Yesterday I mentioned using character interviews to get to know him or her better as well as a good promotional vehicle. Another way to get to know your characters is by meditating on him or her. If they seem lost or you don’t know what they need to do next, it’s time to evaluate why they’re there. A few things to consider are:
What is their place in the story?
How do they fit into the plot?
What motivates them?
What do they want?
Answering these questions will help you in one of two ways. You’ll either figure out what they need to do or you’ll discover that they’re extraneous and don’t belong in your story. If you really like him or her, file them away for a future story but don’t bog your story down with anyone who doesn’t contribute to the story line and plot.
Another complaint that keeps a story from getting 5-stars is too many characters. I would amend that by saying too many extraneous characters. Every person should be tied into the plot in some way and stand out as an individual. If they don’t, ditch him or her. If you really like the person, you can always use him or her for another story.
This is not to say that a meaty plot shouldn’t have a vast array of characters. However, the number should be proportionate to the complexity of the plot and length of the novel. Populating the story with a bunch of people with no story function only keeps the reader wondering what they’re doing there in the first place. For example, if your protagonist’s job is one of the settings, you don’t have to give everyone a name unless the person relates to the story. In fact, if their place of work doesn’t relate directly to the story, why is it included, anyway? The movie “Nine to Five” certainly was an exception, as well as the TV show, “The Office.” But if it’s not directly related to the plot, minimize it or leave it out completely.
If you do have a long cast of characters and you can justify their existence, then include a dramatis personae in the beginning to help your readers keep them straight as far as where they fit into the story and relationship to one another. A confused reader is inclined to become a lost fan.