Monday, 5 September 2011


As I said in my last post, I recently put down a book in favour of a library book which came. Today, I want to go more in-depth about why I put it down.

Simply, I found that I was really confused by what was happening. Every time I picked the book up to read it I didn’t follow what was happening. Thinking about it for this post, I’ve decided it was because of the influx of characters introduced in the first few chapters.

This book is part of a large series, so it makes sense that there will be a large cast of characters already established. But the author has introduced so many characters all at once, a mix of main characters and supporting characters. It was nearly impossible to know which were the main protagonists, and which were only background characters.

Making it even more difficult was the character names. I counted three characters whose names started with a B, and all were introduced within the first few pages. While they weren’t all present in the same room at the same time, the protagonist thought about, and referred to them all in the same scene. It was really hard trying to figure out who each character was, their role in the story, and their relationship to the protagonist.

In the end, I gave up trying to read it after 50 pages. I might have gone on further had my library book not arrived, but I doubt I would have made it to page 100. That said, the author is a big name, so it’s likely that in the future I’ll have another go at her books.

What can we learn from this? For a start, character names should all be different! I don’t want Ben, Beth, and Barry! Mix it up, and give me Sam, Harriet, and Martin. Secondly, make their relationships to each other understood from the start. Make it clear that Sam and Harriet are lovers, and that Martin and Sam are best friends from high school. Finally, slowly introduce the characters into the book. Show Sam and Harriet together in chapter one, but don’t show Sam and Martin until chapter two if possible.

For the comments, have you ever read a book with too many characters? Do you have anything to add?


  1. Hmm...I don't know if I've ever read a book with too many characters. This is probably because if I don't love the opening, which could mean starting with way too many characters, I put the book down rather early in the game. Also, I generally stick to reading young adult books--the genre as a whole tends to be very character-absorbed, so with the authors focusing on character, the story/introduction of characters don't get confusing. I have read a couple books where the names were too similar, though, and I often went for a paragraph thinking 'this character wouldn't do this!' and then realizing I'd read the name wrong. Heh. ^_^

    I've actually put a bit of thought into this problem, having a medium-large cast of characters myself. I have a list of the alphabet with their names all spread out among the letters, as evenly as I can make it. I've realized I have a tendency towards starting with letters like A, S, T, & R, but with that list, I can make sure I start with a lesser-used letter when I need a new name. And I've (hopefully) spread out the introductions of my new characters at an easy to follow pace. It's what I aim for, anyway. =)

  2. Amanda: I like the idea of a list! I only have a small cast of main characters (about 5), but it would be interesting to see what letters I over use. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Yes! I know what this is like. Sometimes Jane Austin does this, sadly. Like the beginning of Sense and Sensibility. It's telling the history of our cast, starting with the MCs mothers. Within the first few pages there's this group of people that are marrying, changing names, and having children (who are all named), and it's VERY confusing!

    I agree that you should spread out the introductions, and if there have to be a lot, make them as clear as possible! An example I can think of is Ship Breaker (which I didn't like, overall) but in the beginning he has a handful of characters to introduce right off the bat, and they're Nailer (the MC's) ship breaking crew. He did it well because he added a little line of description to each name -- just a quirk -- and it was enough to remember. Like "Moon Girl" had piercings all over her face. Then I could remember which one she was. I found that helped me.

    Nice post. I've totally thought about this before, but thankfully, never read a book bad enough that I had to put it down because of character overload.

  4. Re-reading my comment I realized it didn't make a lot of sense. O_o I should have edited. Sorry for the rambling style there!

  5. I hate it when that happens. O_O I LOVE characters, so when I can't tell them apart, it makes me veeeeery irritated.

    I always try to spread out the letters names begin with, and I rarely have very large casts; and they are rarely introduced all at once(usually the plot doesn't allow it. :P)

    But good post. It's something I always watch for. And whether or not I can tell who's who in a book can make it or break it for me.

  6. Maggie: It doesn't seem rambling to me! I like the idea of introducing each character with a quirk. It seems like a great way to make character memorable.

    Constance: I've never given much thought to spreading character names out across the alphabet, but it's interesting to think about. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for reading :)