories.

Yeah. I think I'm gonna start with seven...I plan on it being an hour long program, so hopefully it won't be too bad.

You should read the negima manga, see how that guy juggles over 30+ characters :D
I guess you can have as many as you want, do you mean main characters or just generally people who will appear repeatedly? Cause if it's the second then your numbers can be way higher, lots of characters opens up a lot of potential plots, and don't forget its totally cool to have some leave for a while and come back, or have multiple plots going on, they don't all ahve to do the same thing together.

You can work with quite a few characters I am sure. It just depends on the characters. You need to make sure that they each have their own role and personality and help move the story along in their own way. Your primary concern is going to be formula. Television producers tend to run shows by formula and likely certain formats tend to have a control on the number of characters involved. I would suggest looking up "how to" resources on screen writing to see what sorts of formula are standard.

It's doable but it really depends on you. First of all all characters must be well written and distinctive. Even with a smaller amount of characters you need that but now you have to do an even better job at it. Second it depends on the story. If you mean 9 people together all the time that's way too many.

Someone mentioned Negima, and if you look at how the author handles that, he never focuses on all the characters at once. Most characters have their own arc, and when you first read it he slowly introduces them. Even in the non-intro arcs the story still focuses on only a few girls at a time, though the other still make background appearances.

Another way I've seen it work is by having a story where it's not as much about a character as it is a event, and the people who are involved in it. I'm specifically thinking of Durarara but I know there are others that do the same. You have the characters all do their own thing while the viewer has the omnipotent view of the ripples each decision makes. Not to mention the climax usually ended up being the characters finally facing each other. I didn't explain that one as well, if you want to see how it works watch the anime.

One important thing they both have in common is that they introduce their characters slowly and it's not random. Even before the characters have their introduction you have seen them before, and they just didn't play a big part so they're not completely unfamiliar. Also try to avoid introducing new characters in groups. If you need an example why that is bad look at Bleach. Actually Bleach is a great example of a cast that gotten waaaay to big and poorly handled.

Hectix777:

TheDarkEricDraven:

Hectix777:
And if you have any advice on characters or building a series, I would appreciate it. I'm trying to start up an art profile for college and I thought that having a published comic book series or a well-received web comic might impress some people. I've got three ideas in my head and I was wondering if I could bounce them off you, so-to-say.

Yeah, I'd be happy to. Why create an entire web comic or published comic book series just for college, though? That'd be like starting an award winning television drama just for a school writing assignment. Once you have one of those, you have already succeed.

Yeah but I want to go into game design when I grow up and I thought that a background in another visual medium would demonstrate good writing and artistic ability. Sort of like a double-whammy. I don't know, I guess it's because I don't want to settle for just "standing out,", I want the guy that interviews me and studies my portfolio to do double-take when sees my work. How can I put this... it's like a kid who tries to prove perpetual motion in order to go to Oxford or some place. My parents want me to go to college, and so do I, and if I do something worthwhile in my time before college, I want to be able to ride on something more than,"I made that." If I do make something good that gets me noticed, I want to take advantage of my 15 minutes and apply to Carnegie-Mellon. That way once my finished project is in the past, I'll have a piece of proof that backs up my ability. I don't want to depend on one work for success, I want to get as many of my ideas out there before I croak.

Funny thing; I'm actually facing your exact same problem right now. I have this idea for a show in my head and I'm trying to develop it further with each passing day.

However, like someone said, why deliver this amazing story (If this is going to be your one, true masterpiece) right now? In my case, I WANT to have my story out there, but I know right now I need more resources and experience before someone even glances my way and supports my ideas/gives me a chance.

Right now, I'm working on some other ideas. I am so focused on my main idea that it's kinda hard now to break away from that universe I created. So I am trying to come up with other ideas. You know, to be something more than a one-trick pony. I would recommend doing this. No, no, I'm not saying my situation applies to you! I'm just saying you should try another simpler story first. Get the hang of it, see where you went wrong, see what you liked about it, get your name out there some way or another. Besides the fact that at least people will know of you and they'll be more willing to lend you a hand, you'll learn from that experience and you'll get better at it.

The way I see it, it's as if you're trying to bake a three-layered cake. And you have the recipe to make the cake delicious and appealing and stuff. So you go ahead and do that. But you have no experience whatsoever when it comes to baking stuff. So even though the cake looks good, it might taste bad. Maybe you read the instructions too literally, maybe you should have listened to your gut, maybe it's one of those trial and error things. It's the same with your story.

I would recommend getting your feet wet first before going in for the big dive. By all means work on your story, yes. But try something else too. Just publish another story, if you want. You can even skip the "pre-release" input. You'll definitely learn a lot from that.

And now I realize I advised on everything but the actual problem...

Uhhh...did NOT mean to resurrect this thread.

BlazeRaider:
You should read the negima manga, see how that guy juggles over 30+ characters :D
I guess you can have as many as you want, do you mean main characters or just generally people who will appear repeatedly? Cause if it's the second then your numbers can be way higher, lots of characters opens up a lot of potential plots, and don't forget its totally cool to have some leave for a while and come back, or have multiple plots going on, they don't all ahve to do the same thing together.

It's a team. Like the Justice League, only not superheroes. Except they are kind of superheroes, just not in a world where people dress up and fight crime. Kind of.

Think Angel Investigations in the Buffy verse, except government sponsored.

 

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