number of characters

Characters–How Many Are Too Many?

Mesu Andrews Featured Articles 5 Comments

number of charactersCharacters—How Many Is Too Many?

Secret’s out. Jig’s up. My novels are notorious for LOTS of characters. The two negative comments most common in my reviews are:

  1. “I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters!”
  2. “The names were hard to pronounce.”

Since I write biblical novels, many of the names come straight from Scripture, so you’ll have to fuss at the Author of all things about those names. However, the number of characters is a decision I must make, and it’s based on several factors. Some art. Some science. Deciding the number of characters gets a little more complicated when we’re talking biblical novels.

Gotta Love Bible Characters

When writing biblical novels, some of the characters are already firmly established by the story’s context and setting. For instance, my current WIP, The Shadow of Jezebel, is set in 843 B.C. during the reigns of King Joram in Israel and King Jehoram in Judah.

Really? Joram and Jehoram?

So, I used nicknames: Ram and Jehoram. Hopefully, a little easier to distinguish.

But they’re not the main characters. The main story revolves around two people:

  1. Jehosheba–(give me a break—another “Jeho-” name) King Jehoram’s daughter.
  2. Jehoiada–(“Jeho-” name #4! SERIOUSLY!!!) The high priest who marries Jehosheba.

Determining the Number of Characters

As I’ve played the proverbial Goldy-Locks, trying this novelist’s advice that was too constricting, and that novelist’s advice that too confusing. I finally found some guidelines that felt “just right!”  So, here are a few things to consider when deciding an “appropriate” number of characters in a novel:

  • Is the novel length conducive to the number of characters? A longer novel gives more latitude for complex plot twists and deeper secondary-character development. A shorter novel provides less space to develop both.
  • Can you combine two characters into one? Melding the purpose or qualities of two characters often makes for a more interesting single character.
  • Does each character have an absolutely essential part to play in the climax of the book? If not…get out the scissors.

Characters in The Shadow of Jezebel

In yesterday’s poll on my Facebook Page, I asked you to guess how many characters were in this book. You guessed: 8, 9, 10, and 12 (all very good guesses, considering my character-ridden past). And then someone asked the all-important question: Did you mean main characters or secondary? Great question! Here’s the breakdown—including who’s mentioned in Scripture and who’s entirely fictional:

4 Main Characters:

  • Jehoiada (biblical)
  • Sheba (biblical)—nickname for Jehosheba
  • Athaliah (biblical)
  • Hazi (biblical)—nickname for Prince/King Ahaziah

8 Secondary Characters:

  • King Jehoram (biblical)
  • Obadiah (biblical)
  • Mattan (biblical)
  • Zibiah (biblical)
  • Zabad (biblical)
  • Zev (name = fictional/Carite soldier = biblical)
  • Nathanael (name = fictional/second priest role = biblical)
  • Keilah (name = fictional/Joash’s nursemaid = biblical)

All the main and secondary characters (or their roles) are mentioned somewhere in the biblical context as an integral part of the climactic event (which I will not give away here!), which makes for a bulky but necessary cast of characters.

The Rest of the Story

Guess what? There are more characters in Shadow. Yep. Nineteen more, to be exact. Six are purely fictional, and the remaining thirteen are biblical characters mentioned to explain the history in which the current story’s drama plays out. The Character List for this book will have a total of thirty-one names listed—a pittance compared to Love’s Sacred Song that boasted fifty-three in its Character List. (Love Amid the Ashes and Love in a Broken Vessel had seventeen characters listed in their family trees but left out many others mentioned in the books.)

But the good news is: YOU ALREADY KNOW MANY OF THE FOLKS mentioned in The Shadow of Jezebel! Ahab, Jezebel, Elijah, Elisha…old friends—and enemies—that I pray you’ll meet in a new and meaningful way.

Today’s Question:

  • Do you have any tricks for keeping characters straight while you’re reading?
  • Any questions about The Shadow of Jezebel? (It’s scheduled to release with Revell, March 2014)


Comments 5

  1. I’ve only read “Love in a Broken Vessel” by you so far, but the names and character presented no problem! Keeping them straight and separate wasn’t an issue. As to the names, again, no problem, either with remembering or with pronunciation! I’m sure some of that is helped by how many times I’ve read the Bible, sat through sermons, read other Biblical fictions, and general extensive reading. But nope, neither of those things presented any issue. Loved it! 🙂

    1. Post

      So glad you had no trouble with LBV, Charity! I think familiarity with biblical characters is DEFINITELY a plus, and I always try to choose fictional names that are one syllable or easy to pronounce. Thanks for stopping by! So fun to hear from you, gal! 😉

  2. I usually do not even remember or say the character names, I only remember their actual characters. It keeps me from getting confused.

    1. Post

      Hi Rebekah!
      I think a lot of people do that. When I first started reading the Bible, I would come to a difficult name and only read the first letter of the name!! ha! It helped me not get bogged down or confused, and it didn’t break my flow of reading. Sometimes remembering the EXACT name isn’t really important at all. Good point!

  3. Pingback: Blog Maintenance - Mesu Andrews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *