The cast of characters in your novel is not made out of every character that will appear in the pages. No, your cast can be big, or small, and you can further divide it into main, supporting, or primary, secondary and tertiary characters. If we go by the last definition, then when we say cast, we mean your primary and secondary characters, those that are closest to the protagonists, who help move the plot along and the characters who do appear more than once during the course of your story.
Of course, you might have two main characters – for example, the protagonist and the love interest – but you might be surprised at how many secondary characters you will create along the way. So, how can you handle a large cast in a way that is both easy for you and understandable for the readers, without succumbing to “telling” instead of “showing”? Below, you will find several tips and tricks to help you with that.
1. Ensure they are necessary
Well rounded characters are rounded – that means they don’t have a single role or an appearance trait that sets them apart. Instead, they have both a role in the story, and an appearance trait that differentiates them. But if the role of the person you will introduce near the end of the novel can be given to an existing character, then it might be the better choice. This is because you don’t want your story to be moved by three characters, while a dozen or so tag along in almost every scene, doing absolutely nothing substantial to move the plot. That’s why it is better to create the story and allow it to dictate how many characters it needs.
2. Naming the characters
When it comes to having a large cast of characters, the easiest way to distinguish between them is their names. Names that start with the same letter and names that sound similar should be avoided at all costs. There are other means, by which characters can and should be distinguished, of course, but the readers will see the name first, and if you have two characters with a similar role and similar names, you will probably confuse them often, and so will your readers. Remember, when readers delve into a novel, they want to enjoy the ride and not have to think a lot to keep the characters straight. If you make sure that the names of your characters are not similar, you will make it easier both on yourself during the writing process and on your readers later on.
3. The defining attribute
Every character that plays a role in your novel should have a defining attribute. The attribute can be either a way of speaking, a particular way of dressing, or another aspect of their physical appearance. You will need to find a way to mention that defining attribute in an unobtrusive way when the character appears in a scene. For example, a curly haired character can brush escaped curls away from his face, or he can take off their trademark leather jacket. The defining attribute, together with the name of the character will make it easier for the readers to remember him, and make it easier for you to write the character. However, neither of those will make your readers care about him.
4. Give them issues, change and a goal
Or, in other words, make the readers care about the characters. If you make the readers care about your characters, they will not have a hard time differentiating between them, even if you have a secondary cast that numbers more than twenty different characters. What you need to do to achieve this is give them a personality that will show through their actions. Give them a past, and issues, to round the characters up and add another layer and dimension. Then, have the secondary cast of character be actually affected by the plot of your novel, and give them an accompanying goal within the story, or even out of it. Have them be involved in the story, not just taken in by their association with the protagonist. That way, your readers will be more sympathetic towards your secondary characters, and will be willing to pay attention to remember them and to care about what happens to them.
5. Introduction and inclusion
Not every character needs to be introduced at the beginning of the novel, but you should not introduce important characters way too late in the novel. Additionally, major characters should be introduced with a bang: a funny situation, a dangerous situation, or a major plot point. On the other hand, secondary characters are often the protagonist’s friends, coworkers, or people the protagonist meets and becomes close to in the course of the novel. While they don’t need a powerful introduction, they also should not be introduced at the same time. If you do need to introduce them all as quickly as possible to get the story going, then try to do so in a way that seems natural. After all, you do not want to make your readers feel as if they are attending a party where they don’t know anyone, get introduced to a lot of people only to later forget all of their names. Sparse introductions are important, and you should consider introducing the characters before their role in the plot is revealed and they are drafted in for the action.
Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.