There are various pros, cons, and opinions with regard to how many characters to include in your story. I’m not going to go into that argument here, especially since I’m probably unqualified to do so in a fair and unbiased manner. By stories tend to be highly populated, though they will all serve a purpose somewhere along the plot line.
This tip is about how to manage a huge cast of characters, assuming they’re justified being there in the first place. Major characters who appear regularly throughout the story are well-established enough that reminding your reader who they are will be annoying. However, they may need a reminder about the minor ones from time to time so they can keep them straight. Placing them in a scene that fits their role sometimes will suffice. Otherwise a word of two about who they are (such as “police captain, doctor, or grocery clerk so-and-so, blah blah blah”) is helpful.
Having a dramatis personae is also highly recommended, though they are more difficult to refer back to in an ebook..
Have you ever had a minor character suddenly take over your story? It’s great to have one that’s so strong, but this often presents a challenge. I’ve had this happen to me in my Star Trails Series and find it happening again in my WIP.
In Star Trails, I had to make sure one of those troublesome characters wound up in jail or prison from time to time so the other characters could run the story. In my current WIP, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to handle it but here are three things I’m considering.
1) Let him or her take over. This is likely to require a major rewrite, but might be worth it.
2) Strengthen intended main character. Make sure there are enough story problems and issues for him or her to deal with to make it interesting. If things are cruising along too easily, throw some stumbling blocks out there.
3) Figure out who’s most important to the story line. Maybe the story is being told through the wrong character’s eyes. Who is most affected by the plot?
Right now I have two characters who score equally in importance. They work together, but their lives are influenced in two different ways by the plot. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this out. LOL!
Here’s another tip for you serial writers: Don’t forget your minor characters! You never know who might be your readers’ favorite. Believe it or not, they often get attached to supporting characters as much or more than the protagonist. Thus, if a minor character goes away, they’ll be disappointed if they disappear from subsequent stories.
Another thought is that popular minor characters make good fodder for spinoff stories, whether as a short story or another novel. When my fans told me how much they loved Thyron, the telepathic walking plant in my Star Trails Tetralogy, I wrote up his background in a short story that I give away. In addition, I eventually wrote an entire novel with him as the central character, which in the beginning I’d never thought I’d do. However, his popularity warranted the effort.